write an essay on poor sanitation

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Sanitation is essential to children’s survival and development..

Children help each other wash their hands with water and ash in the village of Gbandu.

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Sanitation is about more than just toilets. Behaviours, facilities and services together provide the hygienic environment children need to fight diseases and grow up healthy.

3.5 billion people still do not have safe sanitation services, while 419 million people practice “open defecation”. 

Poor sanitation puts children at risk of childhood diseases and malnutrition that can impact their overall development, learning and, later in life, economic opportunities. While some parts of the world have improved access to sanitation, millions of children in poor and rural areas have been left behind.

Lack of sanitation can be a barrier to individual prosperity and sustainable development. When children, especially girls, cannot access private and decent sanitation facilities in their schools and learning environments, the right to education is threatened. As adults, wage earners who miss work due to illness may find themselves in financial peril. And when health systems become overwhelmed and productivity levels fall, entire economies suffer.

Without basic sanitation services, people have no choice but to use inadequate communal latrines or to practise open defecation, posing a risk to health and livelihoods.

Even in communities with toilets, waste containment may not be adequate. If they are difficult to clean or not designed or maintained to safely contain, transport and treat excreta, for example, waste might come into contact with people and the environment. These factors make sustainable development nearly impossible.

Open defecation

The practice of defecating in the open (such as in fields, bushes, or by bodies of water) can be devastating for public health.

Exposed faecal matter contaminates food, water and the environment, and can spread serious diseases, such as cholera. Coupled with poor hygiene practices, exposure to faecal matter remains a leading cause of child mortality, morbidity, undernutrition and stunting, and can negatively impact a child's cognitive development. 

Harmful to community health and well-being, open defecation can also undermine individual dignity and safety – especially for girls and women. When forced to travel greater distances from home to reach adequate hygiene facilities, girls are women are put at greater risk of violence.

Fatoumata Traore 14 years, is a student who has taught good hygiene practices at school.

UNICEF's response

UNICEF is on the ground in more than 100 countries to provide safe sanitation for the world's most vulnerable communities in rural and urban areas, and during emergencies.

We mobilize communities, build markets for sanitation goods and services, and partner with governments to plan and finance sanitation services.

In emergencies, UNICEF provides urgent relief to communities and nations threatened by disrupted services and the risk of disease outbreak.

We also support innovation in sanitation; improving sanitation technology; ensuring basic toilets are affordable, accessible and safe; and finding effective, sustainable solutions for sanitation challenges that harm children.

Ending open defecation

Ongoing investment in sanitation services by households, communities and governments is necessary to shift community behaviour so that ‘toilet use by all’ becomes the new norm.

Many countries are off track to end open defecation by 2030. UNICEF’s commitment to meet this challenge has been mapped in our ‘game plan’ to end open defecation, a strategy for reaching the 26 countries that account for over 90 per cent of global open defection.

We support governments through community- and market-based approaches in rural areas and in urban slums, where most people defecating in the open live. Communities are encouraged to carry out an analysis of existing defecation patterns and to use local resources to build low-cost household toilets and ultimately eliminate the practice.

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The problem: 783 million people do not have access to clean water, their water sources are far away, unclean and unaffordable. Not having access to clean water means a lifetime of walking for water, means not being able to go to school, means constant weakness and pain through recurrent diarrhoea, means choosing between paying for water or medicines, means less chance to grow food, means HIV/AIDS medicines and vaccines are less effective, means large healthcare costs compared to relatively cheap solutions, means a cycle of poverty.

In the last century the rate of water use growth is more than twice that of  population growth. 

Sanitation is an even bigger problem than lack of water - with 2.5 billion people worldwide suffering from lack of a good enough toilet or latrine. Getting hold of clean water isn’t good enough if the water is being made dirty because there are no toilets, and toilets aren’t good enough if there is no hygiene promotion to get whole communities to change the habits of generations and use the latrines.

Sanitation refers to the provision of facilities and services for the safe disposal of human waste.  Basically, we're talking about toilets, or versions of toilets such as latrines.  Most developed countries are well equipped with flush toilets, however in developing countries, sanitation is based around much more basic facilities that are often little more than a hole in the ground.  Design is not important, as long as the facilities in question dispose of waste in a hygienic way.  2.5 billion people - over one third of the world's population - lack access to sanitation facilities.  That's almost twice the number of people living in extreme poverty. Sanitation is also one of the world's leading cause of disease and child death.

Sanitation is crucial to global health. But sanitation suffers from political neglect at every level. There is a sense of shame and stigma attached to the issue that prevents it from being a high profile political issue.

Human waste is full of dangerous bacteria that can cause diseases like cholera, typhoid, infectious hepatitis, polio, cryptosporidiosis, and ascariasis. When waste is not properly managed, it can come into contact with skin, water, insects and other things that ultimately transfer the bacteria back into the human body where it can make people sick. 

The most common illness associated with poor sanitation is diarrhea.  In developed countries, diarrhea is little more than a nuisance, but for millions of children in the developing world, it's a death sentence. 

The primary purpose of good sanitation is health (through disease prevention).  Despite the overwhelming importance of sanitation, the world is far behind in providing universal access to safe and hygienic toilets, and the poor are the overwhelming majority of those who miss out.

Getting sanitation right can have a positive effect on economic growth. In parts of Africa, half the hospital beds at any one time can be filled with people suffering from diarrheal diseases. Because of the high financial burden of poor sanitation, on individuals, businesses and healthcare systems, adequate investments in sanitation could provide an estimated additional 3% economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa.

Improved sanitation in developing countries typically yields about USD $9 worth of economic benefit for every USD $1 spent, an impressive ratio.  The benefits include saving time, reducing direct and indirect health costs, increasing the return on investments in education, and safeguarding water resources. The first element, saving time, should not be underestimated in its contribution to economic benefits in the developing world. People without toilets at home spend a great deal of time each day queuing for public toilets or looking for secluded places to defecate. The World Health Organization estimates this time has an economic value of well over USD 100 billion each year. Moreover, girls attendance in schools accelerates when it improves its sanitation system. So addressing sanitation does not only bring about valuable health benefits, it frees up individuals' time so they can do more productive things, like earning income, than searching for a quiet spot to relieve themselves. 

This video first aired at the Global Citizen Festival in New York City on September 29, 2012

DIRECTED BY Jonathan Olinger and Michael Trainer SERIES CREATIVE DIRECTOR Michael Trainer  WRITERS Lindsay Branham, Jonathan Olinger  NARRATED BY Blair Underwood  PRODUCED BY DTJ (www.dtj.org)

PRODUCER Lindsay Branham  EXECUTIVE PRODUCER Michael Trainer  CINEMATOGRAPHY Ricky Norris, Jonathan Olinger, charity: water  ORIGINAL SCORE Ryan O'Neal  ASSOCIATE PRODUCER Adam Butterfield  LEAD EDITOR Jonathan Olinger  EDITORS Mo Scarpelli, Lindsay Branham  VISUAL EFFECTS Dan DiFelice  MOTION GRAPHICS Dan Johnson  COLOR Matt Fezz  SOUND DESIGN Ben Lukas Boysen  SOUND MIX Charles de Montebello, CDM Studios, NYC  SCRIPT CONSULTANT Taylor Bruce  ADDITIONAL FOOTAGE BY DTJ  VOICE OVER RECORDING Margarita Mix, Hollywood  VERY SPECIAL THANKS TO:  charity: water,  Jane Rosenthal,  Nancy Lefkowitz, Cody Irizarry.

Defeat Poverty

Introduction to the crisis of clean water & sanitation

Oct. 11, 2012

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Essay on Water Sanitation And Hygiene

Students are often asked to write an essay on Water Sanitation And Hygiene in their schools and colleges. And if you’re also looking for the same, we have created 100-word, 250-word, and 500-word essays on the topic.

Let’s take a look…

100 Words Essay on Water Sanitation And Hygiene

What is water sanitation and hygiene.

Water Sanitation and Hygiene, often called WASH, is about keeping water clean, getting rid of waste safely, and keeping hands and bodies clean. These are important for staying healthy, stopping diseases, and living a better life. Clean water is needed for drinking, cooking, and cleaning.

Why is Clean Water Important?

Clean water keeps us from getting sick. Drinking or using dirty water can cause diseases like cholera. That’s why it’s important to have clean water for everyone.

Keeping Our Surroundings Clean

Getting rid of waste the right way stops germs from spreading. Toilets and proper waste systems help keep our environment clean and safe.

Handwashing: A Simple Step

Washing hands with soap is a simple way to stop germs. Doing this before eating or after using the toilet can prevent illnesses. It’s an easy habit with big health benefits.

Working Together

Everyone has a part in making sure we have clean water, proper sanitation, and good hygiene practices. By working together, we can make a healthier world for all.

250 Words Essay on Water Sanitation And Hygiene

Importance of water sanitation and hygiene.

Clean water, proper sanitation, and good hygiene practices are essential for maintaining good health and preventing the spread of diseases. Access to clean water and sanitation is a fundamental human right, and everyone should have access to these basic necessities. Poor sanitation and hygiene practices can contribute to the transmission of diseases, such as diarrhea, cholera, typhoid, and dysentery. These diseases can cause severe illness and even death, and they disproportionately affect vulnerable populations, such as children and the elderly.

Access to Clean Water

Access to clean water is essential for drinking, cooking, cleaning, and sanitation. When people do not have access to clean water, they are often forced to rely on unsafe sources of water, such as contaminated wells, rivers, or lakes. This can lead to waterborne diseases, which can cause a variety of health problems. In addition, lack of access to clean water can make it difficult to maintain good hygiene practices, which can also contribute to the spread of disease.

Sanitation and Hygiene

Sanitation and hygiene practices are also essential for preventing the spread of disease. Proper sanitation includes the safe disposal of human waste and wastewater, as well as the provision of clean and hygienic latrines. Good hygiene practices include washing hands with soap and water, brushing teeth, and bathing regularly. These practices help to remove germs and bacteria from the body and prevent the spread of infection.

Water sanitation and hygiene are essential for maintaining good health and preventing the spread of disease. Access to clean water, sanitation, and good hygiene practices are fundamental human rights, and everyone should have access to these basic necessities. By working together, we can ensure that everyone has the opportunity to live a healthy and productive life.

500 Words Essay on Water Sanitation And Hygiene

Water sanitation and hygiene: staying healthy and happy.

Water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) are essential for human health and well-being. WASH refers to the availability of clean water, proper sanitation facilities, and good hygiene practices. These elements work together to prevent diseases, promote good health, and improve overall quality of life.

Clean Water: The Foundation of Good Health

Access to clean water is a basic human right and a prerequisite for good health. Clean water is essential for drinking, cooking, bathing, and washing clothes. It helps us stay hydrated, prevents waterborne diseases, and improves our overall health. Unfortunately, many people around the world do not have access to clean water, making them vulnerable to various health risks.

Sanitation: Keeping Our Surroundings Clean

Sanitation refers to the proper disposal of human waste and wastewater. Adequate sanitation facilities, such as toilets and latrines, help prevent the spread of diseases and ensure a clean and healthy environment. Poor sanitation, on the other hand, can contaminate water sources, attract disease-carrying insects, and create unpleasant odors.

