Dirty water and lack of safe toilets among top five killers of women worldwide

Diseases linked to dirty water and a lack of safe toilets take a woman’s life every 40 seconds, and cause more deaths among women than diabetes, HIV/AIDS or breast cancer.


6 Mar 2015

Diseases linked to dirty water and a lack of safe toilets are the fifth biggest global killers of women, causing more deaths among them than diabetes, HIV/AIDS or breast cancer.

The findings, taken from WaterAid's analysis of Institute of Health metrics, have been released ahead of International Women's Day on 8 March, and identify the top ten deadliest diseases for women across the globe.

Illnesses related to dirty water, lack of access to a safe toilet and poor hygiene were responsible for the deaths of almost 800,000 women around the world in a single year.

That makes them the fifth biggest killer of women worldwide, behind heart disease, stroke, lower respiratory infections and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. 

Carlinda collects dirty water from the source in Cuvir Rainha, Niassa, Mozambique.
Carlinda collects dirty water in Cuvir Rainha, Niassa, Mozambique. "We have had stomach pain and diarrhoea most of the time," she says.
Photo: WaterAid/Panos/Adam Patterson

More than 370 million women around the globe still live without access to clean drinking water, whilst 1.25 billion live without access to a safe, private toilet. The vast majority of deaths related to the lack of safe water and basic sanitation, almost four out of five, occur in the developing world. 

A disproportionate burden

Girls and women bear a disproportionate amount of the burden when there is no access to clean water or safe private toilets.

Finding water is often considered 'women’s work' and in many of the world’s poorest countries, women spend hours every day trekking for water – time which could otherwise be spent getting an education, caring for their families or on income-generating work, helping lift themselves and their families out of poverty.

Girls and women who have no private place to relieve themselves are also at increased risk of harassment or assault, spending an estimated 97 billion hours every year trying to find a safe place to go.

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