A new report from the World Bank says African countries are losing billions of dollars every year by not investing in sanitation. The study calls on leaders to put more emphasis on sanitation.
The World Bank released a report Monday blaming a loss of nearly $5.5 billion (4 billion euros) in 18 African countries on an unlikely culprit: poor sanitation.
The study, conducted by the World Bank's Water and Sanitation Program (WSP), claimed nations are actually losing money when they do not invest in sanitation. Researchers said poor sanitation not only causes an array of well-documented health problems. It can also have unexpected economic consequences.
For example, if people happen to work somewhere without toilets, they will have to waste valuable time on the job by going off and looking for a substitute.
WSP researchers based their report, called "Economic Impacts of Poor Sanitation in Africa," on health and data labor from countries throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. The report also used data from the United Nations and the World Health Organization.
Of the countries surveyed, Nigeria was found to suffer the greatest losses from poor sanitation, $3 billion per year. Liberia came in with the least losses, $17.5 million.
The WSP blamed those losses on the negative health effects of poor sanitation, including diarrheal disease. The disease accounted for 90% of premature deaths in the 18 countries—a blow to human capital and the future work force.
The study claimed that time lost looking for alternatives to toilets in and of itself caused losses of almost $500 million. The report added that about one-quarter of the populations in each country surveyed—or about 114 million people—followed this practice. According to WSP, open defecation led to increased illness, plus the sick leave and medical bills that go with it.
Overall, women were found to lose the most productivity time. The report noted they are the ones who usually have to accompany children and the elderly to find a latrine. Further, women lose wages while caring for sick family members.
Since 2007, WSP has conducted studies on sanitation problems in South and East Asia. This year's report on the subject, called "Economic Impacts of Poor Sanitation in Africa," said it complements the previous findings.
African leaders are the report's main target audience. WSP researcher Toni Sittoni told DW that they need to hear the report's message.
"Assistance is important, but you have to own your problems in order to begin to search for solutions," he said.
Sittoni said African policymakers were incredulous at preliminary WSP findings shared at various conferences. He added the recently released study was needed to convince policymakers that they need to invest in sanitation.
Along with African leaders, Sittoni said the report's expected audience includes countries that provide humanitarian aid. He said he hoped the report could help donor nations target their aid more effectively.
More funding needed
The European Union gave Sub-Saharan African countries almost $5 million in aid from 2009 to 2010, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
The WSP report called for countries to invest at least 0.5 percent of their gross domestic products toward sanitation practice and policy. However, only five of the 18 countries in the recent study were found to dedicate just 0.1 percent of their GDP to sanitation. The other nations devoted even less to the area.
"We are trying to reach out to as many countries as we can and make as much of a difference as we can," Sittoni said. He added that WSP wants to make "countries realize they're losing lots of resources as a result of poor sanitation."
Author: Kathleen Schuster
Editor: Shant Shahrigian