Hygiene: Personal Cleanliness and Healthy Habits

Hygiene refers to personal cleanliness and healthy habits that help prevent the spread of germs and infections. Handwashing with soap and water is one of the most important hygiene practices, as it helps remove germs from our hands and prevents them from spreading to others or our food. Other important hygiene practices include taking regular baths, brushing our teeth, and covering our mouths when we cough or sneeze.

WASH in Schools: Promoting Healthy Learning Environments

Schools play a crucial role in promoting WASH practices among children. By providing access to clean water, toilets, and handwashing facilities, schools can create a healthier environment for students and staff. Children who have access to WASH facilities are less likely to get sick, which means they can attend school more regularly and learn better.

Conclusion: Investing in WASH for a Healthier Future

Investing in WASH is an investment in the health and well-being of individuals and communities. By providing access to clean water, sanitation facilities, and promoting good hygiene practices, we can prevent diseases, improve health, and create a better quality of life for everyone. WASH is a cornerstone of public health and a fundamental human right that should be available to all.

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write an essay on poor sanitation

Home — Essay Samples — Environment — Water — Use of Clean Water: Review of the Issue of Water Pollution

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Clean Water and Sanitation: Review of The Issue of Water Pollution

  • Categories: Water Water Pollution Water Quality

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Words: 709 |

Published: Feb 12, 2019

Words: 709 | Pages: 2 | 4 min read

Table of contents

Uses of clean water, causes of water contamination, effects of unclean water, some facts and figures (referred from undp), hook examples for essay on access to clean water.

  • A Thirst for Change: Step into the arid landscapes where the lack of clean water threatens lives daily, and explore how access to clean water can be the catalyst for transformative change.
  • The Ripple Effect of Clean Water: Delve into the far-reaching impact of clean water access on communities, from improved health and education to economic growth, and understand how this basic necessity can create a wave of positive change.
  • Voices from the Wells: Hear the stories of individuals who have struggled without access to clean water and learn about their resilience, highlighting the urgency of addressing this global crisis.
  • From Scarcity to Sustainability: Explore innovative solutions and initiatives aimed at ensuring a sustainable future for clean water access, and the role each of us can play in this vital mission.
  • The Right to Clean Water: Examine the fundamental human right to clean water, recognized by the United Nations, and consider the ethical and moral imperatives of providing this essential resource to all people worldwide.

Works Cited

  • Hutton, G., & Bartram, J. (2008). Global costs of attaining the Millennium Development Goal for water supply and sanitation. Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 86(1), 13-19.
  • United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). (n.d.). Sustainable Development Goals: Clean Water and Sanitation.
  • United Nations Water. (2019). World Water Development Report 2019: Leaving No One Behind. Paris, France: UNESCO. Retrieved from http://www.unwater.org/publications/world-water-development-report-2019-leaving-no-one-behind/
  • Water.org. (n.d.). Water facts. Retrieved from https://water.org/our-impact/water-crisis/water-facts/
  • Water for Good. (n.d.). Our impact. Retrieved from https://waterforgood.org/our-impact/
  • World Health Organization (WHO). (2019). Water, sanitation and hygiene for accelerating and sustaining progress on neglected tropical diseases: A global strategy 2015-2020. Geneva, Switzerland: WHO Press.
  • World Health Organization (WHO). (2021). Progress on household drinking water, sanitation and hygiene 2000-2020: Five years into the Sustainable Development Goals. Geneva, Switzerland: WHO Press.
  • World Health Organization (WHO) & United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). (2019). Progress on household drinking water, sanitation and hygiene: 2000-2017. New York, NY: UNICEF.
  • World Health Organization (WHO) & United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). (2021). Progress on household drinking water, sanitation and hygiene: 2017 update and SDG baselines. Geneva, Switzerland: WHO Press.
  • World Wildlife Fund (WWF). (n.d.). Water scarcity.

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write an essay on poor sanitation

  • Biology Article
  • Need For Hygiene And Sanitation

Need for Hygiene and Sanitation

What is hygiene.

Hygiene is a set of personal practices that contribute to good health. This includes washing hands, cutting hair/nails periodically, bathing, etc.

What is Sanitation?

Sanitation refers to public health conditions such as drinking clean water, sewage treatment, etc. All the effective tools and actions that help in keeping the environment clean come under sanitation.

Also Read:  Health and Hygiene

Read on to explore the importance of hygiene and sanitation.

Importance of Hygiene and Sanitation

Maintaining personal hygiene and sanitation is important for several reasons such as personal, social, psychological, health, etc. Proper hygiene and sanitation prevent the spread of diseases and infections. If every individual on the planet maintains good hygiene for himself and the things around him, diseases will eradicate to a great level.

Importance of Hygiene

Hygiene, as defined by the WHO refers to “ the conditions and practices that help maintain health and prevent the spread of diseases. ”

This means more than just keeping ourselves clean. This means shunning all practices that lead to bad health. Throwing garbage on the road, defecating in the open, and many more. By adopting such a practice, we not only make ourselves healthier but also improve the quality of our lives.

Personal hygiene means keeping the body clean, consumption of clean drinking water, washing fruits and vegetables before eating, washing one’s hand, etc. Public hygiene refers to discarding waste and excreta properly, that means, waste segregation and recycling, regular disinfection and maintenance of the city’s water reservoir. Quality of hygiene in the kitchens is extremely important to prevent diseases.

Diseases spread through vectors. Say the vector is contaminated water as in the case of typhoid, cholera, and amoebiasis (food poisoning). By drinking clean water, we can completely eliminate the chances of getting diseases.

Some diseases are caused by pathogens carried by insects and animals. For eg., plague is carried by rats, malaria, filarial, roundworms by flies and mosquitoes, etc.

Mosquitoes thrive in stagnant water and rats in garbage dumps and the food that is dumped out in the open. By spraying stagnant water bodies with kerosene or other chemicals, we can completely eliminate mosquitoes from our neighbourhood. If that is unfeasible, we can all use mosquito nets prevents us from mosquitoes while we’re asleep. This poses a physical barrier for the mosquito.

Rats thrive on unsystematic waste disposal. By segregating the waste we can ensure that we don’t leave food lying around for rats to eat. Close contact with sick people is also another way of contracting diseases .

A country has to strive to educate more doctors so that medical need of every citizen is taken care of. The importance of cleanliness should be inculcated in every citizen and this will in turn show in the cleanliness of the places we live in.

Importance of Sanitation

Sanitation is another very important aspect. Many of the common diseases mentioned earlier such as roundworms spread through the faeces of infected people. By ensuring that people do not defecate in the open, we can completely eliminate such diseases and even more severe ones such as the one caused by E. Coli. The advancement in biology has given us answers to many questions, we are now able to identify the pathogen and treat an ailment accordingly.

Also Read:  Health and Diseases

For more detailed information about what is hygiene, what is sanitation, the Importance of Hygiene and Sanitation, keep visiting BYJU’S website or download BYJU’S app for further reference.

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Poor Sanitation in Ghana

Poor sanitation is described as the primary cause of diarrhea diseases like polio, intestinal worm infections, typhoid, cholera, and dysentery. The problem is noted to cause resistance to antimicrobial spread. Studies have pointed out that lack of or inadequate education is the leading cause of poor sanitation across the globe. This is true because even the most straightforward act of not washing hands among people can negatively affect the overall community health. Besides, the lack of proper refuse disposal and drainage systems also causes poor sanitation in towns and schools (Ablo and Yekple 585). The poor sanitation in Ghana has caused thousands of people to lose their families and loved ones. This has raised diseases like diarrhea, cholera, intestinal worm, and polio in most rural areas since most people living in these areas do not have access to clean water and healthy crops to feed off. The recorded statistic indicates that over 19,000 deaths were women and premature deaths and 5,100 children under the age of 5 years (Ablo and Yekple 590). Most people living in rural areas mainly depend on public restroom facilities, and there is little to no water access.

In addition, these people also lack access to hospitals when they are ill. Studies argue that about 4.8 million Ghanaians defecate in open areas because they do not have a latrine. Poor people are 22 times more likely to defecate outside or in open areas than wealthy people. The roles played by women/girls at home have made them fall at high risk in these communities because they get raped or kidnapped when they step outside to use the public restrooms or go and fetch water, they become scared and turn to go in groups most times, but it still does not solve the problem (Appiah-Effah et al. 393). Also, the other challenge is the littering of waste materials in the lanes, gutters, and streets, resulting in the flooding of areas. The aquatic ecosystem, plants, and human beings in this country have been affected by the accumulation of waste with toxic chemicals in water bodies. It is also noted that about 15 people in every 100 Ghanaians have access to facilities and services with good sanitation. However, the rest of the population is left defenseless against the inevitable consequences.

My plan moving forward is to bring a lot of Zoom lions to these rural areas to help clean out the gutters, so water can pass through them freely. Gutter cleaning is defined as the removal of debris which is built up in the gutters to enhance the free movement of water into the pipes. Apart from zoom lions, the gutters can also be cleaned by spraying them from the ground with the garden hose and telescopic gutter cleaning attachment (Mansour and Esseku 19). A pressure washer is also considered necessary in cleaning the gutters. The government needs to place trash bins in every corner so the littering around can be minimized because this is considered one of the most persistent and visible issues of the environment facing the government of Ghana. The problem of littering is causing the government to spend millions of Cedis yearly to clean up the city and repair the caused damages.

Trash bins will help minimize the amount of rubbish left on the ground not only in urban areas but even in schools and healthcare facilities. As a result, this will reduce the health and safety risks while improving the appearance of public places in Ghana. The government should make sure that landlords/homeowners have restroom facilities for their residents before renting out the place to stay (Appiah-Effah et al. 397). In addition, the government must see to it that clean water is being provided in every household through the tap lines for usage. This will prevent people from practicing open defections and also improve the environmental conditions. Further, the Ghana government should introduce and support small-scale sanitation and water projects which can improve the rural areas’ sanitation. Some of these projects can include the installation of hand washing stations in public places, the construction of toilets in the community for poor people, and the promotion of hygiene education to members of the public.

Implementing the plan above will play an essential role in reducing the number of death being caused by polio, dysentery, cholera, intestinal worm infections, and typhoid in Ghana. Poor sanitation is the main cause of these diseases, but improving sanitation will prevent the spread of such diseases in rural areas. The number of premature deaths will be reduced from 19,000 Ghanaians to less 1% and this will also include reduction in the death of children aged 5 years (Appiah-Effah et al. 398). The high death rates are attributed to poor water hygiene and environmental pollution. The construction of toilets in the community or public places will stop open defections and prevent the faucal matter from mixing with the soil.

The implementation of this plan will also help Ghana reduces the economic consequences suffered as a result of poor sanitation. The government will reduce the 420 million Cedis or US$290 million lost each year because of increased poor sanitation practices in the country. The government of Ghana will be able to invest these million dollars in other relevant projects such as food protection, improvement of education by purchasing resources for schools, and bettering healthcare systems (Mansour and Esseku 21). The people of Ghana will gain more knowledge and skills about their hygiene and be able to also translate the same to their offspring. Hygiene education will not only enable them to improve sanitation but also improve their way of living, like a change of social behaviors and becoming morally right people. Lastly, building public toilets will result in community development since these toilets will serve both the poor and the rich people. At the same time, it will create job opportunities since most youth people will be hired to clean these toilets and latrines.

