2.6 Billion Wait in Line for Toilets
By Thalif Deen, UN Bureau Chief, Inter Press Service
Stocholm, 17 August, (IPS): There are more than 2.6 billion people, roughly 42 percent of the world's population, waiting in line for toilets that just do not exist. That's a reality, says the United Nations, which will launch the "International Year of Sanitation", come November.
"No private toilets, no public toilets, no toilets anywhere," chimes in the London-based non-governmental organization End Water Poverty, following a survey of some of the world's poorest nations in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.
The organization, whose global campaign calls for "water and sanitation for all", declares: "The international effort on sanitation and water is in disarray."
Why do sanitation and water remain low priorities? "A lack of political will to push through changes that benefit the poorest and the most vulnerable people in the world."
The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) points out that more than one billion people worldwide have gained access to improved sanitation over the past 14 years. Still, an estimated 2.6 billion people, including 980 million children, have lagged behind.
"Children are especially vulnerable to diseases caused by lack of proper sanitation," says UNICEF executive director Ann Veneman. "Poor sanitation and hygiene and unsafe water claim the lives of an estimated over 1.5 million children under the age of five every year."
At any one time, half of the world's hospital beds are occupied by patients suffering from water-borne diseases, according to the Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO).
And in sub-Saharan Africa, a baby's chance of dying from diarrhoea is almost 520 times that of a baby born in Europe or the United States.
At the World Water Week conference in the Swedish capital, Anders Berntell, executive director of the Stockholm International Water Institute, cited WHO statistics indicating that in 38 of the 46 African countries more children under the age of five die from diarrhoea than HIV/AIDS.
"Still, HIV/AIDS gets much more attention internationally than diarrhoea, caused by inadequate sanitation and lacking hygiene," headded.
Berntell said "we still don't manage to get this message across, and I think we need to turn to ourselves, to critically analyze how we canimprove in getting acceptance for what we know are facts."
In a publication titled "Water for Life Decade, 2005-2015", the United Nations has reinforced the grim facts and statistics relating to water and sanitation.
"Lack of safe water and adequate sanitation is the world's single largest cause of illness," it says, and "can spread such diseases as diarrhoea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid, hepatitis, polio, trachoma and tapeworms -- many of which can be fatal to people in the developingworld."
And there are other water-associated diseases, such as malaria and filariasis, that affect vast populations worldwide. Malaria alone kills more than one million people every year.
The UN warns that increased urbanization is also placing an enormous strain on existing water and sanitation infrastructure.
"Urban centres in developing countries have grown rapidly without adequate infrastructure planning, resulting in million of immigrants who have little access to safe sanitation or water supplies. This puts the entire population at risk, causing serious environmental damage."
Among a laundry list of "what needs to be done", the world body is calling for increased investments in sanitation infrastructure such as latrines and toilets in homes and in every school.
The UN is also calling the participation of women in the planning and designing of water and sanitation facilities -- looking at both issues from gender perspectives.
Other recommendations include: programmes on water, sanitation andhygiene education in every school; effective and sustained advocacy on water, sanitation and hygiene at all levels; and making water and sanitation a priority in disaster-response planning.
Anticipating a crisis, the 192-member UN General Assembly decided in 2006 to designate 2008 the "International Year of Sanitation", to begin in November.
To coincide with the launch, the World Toilet Association in South Korea is holding an international conference, Nov. 21-25, to focus specifically on the global shortage of toilets and sanitary facilities.
Sim Jae-Duck, a member of the South Korean National Assembly and chairman of the organizing committee for the upcoming Seoul conference, told IPS that an "appalling 40 percent of the world population is living without toilets or proper sanitation, causing enormous losses of human life due to the spread of disease."
It is unfortunate, he said, that there is yet no international organization specifically interested in problems relating to sanitation.
"We plan to set up such an organisation," he said, perhaps with the collaboration of several countries that are expected to participate in the conference, including China, Japan, Russia, Britain, United States, Brazil, Turkey and South Africa.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is confident that the International Year of Sanitation will shift the focus onto one of the most neglected health issues of our times: the lack of proper sanitation.
"Let us make this a remarkable year of global sanitation achievement, one that generates real, positive changes for the millions, or even billions of people, who do not yet enjoy this basic ingredient of human welfare," he told a preparatory meeting in May.
"Access to sanitation is a fundamental issue of human dignity and human rights, and also of economic development and environmental protection," he argued.
Around the world, he said, "about two out of every five of our fellow human beings lack access to sanitation services... This is simply unacceptable."
- Inter Press Service (IPS) News Agency -