Importance of WASH to economic development
In addition to the direct human health-related importance, WASH has a very strong association with economic development. Estimates of the economic benefits from water and sanitation vary but a 2012 study for the World Health Organization (WHO) put the global economic return on spending on sanitation alone as US$5.5 for every US dollar invested (Hutton, 2012). Hygiene practices, such as handwashing and the use of improved sanitation facilities in homes and schools bring economic benefits for households, communities and nations by saving time and by reducing direct and indirect health costs.
People without easy access to sanitation spend a great deal of time each day queuing up for public toilets or seeking secluded spots to defecate. This has been estimated as approximately 30 minutes per person per day, amounting to 14 hours a week for a household of four people (UN-Water, 2008). This is time they could otherwise spend doing productive work.
Hygiene and sanitation are among the most cost-effective public health interventions or, to put it another way, preventing disease is cheaper than treating it. The costs of treating diarrhoeal disease drain both national budgets and family finances. In sub-Saharan Africa, which includes Ethiopia, it has been estimated that treating preventable infectious diarrhoea uses up 12% of the total health budget (UN-Water, 2008).
In addition to these direct health costs, there are indirect costs caused by reduced productivity of people. When people or their children are sick they cannot work and have to stay at home. The loss of working days affects their income and the wider economy.
The national economy can also benefit from improved WASH services by making the country more attractive to tourists which could boost tourism revenues. By protecting the environment and maintaining a healthy living environment everyone could benefit.