My plan to reduce poor sanitation in Ghana was successful since I made it a community-centered plan. The strategy of cleaning the gutter using the zoom lion and pressure washer was successful since we managed to allow water to pass through the gutters freely after removing the debris. In addition, the litter that were being thrown around by people was also reduced after the trash bins were placed in every corner of the urban areas, in schools and hospitals (Abanyie 445). Trash bins, also called waste containers, helped in keeping the neighborhood clean by maintaining the garbage locked in and collected by the local authorities in-charge of sanitation. This resulted in neat and tidy urban areas and schools by preventing environmental hazards.

In addition, the plan managed to reduce open defection since landlords constructed latrines and toilets for their tenants, and the local government managed to build public toilets. This resulted in proper sanitation not only in residential areas but also both in rural and urban areas since people started disposing of their wastes appropriately (Mansour and Esseku 27). This prevented water pollution and environmental contamination, thus minimizing health-related risks like polio, cholera, and typhoid. Lastly, creating awareness through education and training about hygiene habits, such as proper hand washing with water and soap, also helped reduce cases of diarrhea among the Ghanaian population and the number of deaths.

Works Cited

Abanyie, Samuel Kojo, et al. “The roles of community-based water and sanitation management teams (WSMTs) for sustainable development: An example of the Bawku West District, Ghana.”  African Journal of Environmental Science and Technology  13.11 (2019): 439-449.

Ablo, Austin Dziwornu, and Edwige Enam Yekple. “Urban water stress and poor sanitation in Ghana: perception and experiences of residents in the Ashaiman Municipality.”  GeoJournal  83 (2018): 583-594.

Appiah-Effah, Eugene, et al. “Ghana’s post-MDGs sanitation situation: an overview.”  Journal of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for Development  9.3 (2019): 397-415.

Mansour, Goufrane, and Harold Esseku. “Situation analysis of the urban sanitation sector in Ghana.”  Urban Sanitation Research Initiative Ghana: Accra, Ghana  (2017).

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Life in the Grim Realities of English Workhouses

This essay is about the grim realities of workhouses in England during the 19th and early 20th centuries. It examines the harsh conditions faced by inmates, including separation of families, monotonous and grueling labor, inadequate nutrition, and poor sanitation. The origins of the workhouse system are traced to the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, which aimed to reduce poor relief costs by making workhouse conditions deliberately austere. Overcrowding, disease, and minimal education further compounded the suffering of inmates, particularly children. The essay concludes by reflecting on the legacy of workhouses and the importance of compassion in social welfare policies.

How it works

The workhouses of England, institutions born out of necessity and shaped by the harsh economic realities of the 19th century, have left an indelible mark on the nation’s social history. These establishments, designed ostensibly to aid the poor, often became symbols of suffering and dehumanization. A closer look at the daily lives of workhouse inmates reveals a grim picture that contrasts sharply with their intended purpose of providing relief and support.

The origins of the workhouse system can be traced back to the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, which sought to curb the costs associated with poor relief by encouraging the able-bodied poor to seek employment.

The philosophy behind the workhouses was to make the conditions within so undesirable that only the truly desperate would seek refuge there. As a result, the design and operation of these institutions were intentionally austere. Families were separated upon entry, a practice justified by the need to prevent the workhouse from becoming a haven for the idle and dissolute. Men, women, and children were housed in different wards and rarely saw each other, a policy that fractured the family unit and stripped individuals of their primary support systems.

Daily life in a workhouse was regimented and harsh. The day began at 5 a.m. with a bell signaling the start of work, which could range from stone-breaking and oakum-picking to working in the workhouse garden. These tasks were grueling and monotonous, designed more to deter than to rehabilitate. Meals, which consisted of meager portions of gruel, bread, and occasionally cheese or meat, were eaten in silence. The diet was intentionally bland and insufficient, further ensuring that only those with no other options would remain within the workhouse walls.

The conditions in workhouses were often deplorable. Overcrowding was a chronic issue, leading to the spread of diseases such as cholera and tuberculosis. Sanitation was poor, and medical care was rudimentary at best. The workhouse infirmaries were underfunded and understaffed, and many inmates suffered needlessly from ailments that went untreated. For children, the workhouse represented not just physical hardship but also a stunted future. Education, when provided, was minimal, focusing more on instilling obedience and basic literacy than on fostering genuine intellectual development.

Despite these grim realities, the workhouse system persisted well into the 20th century, evolving only gradually in response to public outcry and changing social attitudes. The Poor Law Amendment Act itself underwent several modifications, but it wasn’t until the establishment of the modern welfare state in the post-World War II era that workhouses were finally abolished. The legacy of the workhouses, however, continues to influence contemporary discussions about poverty and social welfare.

The workhouses of England serve as a stark reminder of a time when the state’s approach to poverty was deeply punitive. They highlight the importance of compassion and dignity in the design and implementation of social welfare programs. The harsh lessons learned from the workhouse era underscore the need for policies that support and uplift rather than stigmatize and punish those in need. As we reflect on this dark chapter of history, we are reminded that the true measure of a society lies in how it treats its most vulnerable members.

In sum, the story of England’s workhouses is a poignant narrative of human endurance and resilience in the face of institutional indifference. It serves as both a cautionary tale and a call to action, urging us to build a more just and humane society. Through understanding the past, we can better shape a future where dignity and compassion are at the forefront of our social policies.

Remember, this essay is a starting point for inspiration and further research. For more personalized assistance and to ensure your essay meets all academic standards, consider reaching out to professionals at EduBirdie .

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Bush Torture Lawyer John Yoo Calls for Revenge Prosecutions Against Democrats

Poor, innocent donald trump must be avenged..

Republicans have long been predicting that criminal charges against Donald Trump would lead to Republicans ginning up charges against Democrats out of pure revenge. The prediction, of course, was designed to legitimate it. And now, inevitably, members of the Republican legal Establishment have moved from predicting this turn of events to advocating for it.

John Yoo, the former Bush administration lawyer (who himself escaped prosecution for his role in constructing legal justifications to torture detainees, many of whom turned out to be held wrongfully in the first place), has an essay in National Review arguing for revenge prosecutions. The imprimatur of Yoo, a Berkeley law professor and fellow at two of the conservative movement’s least-insane think tanks (the American Enterprise Institute and the Hoover Institution), underscores the progression of “lock her up” from wild seriously-not-literally Trump-campaign demagoguery in 2016 to party doctrine in 2024.

“Repairing this breach of constitutional norms will require Republicans to follow the age-old maxim: Do unto others as they have done unto you,” urges Yoo. “In order to prevent the case against Trump from assuming a permanent place in the American political system, Republicans will have to bring charges against Democratic officers, even presidents.”

I agree with Yoo that one of the cases against Trump, the Alvin Bragg prosecution , is weak. That’s not to say Trump is innocent, but that it’s a borderline case that did not need to be charged.

But Yoo is not confining his complaints to the Bragg case. He explicitly denounces all the charges against Trump, including the ones for attempting to negate the election results and for stealing classified documents, repeatedly ignoring or lying in the face of requests to return them, and engineering a cover-up.

There are several problems with Yoo’s argument, beginning with the “age-old maxim” he cites. The saying, derived from the Bible, is “Do unto others as you would have done to you ,” not “Do unto others as they have done unto you .” I am not a biblical scholar, but the basic thrust of the teachings the line summarizes is to treat people the way you would wish to be treated, rather than instructing people to take revenge for slights.

Second, Yoo attributes Trump’s prosecutions to “the Democrats”:

Make no mistake, Democrats have crossed a constitutional Rubicon. For the first time in American history, they have brought criminal charges against a former president. For the first time in American history, they have brought criminal charges against the major (and leading) opposition candidate for president during the campaign …

Republicans keep asserting that the Democratic Party, or Joe Biden, collectively decided to throw the book at Donald Trump, but there is literally zero evidence for this. Biden has avoided interfering with decisions by the Justice Department, and the two biggest cases against Trump were brought by Jack Smith, who is a nonpartisan figure respected by both parties.

Third, Yoo’s examples of revenge prosecutions underscore his deep confusion about how the Justice Department has been operating. Here are some things he wants investigated: A Republican DA will have to charge Hunter Biden for fraud or corruption for taking money from foreign governments. Another Republican DA will have to investigate Joe Biden for influence-peddling at the behest of a son who received payoffs from abroad.

In fact, Donald Trump went to great lengths to do this very thing. William Barr, a Republican, did investigate allegations of foreign payoffs by Joe Biden. He never brought charges because he was unable to find any legitimate evidence whatsoever to support the claim.

And David Weiss, who was appointed by Donald Trump, investigated Hunter Biden, and charged him with tax fraud and lying about his drug use on a form he submitted to purchase a gun. Note that these are the kinds of criminal charges a regular person would almost certainly never face. Hunter Biden is being charged because he is the president’s son, and has engaged in sleazy-but-legal dealings that made him a prosecutorial target.

If Yoo was remotely capable of perceiving reality objectively, he would grasp that these examples refute his assumption that “the Democrats” control various prosecutorial arms and have abused them for political purposes. Joe Biden assuredly is not on board with the Justice Department throwing his son in prison. But Yoo seems to believe Hunter Biden has somehow escaped prosecution.

The deepest conceptual flaw in Yoo’s demands for legal revenge is his belief that Trump is an innocent victim. “Democrats have crossed a constitutional Rubicon,” he argues. Before now, he claims, opportunities to prosecute presidents abounded but were never taken, out of principle:

Gerald Ford, in a great act of statesmanship, pardoned Richard Nixon even though it doomed his chances in the close 1976 election. Bush did not prosecute Bill Clinton for lying to the Whitewater special counsel, even though Clinton’s Justice Department had conceded that he would become legally liable once he left office. Obama did not attempt to relitigate the difficult policy decisions made during the War on Terror by prosecuting Bush and his aides (of which I was one). Trump did not order the investigation of Hillary Clinton, even though her intentional, illegal diversion of thousands of classified emails to her home computer network was a central theme during his campaign. Nor had local or state prosecutors dared to interfere with the workings of the presidency before.

It is true that presidents have gotten into legal trouble areas before. But no previous president actually attempted to stay in office despite losing an election. Another thing those other presidents had in common is that they were politicians who sometimes operated in legal gray areas, but fundamentally respected the legal system.

Trump is a career criminal who went into politics. Treating laws as suggestions is one of his basic maxims. Once in office, he continued to act like a crook. He routinely berated his lawyers for taking notes in his presence and urged them to act more like Roy Cohn, the mob lawyer he once employed and idolized. He regularly ordered people to violate the law, and sometimes promised to pardon them if they were caught, and is currently promising pardons for the insurrectionists in prison who committed violence on his behalf.

Yoo argues that what broke the system was the decisions to charge Trump with crimes, and what can repair it will be charging Democrats. I would suggest the solution instead would be for Republicans to nominate as their next presidential candidate an experienced, vetted politician rather than a professional swindler.

