Today 1 in 3 people around the world lack safe drinking water. Nearly as many of them drink from a water source contaminated with faeces. Many more lack safe sanitation, including 3 billion people around the world who don’t have basic hand-washing facilities at home. 

Yet, universal access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation could reduce the global disease burden by 10 per cent and is considered the most cost effective health intervention.

In November, we explore how water and sanitation remain at the core of sustainable development, affecting not just our health but also significantly influencing socio-economic development, peace and security, inequalities and the wellbeing of our ecosystems.   

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Nearly half of the world’s population today lives without safely managed sanitation – essentially hygienic, private toilets that safely dispose of people’s waste. An estimated 600 million people still practice open defecation.

This World Toilet Day, the United Nations and its partners will draw attention to the social, economic and environmental consequences of the lack of sanitation and access to safe toilets, stressing that sanitation is our human right and that toilets are life-savers, dignity-protectors and opportunity-makers.    

UN Water looks at Eight Things You Need to Know about the Sanitation Crisis.

Ending Open Toilet Use in Nepal

In Nepal’s impoverished Terai region, open toilet use has been a long-standing and accepted practice until recently. “In the beginning, the majority of the people were against this project, they were saying no, it’s against our longstanding culture and we will defecate outside of our houses,” says Nathuni Prasad Kushwaha, a local community leader.

Read the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council’s firsthand account of a nation-wide effort to motivate every Nepalese household (family) to stop open defection and use a toilet. Spearheaded by the Government of Nepal, the campaign appears to be bringing transformational change.

Water Under Fire

According to UNICEF, unsafe water can be just as deadly as bullets during conflicts. On average, children under the age of 15, who are living in conflict, are nearly three times more likely to die from diseases linked to unsafe water and sanitation than from direct violence. Children under five are more than 20 times more likely. 

UNICEF also draws attention to the impact of the latest fighting in Syria’s northeast on the country’s children. It provides a stark reminder of how attacks on water systems directly impact children. 


The vast majority of all natural disasters are water-related, accounting for 70 per cent of all deaths related to disasters – and the impact and cost of these events are exacerbated by factors such as unplanned urbanization and degradation of ecosystem services.

This year, World Tsunami Day will focus on reducing disaster damage to critical infrastructure and disruption of services, and the need to invest in resilient infrastructure, early warning systems and education. 

World Children’s Day (20 November)

Every year, nearly 300,00 children under the age of five from diarrhoea linked to unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene – that means, every day, more than 700 children die from this crisis. A crisis that is exacerbated by the changing climate which continues to destroy, dry up and contaminate water sources. If we don’t act now, by 2040, 600 million children will live in areas of water stress. 

This year, as UNICEF marks World Children’s Day and the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, it reminds global leaders to honour the commitment they made three decades ago, including making sure all children have the right to the best health care possible, clean water to drink, healthy food and a clean and safe environment to live in.

Access to improved sanitation promotes dignity and boosts safety, particularly among women and girls, who can be at risk of being victims of rape and sexual assault because of the lack of access to a toilet that offers privacy. November also marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women when the United Nations will launch its annual 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence campaign under the theme Orange the World: Generation Equality Stands Against Rape.

View the campaign page and concept note to learn more.

UN Environment Emissions Gap Report – 26 November launch

The annual UNEP Emissions Gap Report, to be launched on 26 November in Geneva, Switzerland, is an assessment of current country mitigation efforts and their ambitions in Nationally Determined Contributions, which form the foundation of the Paris Agreement. This flagship report presents a definitive assessment of ’emissions gap’ – the gap between anticipated emission levels in 2030, compared to levels consistent with a 2°C / 1.5°C target.

Other Upcoming Events

5-7 November | SDG Media Zone at the Web Summit, Lisbon, Portugal

12-14 November |  25th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development, Nairobi, Kenya

25-29 November Internet Governance Forum, Berlin, Germany

29 November | International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People
On Wednesday, 27 November 2019, the United Nations will observe the annual International Day with events in New York, Geneva, Vienna, and Nairobi. A special meeting will be held in the Trusteeship Chamber from 10.00 a.m. to 1.00 p.m. at NY Headquarters, followed by the opening of an exhibit: “Palestine – the most universal of national causes” in the Visitor’s lobby.