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Expensive poo: The World Bank tells us how much poor sanitation costs

Caution: This video shows graphic images of feces.

Conceptualizing the magnitude of global development can be a difficult task, so the World Bank is breaking it down into something we all understand: money.

A report released this week by the World Bank, “Economic Impacts of Poor Sanitation in Africa,” estimates the economic cost of poor sanitation causes Ghana to lose 1.6 percent of annual GDP. That's US$290 million. The estimate is broken down into time and productivity lost, health care costs, and losses from premature death:

  • $19 million lost each year in time: Each person practicing open defecation spends almost 2.5 days a year finding a private location to defecate. This cost falls disproportionately on women as caregivers who may spend additional time accompanying young children and sick or elderly relatives.

  • $1.5 million lost each year due to productivity losses while sick or accessing healthcare: This includes time absent from school due to diarrheal disease, seeking treatment from a health clinic or hospital, and time spent caring for young children suffering from diarrhea or other sanitation-related diseases.

  • $54 million spent each year on health care: Diarrheal disease directly, and malnutrition indirectly, are serious consequences of poor sanitation. The costs of seeking consultation, medication, transportation and in some cases hospitalization place a heavy burden on households and governments.

  • $215 million lost each year due to premature death: Approximately 19,000 Ghanaians, including 5,100 children under five, die each year from diarrhea—nearly 90 percent of which is attributed to poor water, sanitation and hygiene.
  • Unfortunately, Ghana is just a microcosm of poor sanitation around the world. The Millenium Development Goal (MDG) of halving the world’s population without access to basic sanitation is “one of the MDGs most off-track” to meet its 2015 deadline; some estimates put meeting the goal around the year 2049.

    Money talks. The question is whether it's loud enough to make us see how expensive inaction is.

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