And yes, Bragg’s case is weak, but it too could have been avoided if the GOP didn’t pick a presidential candidate who had a standing catch-and-kill arrangement with the National Enquirer .

Ted Cruz or Ron DeSantis may be right wing, but they are not mobbed-up crooks, and they wouldn’t be facing prison right now if they had beaten Trump in their respective nominating contests.

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The 25 Photos That Defined the Modern Age

A group of experts met to discuss the images that have best captured — and changed — the world since 1955.

Supported by

By M.H. Miller ,  Brendan Embser ,  Emmanuel Iduma and Lucy McKeon

  • June 3, 2024

This story contains graphic images of violence and death.

Let’s get this out of the way first: Of the dozens of photographers not represented here that a reasonable person might expect to have been included, the most conspicuous absentees include Berenice Abbott, Ansel Adams, Robert Adams, Richard Avedon, Dawoud Bey, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Imogen Cunningham, Roy DeCarava, William Eggleston, Walker Evans, Robert Mapplethorpe, Helmut Newton and Irving Penn. Putting together a list of the 25 most significant photographs since 1955 — both fine art photos and reportage — proved a difficult task for the panelists (even the chosen time frame was controversial). They were: the Canadian conceptual photographer Stan Douglas , 63; the Vietnamese American photographer An-My Lê , 64; the acting chief curator of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art, Roxana Marcoci, 66; the American documentary photographer Susan Meiselas , 75; the American photographer Shikeith , 35; and Nadia Vellam, 51, T’s photo and video director. Each participant (including myself, the moderator, 36) submitted up to seven possible nominees for the list. We gathered at The New York Times Building on a morning last February (with Shikeith joining on video from a shoot in Los Angeles) to begin our deliberations.

We chose judges from the realms of both fine art and reportage because, increasingly, the line between the two has collapsed. The modern age has been defined by photographs — images that began their lives in newspapers or magazines are repurposed as art; art has become a vehicle for information. Therefore, it was important to us and our jurors that we not draw boundaries between what was created as journalism and what was created as art. What was important was that the photographs we chose changed, in some way, how we see the world.

Six people sit around a circular table. On the wall, a t.v. showing an image of that room.

The conversation naturally turned into a series of questions. Like how important was it for a photograph to have expanded the possibilities of the medium? And how much did it matter who took a photo and what their intentions were? The list that emerged is less concerned with a historical chronology or an accepted canon than it is with a set of themes that have been linked indelibly to the photographic medium since its inception: labor and activism; war; the self and the family. Intriguingly, beyond an image by Wolfgang Tillmans from the ’90s, fashion photography is largely absent. So, too, are many world historical events that have been captured in landmark photographs, including the assassination of JFK, the fall of the Berlin Wall and anything from the pandemic lockdown or the presidency of Donald Trump. There were just too many other photographs to consider.

The process of producing the final list was clearly not scientific. It was more of a debate among a certain group of people on a certain day and is best considered that way. At the end of nearly four hours, jittery from caffeine, the group stood before a pile of crumpled masterworks on the floor as we assembled our chosen 25 images on a conference table. Many of our questions weren’t resolved (indeed, are unresolvable), but the results — which aren’t ranked but rather presented in the order in which we discussed them — are nothing if not surprising. — M.H. Miller

The conversation has been edited and condensed.

M.H. Miller: I thought we should start by talking about the time frame we settled on, starting in 1955.

Stan Douglas: It’s an agenda.

Miller: A little bit. It certainly shows an American bias, so I apologize to our Canadian representative — 1955 is really the beginning of the American civil rights movement, an era from which a number of us nominated photographs, and photography was so important in just making people aware of what was going on in the country. An-My, you chose Robert Frank’s picture of a streetcar in New Orleans, taken that year.

1. Robert Frank, “Trolley — New Orleans,” 1955

Robert Frank used “Trolley — New Orleans” as the original cover of his influential photo book “The Americans,” first published in the United States in 1959. Frank, a Swiss émigré, spent two years traveling the States and capturing what he saw. In this photograph, two Black passengers sit at the rear of a New Orleans streetcar while four white passengers sit at the front; all look out from a row of windows, the mullions between them emphasizing their strict separation. At the time of its publication, “The Americans” was considered by several critics to be a pessimistic, angry portrait of the country. (The magazine Popular Photography famously called it a “warped” and “wart-covered” depiction “by a joyless man.”) Many more viewers and artists, however, found inspiration in the direct, unromantic style pioneered by Frank, whose outsider status likely let him view America’s contradictions from a clarifying distance. He had “sucked a sad poem out of America onto film,” as Jack Kerouac wrote in an introduction to the book. This image, shot in the months before the Montgomery bus boycotts made segregation a national debate, showed America to itself, as if for the first time. The faces in the photographs, Kerouac wrote, don’t “editorialize or criticize, or say anything but ‘this is the way we are in real life.’” — Emmanuel Iduma

An-My Lê: I tried to look for things that spoke to me, but also spoke to a generation.

Douglas: If I had to choose a civil rights image, I wouldn’t choose this one. Great photograph. But something happening on the street would be more appropriate, I think, like the dog attacking protesters , or the photo with the firemen .

Roxana Marcoci: But this was the cover of “The Americans,” and it does happen in the street, actually. I think that what you’re saying is, it’s not a photojournalistic image.

Douglas: The most important thing to me is: does a photograph reveal a new reality, or reveal something that’s been hidden previously? I think that’s a key criterion for making it significant. What impact on the world can that image have? A European might not have recognized that this was happening in the U.S. Maybe a lot of Americans in the North didn’t realize this was happening in the U.S. And I love this photograph, so I’m very happy to keep it.

2. David Jackson, Mamie Till and Gene Mobley Standing Before the Body of Emmett Till at a Chicago Funeral Home, 1955

Mamie Till fixes her eyes on her dead son, as her fiancé, Gene Mobley, holding her, stares at the viewer. Emmett Till , 14, is laid out on a cot in a Chicago funeral home, his face disfigured and bloated. His mother allowed the photojournalist David Jackson to take this picture in September 1955, a few days after two white men had abducted and murdered Till while he was visiting relatives in Mississippi. Quickly acquitted by an all-white jury, the men would go on to sell their confession to Look magazine for $4,000. When this photo was published, first in Jet magazine and then in The Chicago Defender and other Black newspapers, it incited an unprecedented level of outrage in America over racial violence; Jet had to reprint the Sept. 15, 1955, issue in which it appeared because of high demand. For the same reason Mamie Till let this picture be taken, she chose to keep her son’s coffin open during the funeral. “The murder of my son has shown me that what happens to any of us, anywhere in the world, had better be the business of us all,” she said. An estimated 100,000 people came to view his body. Jackson’s photograph was a call to action for many, including Rosa Parks, who said she thought of Till when she refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus later that same year. — E.I.

Miller: I feel like you can’t have this conversation, especially with the year we designated as the starting point, without talking about Emmett Till. There’s the devastating series of photographs of Till’s funeral. But there’s also the one from the trial — when Till’s great-uncle is identifying the men who murdered his nephew. The judge didn’t allow that photographer, Ernest C. Withers, to shoot in the courtroom. So it’s a miracle that the picture exists, and that it’s composed as well as it is when it had to be taken in secret. And it’s a moment where you saw a larger shift taking place. Up to that point in the South, a Black witness identifying white defendants in court was unheard-of.

Marcoci: The picture [of his body] was also about the power of the witness, right?

Susan Meiselas: Oh, for sure. Mamie Till and her insistence on an open coffin: how brave an act that was. And it ran in Jet and moved around the world.

Douglas: The issue for me with the trial picture is that it needs a paragraph to explain why we’re looking at it.

Marcoci: The courtroom was a travesty. They went free. But this, Mamie Till with her son, created a generation of Black activists.

Shikeith: I grew up in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Philadelphia, and when we were learning about Black history in the fourth or fifth grade, that picture was brazenly shared with students. It was probably the first time I learned how powerful a photograph can be in having real material change in the world. It’s an image that I’ve lived with my [whole] life, and that’s impacted how I viewed the world and racism and its violence. It scares me. But, you know, it’s the truth. The truth can be very scary for a lot of us.

Miller: Shikeith, you also selected this Gordon Parks photograph, which is one of two color images the group nominated from the 1950s and ’60s — and the second was taken from outer space.

3. Gordon Parks, “Department Store, Mobile, Alabama,” 1956

In 1956, Life magazine sent Gordon Parks to document the effects of Jim Crow segregation laws in the American South through the experiences of one extended family in Mobile, Ala. Parks was one of the few Black photojournalists to work for an establishment magazine at the time, and was known especially for his fashion photography, as is easily apparent from this image. For Life, he photographed everyday scenes — a church choir singing or children drinking from water fountains — intentionally capturing signs reading “White Only” or “ Lots for Colored .” “Department Store, Mobile, Alabama” (1956) was shot for the Life story, which ran at 12 pages under the title “The Restraints: Open and Hidden” but, for unknown reasons, it didn’t make the final edit, and it wasn’t published until 2012, when a five-volume collection of Parks’s photographs was released. “Department Store” has since become a belated icon, one of the most memorable images in a career that also includes directing the 1971 film “Shaft.” Notable most of all for its vivid color, a startling contrast to the predominantly black-and-white imagery from the civil rights era, the portrait depicts Joanne Thornton Wilson, then age 27, dressed in an ice-blue, A-line cocktail dress, with her young niece, Shirley Anne Kirksey, standing beneath the red neon “Colored Entrance” sign in front of a department store. Wilson’s upright posture and outward gaze — peering in the opposite direction of the sign’s blue arrow — subtly signify defiance. But there’s an intimacy and vulnerability in the picture, too. In 2013, Wilson, who went on to become a high school teacher, told the art historian Maurice Berger that she regretted that the strap of her slip had visibly fallen. “Dressing well made me feel first class,” she said. “I wanted to set an example.” She had set an example, of course, which Parks had recorded with such clarity: Wilson also told Berger that she refused to take her niece through the “colored” entrance. — Brendan Embser

Shikeith: I think what’s beautiful about this image is that it’s brilliantly composed — it uses beauty to draw you into a poignant moment in history, becoming a record of the Jim Crow laws in the Southern U.S. I tried to pick photographs that had an influence on me, and that I thought my mother would recognize, to indicate their influence on people who might operate outside of art history conversations. It [can be used as] a tool for educating even the youngest of minds about what marginalized communities went through.

Marcoci: I think that’s a great point: the pedagogical nature of photographs. In this picture, there’s the elegance and grace of these two figures, and then the ugliness of that “Colored Entrance” sign. There’s such a tension between them.

Nadia Vellam: You don’t immediately realize the context because you’re so attracted to the two people in the image. It asks you to spend more time looking.

Douglas: It’s quite an exquisite picture. It’s basically an X, which draws your eye into the center, which then takes you to that woman’s gaze outside the frame. Inside the frame, there’s something quite sweet. But outside — both beyond that door and out in the world that’s made that door — there’s something quite ugly.

