KARACHI – The total economic impact of inadequate sanitation in Pakistan amounts to a loss of Rs 343.7 billion and these economic impacts are the equivalent of about 3.9 percent of Pakistan’s gross domestic product (GDP).
This was disclosed in a detailed report under the title ‘The economic impacts of inadequate sanitation in Pakistan’ issued by the Water & Sanitation Programme (WSP), a multi-donor partnership administered by the World Bank. Conducted by the WSP, the study was carried on evidence-based research to help advocacy in the sanitation sector and was aimed to empirically estimate the economic impacts of the current poor sanitary conditions in Pakistan as well as the economic benefits of options for improved conditions.
The study calculated that in Pakistan, 50.1 percent of households have access to improved toilets, of which 55.8 percent have a sewer connected to a flush toilet, and 29.1 percent have a flush toilet connected to a septic tank.
It was also found that the total population, approximately 50 million people (31 percent) defecate in the open, and an estimated 8 million people (5 percent) use shared toilets.
National figures hide rural-urban disparities. While 90 percent of the urban population have access to improved sanitation (the kind that hygienically separates human excreta from human contact), this compares with just 40 percent of the rural population. The study states that in the rural areas, 45 percent of the population still practices open defecation.
All these data indicate the degree of inadequate sanitary conditions that expose the population to faecal-oral diseases, due to which the total economic cost of poor sanitation for the year 2006 was estimated at Rs 343.7 billion, which is equivalent to 3.94 percent of the GDP in Pakistan.
Of this cost, Rs 69.52 billion constitutes the direct financial cost, which is equivalent to 0.8 percent of the GDP.
Health impacts account for the vast majority of the total economic costs and constitute 87.16 percent of the total quantified economic costs, equating to the equivalent of 3.43 percent of the GDP.
The total economic impact on health is estimated to cost Rs 299.55 billion, of which Rs 48.76 billion represents financial costs, the study disclosed.
The study’s ultimate goal is to provide policymakers at both national and local levels with evidence to justify larger investments in improving the sanitary conditions in the country.
It also provides recommendations, again based on empirical evidence, for effectively planning and implementing sustainable sanitary and hygiene programmes.
In Pakistan, the deterioration of environment continues to harm the livelihoods and health of the people, increasing the vulnerability of the nation’s poorer citizens.
It has long been clear that lack of access to clean water and sanitation facilities has a wide variety of impacts.
However, the data and evidence needed to verify the size of the burden imposed on the people of Pakistan are limited.
As a result, investment in the water and sanitation sector remains well below what is required to ensure a basic minimum of services for the population.
Indeed, Pakistan’s population is projected to grow by more than 2.9 percent a year, which means an additional 4 million people each year who would require additional clean water and sanitation facilities.
In the study, the health impacts are included based on well-established links between sanitation and disease incidence.
Water impacts are deemed important because poor sanitation is one of the causes of water pollution that, in turn, leads to costly aversive behaviour by households seeking clean water.
Other welfare impacts are included as well, such as the productivity lost at work and in schools in the absence of convenient sanitary facilities when people must spend extra time accessing distant facilities.
Finally, the study added that tourism is included in the study because poor sanitation facilities could influence a country’s attractiveness as a tourist destination.
The analysis has interpreted sanitation to comprise activities related to human waste, particularly excreta. In measuring impacts, it has used standard peer-reviewed methodologies.
‘Make sanitation and water for all a reality’
Pakistan is one of the 57 countries currently most off track in meeting its sanitation Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) target to halve the proportion of people without access to adequate sanitation.
On current trends, Pakistan is due to halve the number of people lacking sanitation services by 2025, missing the MDG sanitation target by a decade, according to a new report released by the international aid agency WaterAid. According to the latest figures released by the UNICEF and WHO, only 48 percent of the population has access to safe sanitation in Pakistan. The MDG target for Pakistan is to ensure that 64 percent of its people have access to improved sanitation by 2015.
The report titled ‘Saving Lives’ comes as 70 finance and sector ministers from governments around the world, including Pakistan, prepare to attend the ‘Sanitation and Water for All: High Level Meeting (HLM)’ on Friday (today) in Washington DC, USA. In a statement issued on Thursday, Siddique Khan, Country Representative of WaterAid in Pakistan, said, “The Washington meeting is crucial to turning a corner on providing essential lifesaving access to safe sanitation and water. Our government and the international community must grasp this opportunity to act in response to the crisis of lost lives.”
The WaterAid report also said that the lives of 2.5 million people around the world would be saved if everyone had access to safe water and adequate sanitation.
According to the report, “There are more people in the world today without sanitation than there were in 1990” and “the poor quality of sanitation and lack of access to safe drinking water causes 1.4 million child deaths every year due to diarrhoea, and these deaths are preventable.”
The government of Pakistan acknowledged the sanitation crisis in South Asia at the fourth South Asian Conference on Sanitation in April 2011 and again at the 17th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit in November.
Abdul Hafeez, Programme Manager for Policy and Advocacy of WaterAid in Pakistan, said, “The 2012 HLM provides an opportunity to reinforce commitments made in 2010 and recent regional forums. We are urging the government to honour its commitments to improving water and sanitation and to demonstrate leadership by targeting resources to poor and marginalised people, developing robust monitoring systems to ensure the effectiveness of investments, and to promote learning and innovation.”
Hafeez also urged donors to prioritise and engage in basic sanitation. This is only possible by developing strong partnership with governments, donors, civil society and communities.
The Sanitation and Water for All meeting in Washington would bring together 100 ministers and delegates from over 50 countries to discuss the water and sanitation crisis.
Participating governments have to bring pledges to the table on increasing access to water and sanitation for the next two years; donor governments also have to provide commitments ahead of the meeting.