4. Alberto Korda, “Guerrillero Heroico (Che Guevara),” 1960

Alberto Korda, a favored photographer of Fidel Castro, captured this image of a 31-year-old Che Guevara by chance during a funeral in Havana in 1960 to honor the victims of a freighter explosion. Guevara, at the time the president of the National Bank of Cuba, happened to move into Korda’s line of sight while Castro was giving a speech. His expression is one of restrained anger; the Cuban government accused the United States of being responsible for the tragedy, which it denied. Five years later, Guevara resigned from Castro’s cabinet and joined revolutionary causes abroad, including in Congo and Bolivia, where he led guerrillas in a failed coup attempt. Korda’s photo wasn’t widely published until after Guevara’s execution by Bolivian soldiers in 1967, when posters, murals and eventually T-shirts emblazoned with Guevara’s face began to appear around the world. In the original portrait, he is flanked by another man and some palm fronds, but the reproductions are cropped to show just Guevara’s head. Korda’s image made Guevara into something more than a man, or even a famous revolutionary; he became a symbol for revolution itself. — E.I.

Miller: We have two pictures of Che Guevara to consider. Stan, you picked Che following his execution , and Susan, you picked the more famous portrait of him by Alberto Korda. It’s in every college dorm.

Marcoci: It’s in every tattoo parlor.

Douglas: They’re both propaganda images. One is the revolutionary looking to the future, which we’ve seen in everything from Soviet realist paintings to Obama posters. So, in many ways, a cliché, even though it’s had this huge impact. The image of Che dead [which was taken by the Bolivian photographer Freddy Alborta] is both iconic in that it’s like [an Andrea] Mantegna [1431-1506] painting of the dead Christ [“ Lamentation Over the Dead Christ ,” circa 1480], but also as evidence, on the part of the people who killed him, that the guy is dead. It’s just such a weird photograph: the officer on the right who’s poking at Che’s body to prove he’s just a human. Just mortal. And it somehow seemed like the end of the export of revolution from Cuba, which very much shut down after Che’s death.

Meiselas: And then he’s resurrected as a tattoo.

5. Diane Arbus, “Boy With a Straw Hat Waiting to March in a Pro-War Parade, N.Y.C., 1967”

The boy in “Boy With a Straw Hat” doesn’t look like a typical Arbus subject. Wearing a prim collared shirt, bow-tie and boater hat, with one American flag at his side and another, much smaller one twisted into a bow on his lapel, the thin-lipped paradegoer seems like the paragon of anodyne conservatism. He’s nothing like the cross-dressers, carnival entertainers, nudists and others relegated to the margins of society that fascinated Arbus, whose work prompted one of the more protracted debates on the ethics of photography, as her images were so often said to skirt the lines of voyeurism and exploitation. Yet his steady gaze prompts a similar sense of unease in the viewer, as does the small pin on his jacket that reads Bomb Hanoi. “Boy With a Straw Hat” was the cover image of Artforum’s May 1971 issue, published two months before Arbus’s death by suicide at age 48. In 1972, when her posthumous MoMA retrospective drew record crowds, the art critic Hilton Kramer refuted the idea that she was merely capturing her subjects for the sake of spectacle; he argued that she collaborated with the people she photographed, and that that act of participation provided dignity — or at least authenticity — especially for those individuals who are shunned or otherwise invisible. Arbus herself once said that the “best thing is the difference. I get to keep what nobody needs.” — B.E.

Miller: A number of us nominated Diane Arbus photos.

Douglas: [I picked] the sitting room in Levittown [“ Xmas Tree in a Living Room in Levittown, L.I., 1962 ”], which is one of those suburbs created in the postwar period that people could buy [homes in] with their G.I. Bill money, in which Black people couldn’t live. It’s a case of there [being] something outside the image, which is very powerful: The construction of this new suburban reality, while Emmett Till’s being killed.

Marcoci: I chose the “Giant” [“ A Jewish Giant at Home With His Parents in the Bronx, N.Y., 1970 .”], because this was one of the first pictures where I was really thinking, “Who is that person? What would it be like to be him?”

Meiselas: One of the things that photographs do is make us emotional. Some of Arbus’s most memorable pictures are the ones that make you feel more than think.

Vellam: I’d vote for “Giant” just because it spawned so many people’s idea of portraiture: Katy Grannan, Deana Lawson, Larry Sultan. Like this idea of going into a place — in her case, middle-class suburbia — that you may not even have spent any time in otherwise. I feel like that became its own genre: There’s so much photography that has come out of her idea of going into people’s homes.

Marcoci: If I were to choose just one Arbus, I’d probably choose “Boy With a Straw Hat”: A portrait of an individual that’s this very interesting collective portrait of America, too. There’s this tension between the innocent face and then those buttons: “God Bless America” and “Bomb Hanoi.”

Shikeith: He’s sort of the archetype for the Proud Boys. You can see that smirk on his face.

Meiselas: There were pictures from the R.N.C. [Republican National Convention] four years ago that looked so much like this.

Miller: Stan and An-My both nominated a very different kind of photograph from the Vietnam War era: Malcolm Browne’s picture of Thích Quảng Đức’s self-immolation.

6. Malcolm Browne, the Self-Immolation of the Buddhist Monk Thích Quảng Đức in Saigon, 1963

The AP reporter Malcolm Browne was among the only photojournalists on the scene when the monk Thích Quảng Đức set himself on fire in 1963 in Saigon as an act of protest against the South Vietnamese government’s persecution of the Buddhist majority. As flames engulfed Quảng Đức, hundreds of monks surrounded him, mourning while he burned. The photo, sent out as soon as possible on a commercial flight to reach the AP’s offices, was published on front pages internationally the following morning. When President John F. Kennedy saw it, he reportedly exclaimed, “Jesus Christ!” and then ordered a review of his administration’s Vietnam policy. (He would later say, “No news picture in history has generated so much emotion around the world as that one.”) Browne won the Pulitzer Prize in 1964 for the photograph, which also contributed to the collapse of support for the South Vietnamese president Ngô Đình Diệm, who was assassinated in a coup that year. President Kennedy was assassinated just a few weeks later, and his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, would escalate the war. Browne’s photograph, which is newly resonant today, enshrined the act of self-immolation as the most extreme form of protest. — Lucy McKeon

Lê: I think it’s one of the most incredible monuments that exists as a photograph. [It documents] an extraordinary act of sacrifice for a cause. These days, you see [some] people protesting, and it’s all about their egos. And here, there’s no ego. It’s one of the few pictures I know that’s so violent and peaceful at the same time.

Douglas: He was there for five minutes, apparently, burning, and just didn’t flinch, didn’t say a word. This is what you do when you have no other recourse, when you feel the suppression is so severe that this is the only way you can get your statement heard.

Meiselas: It makes me think of the Napalm Girl, as well [ Nick Ut’s 1972 image of Kim Phuc Phan Thi , age 9, fleeing a napalm attack in the village of Trảng Bàng]. That moment impacted a generation. The question is, which one mobilized us further?

Lê: The Napalm Girl picture, for me, represents the notion that all Vietnamese are victims of war. I started watching war movies in college, and every time the word “Vietnam” comes up, that is the image that people have in their mind. I think the monk speaks to [something] beyond himself. He’s not a victim.

7. NASA/William A. Anders, “Earthrise,” 1968

On Christmas Eve 1968, aboard Apollo 8 during its pioneering orbit of the moon, William A. Anders photographed the Earth “rising” above the lunar horizon. The picture was the first of its kind — and it was also unplanned. Anders, the youngest of the three astronauts on the spacecraft, had been tasked with taking photographs of the moon’s craters, mountains and other geological features. He spontaneously decided, however, to include Earth in the frame when he noticed how beautiful it was. “Here was this orb looking like a Christmas tree ornament, very fragile,” Anders would recall in a NASA oral history. “And yet it was our home.” His first shot was in black and white. For the next, he switched to color, which emphasized the contrast between the moon’s gray surface and the planet’s blue-green vibrancy. “Earthrise” was the first image most of humanity saw of the planet we live on, a nature photo like none before it and a reminder of how small our world really is, in comparison with the rest of the universe. As Joni Mitchell would sing of the image, on 1976’s “ Refuge of the Roads ”: “And you couldn’t see a city on that marbled bowling ball/Or a forest or a highway/Or me here least of all. …” — E.I.

Lê: “Earthrise” isn’t the first image of the Earth seen from space. There were earlier low-resolution ones in the ’40s , made from unmanned missiles or whatever. There was one made on Apollo 4, in 1967 . But I think this one, taken by a crew member on Apollo 8 the next year with a Hasselblad, is important because it’s humbling: seeing the Earth in relationship to the Moon, and thinking about us not being the only people on this Earth. Perhaps this is when we started thinking about how we should take care of our home.

Miller: Stan, you nominated a later photo, “ Sunset on Mars ” (2005).

Douglas: I’ve always had this knee-jerk response to Apollo being American propaganda somehow, part of the arms race — who’s going to get [to the Moon] first, the U.S. or the Russians? And once the U.S. got there, they lost interest. It wasn’t really about exploration, but dominance. This image on Mars is something quite extraordinary, because in effect, the camera is a prosthesis. It’s both a very artificial one and a human one. We actually extend our vision through it.

8. Ernest C. Withers, “I Am a Man: Sanitation Workers Strike, Memphis, Tennessee,” 1968

In the last weeks of his life, Martin Luther King Jr. took part in a protest of Black sanitation workers striking for safer conditions and decent wages in Memphis, Tenn. In a speech, King emphasized the connection between the United States’ civil rights battle and the struggles of poor and disenfranchised people worldwide, a message that resonated with the crowd. Their protest signs bore the phrase “I Am a Man,” a stark acknowledgment of all the ways this most basic fact was disrespected. “We were going to demand to have the same dignity and the same courtesy any other citizen of Memphis has,” one of the participants, James Douglas, recalled in a 1978 documentary titled “I Am a Man.” The defining photo of the strike was taken by the Black photojournalist Ernest C. Withers, a Memphis native who previously shot the trial of Emmett Till’s killers, and also made famous images of the Montgomery bus boycott , the integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Ark. Withers’s picture became the official record of King’s last major civil rights action. Years later, however, Withers’s own story was revealed to have been more complicated. Like King, the photographer drew the attention of the F.B.I. Unlike King, he became a paid informant. Yet he continued to produce some of the most iconic images of the movement: On April 4, 1968, less than a week after taking this photo, Withers was on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, photographing the blood stain at the scene of King’s assassination. — L.M.

Shikeith: I think I first saw this image around the time the Million Man March was happening [in 1995]. I have a greater understanding of manhood [now] and how much of it I want to align with, and how much I don’t. But I understand how vital the need to identify as a man was in that moment.

Meiselas: I love the contrast of “I am a man,” singular, and “I am a collective.” It’s just all there: perfect distance, perfect composition. Whether or not Withers was working for the F.B.I. …

Douglas: Was he?

Meiselas: Yeah.

Douglas: And his role was to just …

Meiselas: Report on his fellow men. They paid him to spy on his colleagues. It’s a dark story. But let’s not go there.

9. Blair Stapp, Huey Newton, Black Panther Minister of Defense, 1968

In the summer of 1968, outside of the Alameda County Courthouse in Oakland, Calif., where Huey P. Newton stood trial for the murder of a police officer, supporters held up posters of him that instantly became synonymous with the Black Panther Party. The year before, Newton, the party’s co-founder and Minister of Defense, had collaborated with fellow Panther Eldridge Cleaver and the photographer Blair Stapp to stage a portrait of himself in a black leather jacket and a tipped beret, holding a shotgun in one hand and a spear in the other. He’s seated on a rattan peacock chair that recalls chairs woven by inmates in the United States-colonized Philippines decades earlier. Its oval back piece frames Newton’s head like an oversize halo. Two Zulu warrior shields are propped against the wall. Stapp’s portrait and the peacock chair itself have since become an enduring symbol of Black Power. Michelle Obama sat in one for her 1982 prom portrait . Melvin Van Peebles recreated the photograph in his 1995 film “Panther.” The visual artist Sam Durant memorialized Newton in bronze in 2004 , and Henry Taylor painted it in 2007 . After two hung juries, the murder charges against Newton were dropped in 1971. For him, the struggle was about survival — or as he put it, “survival pending revolution.” — B.E.

Shikeith: I was trying to think of images that my grandmothers revered in a way. I think this is one of those images that exists in a lot of Black domestic spaces as a symbol for strength and determination. And it has this royal demeanor that’s been continuously emulated in Black photographic practice, whether amateur or professional.

Marcoci: The beret is almost [like] Che’s.

Shikeith: You can see people replicating this pose on the wicker chair throughout Black portraiture in the ’80s and early ’90s. I’m really interested in photographs that’ve had a long-lasting effect on our daily lives.

10. W. Eugene Smith, “Tomoko in Her Bath,” 1972

In the Magnum photojournalist W. Eugene Smith’s picture of Tomoko Kamimura, 15, she is being bathed by her mother at their home, in Minamata, Japan. Kamimura had been born with a kind of mercury poisoning that would later come to be known as Minamata disease, caused by a chemical factory contaminating the city’s water and food supply for more than 30 years. Smith and his wife, the photographer and activist Aileen M. Smith, lived in Minamata in the early 1970s, taking thousands of photographs to document the toll of the disaster — 1,784 people died after contracting the disease and thousands were left with severe neurological and musculoskeletal disabilities. Images from the series were printed by Life magazine in 1972, and Kamimura’s portrait became, for a time, one of the most famous images in the world. Amid the public outcry, “rumors began to circulate through the neighborhood claiming that we were making money from the publicity,” Kamimura’s father, Yoshio, would later write, “but this was untrue — it had never entered our minds to profit from the photograph of Tomoko. We never dreamed that a photograph like that could be commercial.” The Chisso Corporation, which owned the factory, has paid damages to some 10,000 victims. Kamimura died in 1977, at the age of 21. Smith died the following year. Twenty years later, after a French TV network wanted to use the photograph, Aileen M. Smith transferred control of it to Kamimura’s family. They haven’t allowed the photograph to be reproduced since. — L.M.

Meiselas: Without this documentation by Eugene Smith, I don’t think Minamata and the mercury poisoning would ever have been confronted. So when you do choose to represent a victim, I hope it’s purposeful.

Douglas: I heartily agree. And it’s a beautiful image of a loving relationship between mother and daughter.

Vellam: Smith documented people, but he was also very conscious of what he was doing while he was documenting them. I think he took a very long time after he shot everyone to figure out what he even wanted to show from them.

Meiselas: He believed that they should be better understood.

11. Photo Archive Group, “Photographs From S-21: 1975-79”

Some photographs, taken in the darkest moments of history, end up saying very different things from what their creators intended — like the images that Stalin’s secret police took during the Great Purge, or the ones white spectators took of lynchings in the United States. One of the more extensive photographic records of an authoritarian regime comes from the Khmer Rouge army, which controlled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979 and whose genocidal purges of minority groups and political opponents led to the murder of almost a quarter of the country’s population. Before killing most of its victims, the army took their portraits, in part to prove to leaders that the supposed enemies of the state were indeed being executed. Of the nearly 20,000 people sent between 1975 and 1979 to what was known as the S-21 death camp, the Khmer Rouge’s most notorious torture center, only about a dozen survived. In 1994, the American nonprofit organization Photo Archive Group cleaned and cataloged more than 5,000 photographs taken of prisoners before their executions. A selection of the images, known as “Photographs from S-21: 1975-79,” was published as a book called “The Killing Fields” in 1996 and shown at MoMA the following year. Who was the girl pictured here? What had she seen? It’s impossible to know. And yet the regime’s photographic record offers a way into humanizing and remembering the victims of one of the most ruthless atrocities of the 20th century. S-21 is now the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, where a number of the images from “Photographs From S-21: 1975-1979” are on permanent display. — L.M.

Lê: So these pictures were found in an archive in Cambodia [in 1993]. After the Khmer Rouge took over [in 1975], they went on a rampage, killing teachers and anyone who they felt wasn’t one of theirs. The bodies were buried in different locations. But they photographed these people before killing them. There were thousands of these pictures.

Douglas: If you want to make them disappear, why do you document them?

Lê: But that’s the thing. It’s the banality of evil. It’s unconscionable, right? Civilians being just collateral damage in war. Perhaps there are other ways to speak about violence, and I think this [set of photographs] certainly does.

12. Cindy Sherman, “Untitled Film Stills,” 1977-80

Cindy Sherman was 23 when she began making her “Untitled Film Stills,” a series of 70 black-and-white staged self-portraits that explore stereotypes of women in film and mass media. As a student at Buffalo State College, where she originally studied painting, she became fascinated by performers such as Vito Acconci and Chris Burden, artists who put their own bodies center stage. Sherman also liked to dress up as stock characters for parties, purchasing clothes from flea markets and experimenting with cosmetics. In “Untitled Film Stills,” she plays the career girl, ingénue, librarian , mistress, femme fatale and runaway , alternately heartbroken, hung over, daydreaming or determined to escape a predator as though trapped in some film noir. But which film? That feeling of vague recognition was Sherman’s point, as well as that of other artists of the era experimenting with pictures from mass media, who would eventually be called the Pictures Generation, a name based on a 1977 exhibition curated by Douglas Crimp . They wanted viewers to almost recognize the images, so as to heighten the uncanny nature of their work. Sherman initially sold eight-by-ten prints from “Untitled Film Stills” for $50 out of a binder from her desk at her day job as a receptionist at the nonprofit gallery Artists Space in New York. Douglas Eklund, who organized a Pictures Generation exhibition in 2009, noted that the series “never ceases to astonish, as if Sherman knew how to operate all of the machinery of mass-cultural representation with one hand tied behind her back.” Her intuitive grasp of the self-portrait’s theatrical appeal, especially when that self could be manipulated — decades before anyone could have imagined camera filters on an iPhone — has kept “Untitled Film Stills” relevant ever since. — B.E.

Marcoci: There’s something about the “Untitled Film Stills.” It’s this relationship between still and moving images. Cindy Sherman has the capacity to encapsulate, in a single [work], a narrative. She calls on this pantheon of women’s roles from movies that we think we’ve seen, but none of them are based on an actual film still. There’s one [“Untitled Film Still #13,” 1978] where she looks like Brigitte Bardot in a head scarf from Jean-Luc Godard’s “Contempt” (1963), but she’s a librarian. She’s reaching for a book. She makes the Bardot type into an intellectual, which is [an agency] that most male Hollywood filmmakers of the time, or even a filmmaker like Godard, would not have given the real Bardot. She was able to see something about how we engage with mass media and tweak it.

Douglas: I’m not convinced about Sherman. [There’s] an art-world canonization of the work. How important was it? How influential? I don’t think it was that important or influential outside of a very small area.

Marcoci: On the other hand, if you ask people if they know about Sherman, they probably do.

Lê: They do. Many young women find Sherman’s work empowering.

Marcoci: I never thought that we would just be considering photojournalism.

Meiselas: No.

Douglas: I mean, looking at the art world, I would include Ed Ruscha’s “Every Building on the Sunset Strip” [1966].

13. Ed Ruscha, “Every Building on the Sunset Strip,” 1966

As a teenager in Oklahoma City in the 1950s, Ed Ruscha delivered newspapers by bicycle daily along a two-mile route. He dreamed about making a model of all the buildings on his circuit, he later recalled in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, “like an architect standing over a table and plotting out a city.” After moving to Los Angeles for art school in 1956, Ruscha became obsessed with the city’s architecture, particularly on the Sunset Strip, that part of Sunset Boulevard that stretches for about two miles, like his old paper route, across West Hollywood. In 1966, Ruscha photographed both sides of the Strip by securing a motorized camera to the bed of a pickup truck. The result was “Every Building on the Sunset Strip,” a nearly 25-foot accordion-fold, self-published artist’s book. Today, Ruscha is most famous for his text-based paintings, many of which reference corporate logos and advertising slogans, for which he is widely celebrated as postwar America’s answer to the Dadaist nonsense movement. But his photography shares with the paintings a repetitive, deadpan humor. In addition to the Sunset Strip, Ruscha photographed swimming pools, gas stations, parking lots and apartments, and collected the images into small books that provoked the ire of critics — and fellow photographers — who deemed the work lacking in style and meaning. (“Only an idiot would take pictures of nothing but the filling stations,” the photographer Jeff Wall once complained.) But what he created was a kind of time travel, a meticulous, obsessive visual cartography of a long-lost Los Angeles. He and his brother, Paul, still make the trip to photograph the street every couple of years. — B.E.

Marcoci: I love [Ed] Ruscha, and I think we’ve barely touched on conceptual photography. Obviously superimportant, but is he really the photographer that did so much for photography through that series?

Meiselas: I know what you mean. Of course, because the photographs came way early, we rediscovered them after he became famous for painting.

Miller: Well, he’s certainly not as famous as a photographer as some people on this list, but I don’t know if we need to get hung up on that.

Douglas: I think “Sunset Strip” was extraordinary. Ruscha produces photographs governed by a hard-core conceptual procedure. In the case of “Every Building on the Sunset Strip,” the procedure is in the title and, in order to fulfill it, he had to make hundreds of stops along a Los Angeles street. But I also thought this was too inside the art world.

Miller: Maybe this is a good time to talk about Nan Goldin.

14. Nan Goldin, “The Ballad of Sexual Dependency,” 1979-2004

Nan Goldin originally presented “Ballad,” named after a song from Bertolt Brecht’s satirical musical “The Threepenny Opera,” as a series of 35-millimeter slides shown by a carousel projector in bars and nightclubs and backed by an eclectic soundtrack — from Dean Martin to the Velvet Underground. Goldin’s visual diary is itself a bohemian opera of New York’s downtown counterculture, a community freed from convention yet abandoned many times over by society; it documents sex, addiction, beauty, violence, powerful friendship, the AIDS crisis and the joyful struggle to live beyond the limits of the mainstream. Friends were photographed doing the twist at a party or preparing to inject heroin. In “Nan One Month After Being Battered” (1984), a portrait of domestic abuse, the artist’s bloodshot eye meets the lens head-on. Goldin’s “Ballad” has since been credited with inspiring everything from selfie culture to the raw, diaristic aesthetic and saturated color now commonplace across social media and in fine art. Over the years, Goldin would revise and update the series, presenting it with new images and a different soundtrack, and it would become an ubiquitous presence in galleries and museums. But because the work has so thoroughly permeated the culture, it’s easy to overlook just how radical it was when it debuted. In “ All the Beauty and the Bloodshed ,” Laura Poitras’s 2022 documentary about Goldin, the photographer describes a resistance to her art in the ’80s, “especially from male artists and gallerists who said ‘This isn’t photography. Nobody photographs their own life.’ It was still a kind of outlier act.” — L.M.

Marcoci: We’re talking about an artist who’s very much engaged with youth culture, with the cultures that transgress gender binaries. Also with the ravages of a generation that takes drugs, that loves, that dies young. “The Ballad of Sexual Dependency” is a ballad. It shows this group of people as images set to music.

Meiselas: It was radical, it was very impactful to the photographic medium. But here’s my question: Would we be choosing either Nan [Goldin] or Cindy Sherman if we didn’t know their names?

Marcoci: Did you watch the “Ballad”?

Meiselas: Of course. I watched it in 1985.

Marcoci: How many times?

Meiselas: How many times has she changed it?

Marcoci: But even that I like. You don’t need to choose one picture. It’s interesting for me when photography is not just a moment that’s frozen in time, when it has the capacity to change.

15. Wolfgang Tillmans, “Lutz, Alex, Suzanne & Christoph on Beach (B/W),” 1993

A slightly different, color image of the same people in “Lutz, Alex, Suzanne & Christoph on Beach (B/W)” was first published by i-D magazine in 1993 for an unconventional fashion story about camouflage. The German photographer Wolfgang Tillmans staged the scene in Bournemouth, England, where he’d attended art school the previous year, and captured a whorl of bodies in military fatigues, each person clasping another’s arm, thigh or chest, and all wearing camouflage patterns from different countries — a post-Cold War utopia. The black-and-white version was printed on color paper, which accounts for the warmth of its tone. On the beach, Lutz, Alex, Suzanne and Christoph appear as if from a scene in Charles and Ray Eames’s 1977 short film “Powers of Ten,” which zooms out from a sunny picnic into the farthest reaches of the universe. Tillmans’s photograph “seems to model something like chosen family,” says the curator Phil Taylor, who edited a collection of the artist’s interviews. The way Tillmans envisions family in this early portrait — as a tight embrace amid the implied violence of the outside world — is emblematic of the way he would go on to depict men kissing at gay nightclubs or activists at antiwar demonstrations, each a picture of solidarity against the odds. — B.E.

Lê: I think Wolfgang [Tillmans] captured youth culture — in magazines like i-D and The Face — at a time [the early ’90s] when young people were being captured in a different way: It was very clinical and idealized, and he just came out with this very real [take on] youth culture. The pictures were a little more grainy, and I think it [changed] the way young people are seen. My students always bring up his work. I think it’s a way to photograph your family and friends and turn them into real protagonists. And I see that influence as very long-lasting.

Marcoci: What’s interesting in this image is [that] it’s four friends on a beach, dressed in camouflage. Camouflage immediately makes you think of military uniforms, of obedience, of listening to orders. But in the techno culture of these clubs in the 1990s, it had become a symbol of individuality and freedom: the exact opposite of what the uniform means.

Meiselas: This image, if I didn’t know his name, I would’ve just turned the page.

Lê: I think we need a picture that speaks about youth. And I think even though this picture was made in ’93 …

Miller: … That’s still how young people are photographed today.

16. Lee Friedlander, “Boston,” 1986, From the Series “At Work,” 1975-95

Lee Friedlander is best known for photographing America’s social landscape, from mundane street scenes in the Midwest to nudes of Madonna that were taken in the late 1970s. Between 1975 and 1995, he created six series of photographs depicting employees at different types of workplaces, including Rust Belt factories, a telemarketing call center and a New York investment firm. One of these series, commissioned by the M.I.T. Museum and produced between 1985 and 1986, looks at office workers in the Boston area who used desktop computers for their jobs. At the time, this was a fairly new development, but one that Friedlander presciently recognized would come to define not just corporate life but humanity itself. His subjects are often seemingly oblivious — or indifferent — to the presence of the camera. Likewise, his camera often omits the computers themselves, the ostensible subject of his images. Instead, the workers, sitting at brightly lit desks, are pictured from the chest up, their detached expressions familiar to any of us as they sit engrossed in (or bored by) screens just out of frame. With this series Friedlander had tapped into the dark comedy of the mundane. His influence can be seen in a generation of younger photographers who seek to question everyday life — from Alec Soth to LaToya Ruby Frazier — and whose images would mostly be viewed on screens. — E.I.

Marcoci: I love this series.

Douglas: I love it, too, but I put this in out of guilt for not having more art people in here. It’s images of these people just engaged in the world around them.

Meiselas: In autonomous labor. I remember when I first saw this series of white-collar workers in front of machines.

Lê: No one had done that before.

17. LaToya Ruby Frazier, “The Last Cruze,” 2019

LaToya Ruby Frazier’s series “The Last Cruze,” named after the compact car made by General Motors, follows the 2019 closure of an auto plant in Lordstown, Ohio, that had been open since 1966. Over nine months, Frazier documented the impact one corporation can have on a community, which lost thousands of jobs. The work was first presented as a multimedia installation: More than 60 portraits and video interviews with union workers and their families were mounted to orange metal trusses at the Renaissance Society in Chicago. In the accompanying monograph, Frazier included essays by artists and critics as well as members of the local chapter of the United Auto Workers union. On its cover is this photograph, which she shot from a helicopter, showing a group of workers and their families protesting the plant’s abrupt shuttering and requesting a new product to work on. Other images show Lordstown residents in various states of mourning — wiping away tears or proudly displaying union memorabilia. Born in a Pennsylvania steel manufacturing town, Frazier embedded herself with the Ohio workers, producing one of the most detailed records of the gutting of America’s working class. “‘The Last Cruze’ is a workers’ monument,” she has said. “It is half-holy, half-assembly line.” — L.M.

Marcoci: LaToya Ruby Frazier is a true artist-activist. These workers were losing their pension plans, their health benefits, you name it. It’s a work that includes more than 60 pictures of union workers along with their testimonies, because she also did these interviews with them.

Miller: I think “The Last Cruze” might be the only complete photographic record we have of the impact that corporate decision-making has on a work force. GM skipped town, cut their costs and the people of Lordstown were left holding the bag. We have another picture, nominated by Susan, that also documents labor.

18. Sebastião Salgado, “Serra Pelada Gold Mine, State of Pará, Brazil,” 1986

One of the most striking aspects of Sebastião Salgado’s photographs of an open-air gold mine in Brazil is the scale. Several thousand men — their bodies hunched and fragile — are rendered miniature against the backdrop of a massive pit in the earth. In the photos, most of the miners are climbing into or out of that pit, holding tools or ferrying sacks up and down narrow ladders and steep slopes. In several shots, Salgado chose not to include the horizon within the frame; the viewer can’t see where the workers’ dangerous journey ends. The photographer, who was born in the state of Minas Gerais (which means “general mines”) in Brazil, spent 35 days at Serra Pelada, living alongside the miners while he took these photographs. When they were published in 1987 in The New York Times Magazine, they revealed a late-20th-century gold rush and the appalling conditions facing those at the bottom of it. In the nearly four decades since, Salgado has gone on to capture the burning oil wells in Kuwait, the genocide in Rwanda and the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. Some critics have labeled him an “aesthete of misery,” using the plight of the poor and disenfranchised to make visually striking pictures. When these images are exhibited in a fine art context, their size is so massive, the sheer aesthetics of the imagery threaten to eclipse the act of documentation. But in a profile in The Guardian this year marking his 80th birthday, Salgado responded, “I came from the third world. When I was born, Brazil was a developing country. The pictures I took, I took from my side, from my world, from where I come from. … The flaw my critics have, I don’t. It’s the feeling of guilt.” — E.I.

Meiselas: The scale of what he presented to us at the time was really quite amazing.

Douglas: It was like, “Holy moly, that’s still going on?”

Meiselas: Exactly.

19. Stuart Franklin, an Unidentified Man Blocking a Column of Tanks in Tiananmen Square, 1989

On June 4, 1989, as a column of tanks rolled into formation on Chang’an Avenue bordering Tiananmen Square, the Magnum photographer Stuart Franklin watched from the sixth-floor balcony of the nearby Beijing Hotel. He was holed up there with several other foreign correspondents, who were all covering the weekslong protests, led by hundreds of thousands of unarmed students, against the Chinese Community Party. The previous night, the People’s Liberation Army had cleared the area with force; that morning, they prevented parents from looking for students lost in the fray, and the soldiers fired live rounds even as medics attempted to rush the injured to safety. (Thousands are thought to have been killed in the protests, although an official death toll has never been released.) Suddenly, a young man in a white shirt and dark pants, holding shopping bags in his hands, approached the first tank. On the video footage, it attempts to maneuver around him. Like a matador taunting a bull, he flings his arms in fury and, when the tank turns back, the man jumps out again. Yet the dramatic photograph Franklin took, with five tanks and a destroyed bus in the frame, draws its power from its stillness, its potential energy. (Four other photographers are known to have captured the same scene, including Jeff Widener, whose tightly framed version for The Associated Press ran on the front page of The Times.) Authoritarian regimes cannot tolerate symbolic images of resistance and, while the Tank Man — whose identity has never been confirmed — became an inspiration for pro-democracy movements across the world, he was snuffed out from official Chinese memory. Today, image searches in China for “Tiananmen Square” only turn up cheerful pictures of a tourist destination. — B.E.

Douglas: Multiple photographers shot this image because they were all in the same corner of a hotel overlooking Tiananmen Square. They couldn’t really shoot anywhere else on the square. The first time I saw this scene, it was a video.

Meiselas: Right, there was a television camera. The stills are very different. And I don’t care whose image it is. I’m thinking about the man in front of the tank and what happens when one man stands up. And I love how this looks alongside Ernest Withers’s “I Am a Man.”

20. Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin, “The Day Nobody Died,” 2008

In 2008, the artist duo Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin were embedded with the British Army in Afghanistan during a period that was, at the time, the deadliest week since the war began in 2001. They brought a lightproof box containing a roll of photographic paper, and, occasionally, exposed six-meter segments of the paper to the sun for 20 seconds at a time. They were creating photograms, which, as opposed to conventional war photographs, display the marks of their making but little else. The resulting works — 12 in total — set out “to create a kind of post-mortem of photojournalistic representation of conflict,” as the artists wrote when the work was first exhibited. They made these images on days when a BBC fixer was executed or a suicide attack killed nine Afghan soldiers. But they also made one on the day that the title refers to — a day with no fatalities. In a literal sense, there isn’t anything to see in the images except splashes of light as abstract as a blurry sonogram. When Broomberg and Chanarin arrived in Afghanistan, the war was in its seventh year and, by then, a surfeit of photographs depicting death and violence had long been circulating. There’s hardly consensus on what to leave out when depicting war, but there is some consensus on the need to bear witness. With their photograms, Broomberg and Chanarin found a new, unexpected, but no less emotional way of doing so. — E.I.

Miller: There were a lot of different kinds of images of war from the George W. Bush era. Nadia, you nominated Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin’s “The Day Nobody Died,” which is very abstract.

Douglas: What is it?

Vellam: They did this project in Afghanistan where they took rolls of photo paper and put them outside, exposing them to the sun or the weather. Whatever would happen while the photo paper was exposed was the work. It’s about a new idea of photography, about it not depicting something specific but creating a mood. And this one was taken, as the title says, on a day nobody died, which is such an interesting and different way to talk about a conflict.

21. Richard Drew, “Falling Man,” 2001

When it was first published by The Associated Press, the photojournalist Richard Drew’s image of a man falling to his death from the World Trade Center on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, was denounced by many readers as exploitative. Several media outlets published the image once, on Sept. 12 — including The Times, on page A7 — but it then disappeared from circulation, confined to shock websites like rotten.com. There was no shortage of graphic images of 9/11, including footage of the planes flying into the buildings. But Drew’s photo was uniquely unsettling because of its uncomfortable elegance: a single victim, framed by both north and south towers, caught in a fragile stasis before death. The image eventually began a strange afterlife as “one of the most famous photographs in human history,” according to the journalist Tom Junod, who wrote a 2003 essay in Esquire in which he attempts to identify the falling man. He couldn’t — not definitively. No one has. Recalling war photography that valorizes the unknown soldier, “Falling Man” would go on to be one of the inspirations for a novel by Don DeLillo and an opera by Daniel Levy. Long after the dust settled on the former site of the World Trade Center, the photograph of the unnamed man remains, like “an unmarked grave,” in Junod’s words, merely asking that we look at it. — E.I.

Miller: I think “Falling Man” is the defining image from the most violent day in America since the Civil War.

Shikeith: I was in middle school when 9/11 happened. Images from that day seem to seep into you. You carry them for life and they dictate certain fears and anxieties.

Miller: And then there are all the images from what happened in the years to come. The pictures of soldiers torturing detainees at Abu Ghraib military prison are arguably the most famous photographs from the war on terror.

22. Staff Sgt. Ivan L. Frederick II, Abu Ghraib Hooded Detainee, 2003

In early 2004, investigations into abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers at the Abu Ghraib detention facility had already been reported by news outlets including The New York Times and CNN. But the government had kept all photographs of torture out of view — until leaked images reached CBS. Even then, the news anchor Dan Rather would claim, the network’s executives only granted permission to show them when faced with the threat of a scoop by The New Yorker’s investigative journalist Seymour Hersh. (CBS executives justified holding the photos on various grounds, including the desire to avoid retaliation against American hostages.) The Abu Ghraib photos finally appeared in both outlets later that year. Their subject matter is brutal: men stripped naked and made to form a human pyramid with soldiers grinning behind them; a hooded man standing atop a box, hooked to electrical wires. The fact that American soldiers had recorded these scenes on their personal cameras only made them more disturbing. The photos significantly shifted American public opinion on the war on terror, further demonstrating the power of an image to alter a story. They also speak to a broader shift in news photography, in which everyone — no matter their intentions — is now a potential journalist. — L.M.

Shikeith: Both “Falling Man” and the hooded Iraqi detainee have a hard-core bodily effect on me. I think there was a sort of naïveté to the world I grew up in, just this idea that America is the greatest place on earth. For a moment there, we believed the myth. At least I did. When I started seeing these images, I developed a distrust in a lot of things. It only got worse. I have a very pessimistic outlook, but it sort of begins here, with these images.

23. Carrie Mae Weems, “From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried,” 1995-96

Carrie Mae Weems’s “From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried” is a work of appropriation that brings together 34 photographs, many of them of Black Americans, dating from the mid-19th century to the late 1960s, which collectively form a lesson on the history of racism in America. At the heart of the work are four images of people who were enslaved in South Carolina — some of the earliest known images that exist of America’s original sin — taken by the photographer Joseph T. Zealy and commissioned in 1850 by the Harvard University biologist Louis Agassiz. Originally intended to illustrate Agassiz’s baseless phrenological theories of Black inferiority, the pictures were rescaled and reframed by Weems, who also tinted them blood-red, making explicit the violence that allowed for their creation. Stored in Harvard’s archives for more than a century, Zealy’s images fell into obscurity, only to be rediscovered in 1976. After Weems used them without permission, the school threatened her with a lawsuit. “I think that your suing me would be a really good thing,” she told the university, as she later recalled to the art historian Deborah Willis. “You should, and we should have this conversation in court.” Instead of proceeding with the suit, Harvard acquired the work, further complicating the idea of ownership that Weems investigates. — E.I.

Vellam: We should talk about Carrie [Mae Weems].

Meiselas: We should definitely talk about Carrie. There are two very different options [“ Kitchen Table Series ,” 1990, and “From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried.”]

Lê: I chose the “Kitchen Table Series” [in which Weems poses as the matriarch in various domestic scenes she staged in a single room, containing little else but an overhead lamp and a table]. The kitchen table is symbolic — it’s the intimacy of the home. In a way I always felt these pictures were about people being able to be themselves, being open and visible in a way that they maybe can’t in public.

Marcoci: To me, the “Kitchen Table Series” is a true performance for the camera in a way that Cindy’s is in “Untitled Film Stills.” But “From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried” is an amazing work because it engages with race, with slavery, with colonialism, through an archive. The subjects here were really originally presented as specimens. But what Carrie does is give a voice back to these subjects, whose voices were completely muted. She enlarges the photographs. She tints them blood-red. The whole thing becomes a poem.

Shikeith: This particular work taught me how to use photographs to tell a story. And the fact that [Harvard threatened to sue her] introduces this whole other issue about who gets to tell what stories.

24. Deana Lawson, “Nation,” 2018

The idea for “Nation” came to Deana Lawson in a dream. She was haunted by a story that George Washington’s false teeth were made from the teeth of enslaved people . For months, she kept an image of Washington’s dentures — held in Mount Vernon’s collection — on the wall of her bedroom. Lawson dreamed about a person wearing a mouth guard and wondered if she might forge a connection between the majesty of gold — the jewelry of hip-hop and the regalia of the Ashanti Kingdom — and the fact that the first president of the United States could only speak the lofty words of liberty through teeth that once belonged to the oppressed. Lawson is known for portraits she stages in homes and other intimate spaces, often decorated with a large array of objects: family pictures, children’s toys, a Michael Jackson poster. In her images, Black men and women, their skin captured in color with meticulous attention to shade and tone, appear not as documentary subjects but as vessels. “Her people seem to occupy a higher plane, a kingdom of restored glory,” the novelist Zadie Smith has written of Lawson’s photography. At the photo shoot for “Nation,” Lawson offered three hip-hop artists a selection of jewelry and a mouth guard, typically worn during dental procedures, painted gold. “Someone said that I’m ruthless when it comes to what I want,” Lawson says in an interview in her self-titled 2018 monograph. “I have an image in mind that … burns so deeply that I have to make it, and I don’t care what people are going to think.” “Nation” presents an endless series of questions about Black lineage, going back centuries before the nation’s founding. Lawson later printed the picture of Washington’s teeth on a card and slipped it into the edge of the work’s golden frame. — B.E.

Miller: Deana Lawson seems to be doing something similar to Weems in “Nation.”

Marcoci: I think that’s an amazing image. It’s actually a collage, with the picture of George Washington’s dentures tucked into the top right corner. She’s said photography has the power to make history and the present speak to each other.

25. Carlijn Jacobs, “Renaissance,” 2022

On July 29, 2022, when Beyoncé released “Renaissance,” the first of what she’s envisioned as a three-act magnum opus (act two, “Cowboy Carter,” was released this March), the public was exhausted after two and a half years of pandemic restrictions and unprecedented change to their daily routines. They were stir-crazy and impatient for the dance floor. Beyoncé embraced the sounds of house music pioneered by Black and queer D.J.s, as well as the subversive, high-gloss styling of ballroom culture. The singer appears on the album’s cover in a Giannina Azar-designed silver rope dress, sitting astride a horse covered in mirrors. The image was taken by Carlijn Jacobs, a Dutch fashion photographer interested in the art of masquerade and maximalist glamour, and alludes to both rodeo and royalty. It also conjures a range of artistic references, including Kehinde Wiley’s painting “ Equestrian Portrait of Isabella of Bourbon ” (2016); Rose Hartman’s snapshots of Bianca Jagger on a white horse at Studio 54 in 1977; and John Collier’s 1890s painting of Lady Godiva, the 11th-century Englishwoman said to have rode her horse naked through the streets as a form of protest. — B.E.

Vellam: Does anybody else feel like we’re missing a pop-culture celebrity moment? If we’re talking about images that go everywhere, and that people who live in the middle of the country all are going to look at, I don’t feel we have that.

Douglas: I think it’s important to include the idea of celebrity culture in photography. I’m not quite sure what that would be.

Lê: There’s the [2017] picture of Beyoncé pregnant with all the flowers .

Miller: Initially, Shikeith had also picked Beyoncé from the album cover of “Dangerously in Love” (2003).

Marcoci: But sorry, why don’t we then just choose a [Richard] Avedon of a celebrity?

Vellam: Marilyn Monroe [from 1957]. But don’t we feel like we have plenty of photographs from the past? Don’t we want to think about what celebrity is now?

Miller: What’s the iconic pop culture image from the last five years?

Douglas: Is there a Kardashian image?

Vellam: I can’t, because I hate them so much. But yes, you want the thing of [Kim Kardashian] when she broke the internet with her butt [an image that ran on the cover of Paper magazine in 2014].

Douglas: I’m going back to Beyoncé, because [you want] an image of a celebrity who’s not a person but an image. She’s like a simulacrum somehow.

Vellam: With her “Renaissance” cover, suddenly she was plastered everywhere. It was all over the city.

Douglas: I’d buy that.

Shikeith: I think it’s very important that she released this album and highlighted Black queer contributions to music in the culture because, very frequently, those same contributions are erased or attributed to someone else. Especially in pop culture.

Marcoci: Can you hold it up on your phone?

Vellam: Yeah. I listen to it all the time.

Top: Gordon Parks, “Department Store, Mobile, Alabama” (1956) © the Gordon Parks Foundation; NASA/William A. Anders, “Earthrise” (1968); Alberto Korda, “Guerrillero Heroico (Che Guevara)” (1960) © Alberto Korda, courtesy of the Alberto Korda Estate; Stuart Franklin, an unidentified man blocking a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square (1989) © Stuart Franklin/Magnum Photos; Deana Lawson, “Nation” (2018) © Deana Lawson, courtesy of the artist and David Kordansky Gallery; LaToya Ruby Frazier, “United Auto Workers and Their Families Holding up ‘Drive It Home’ Campaign Signs Outside UAW Local 1112 Reuther Scandy Alli Union Hall, Lordstown, OH, 2019,” from the series “The Last Cruze” (2019) © LaToya Ruby Frazier, courtesy of the artist and Gladstone Gallery

M.H. Miller is a features director for T Magazine. More about M.H. Miller

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