While sanitation is said to be the greatest medical advance in the past 150 years, some 2.6 billion people around the world – some 40 percent of total population – lack access to basic sanitation, according to the United Nations. That’s something that the U.N. has been trying to change for the better. One of its Millennium Development Goals is to halve this number by 2015.
It’s been hard going thus far, however. The U.N. estimates that the annual cost of doing so would require a relatively small US$9.5 billion yet this is the U.N. Millennium Development Goal furthest from being achieved.
Responding to what it has called a global scandal, the U.N. has designated 2008 as the “International Year of Sanitation”. It’s also recently launched the Global Sanitation Fund, the first global financing mechanism aimed at addressing the problem and is organizing World Water Day events in Geneva and New York City for March 20.
“Over the past 10 years diarrhoea has killed more children than all the people lost in armed conflicts since the Second World War,” according to the U.N.’s Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), which launched the Fund. “Clean toilets save lives. Healthy people can go to school and go to work. “Research indicates that meeting the sanitation MDG target would yield economic benefits of $63 billion each year, and universal access would yield $225 billion. In other words, clean toilets contribute to economic development.”
Raising Awareness…and Funding
The WSSCC launched the Global Sanitation Fund on March 14 in Geneva, seeking to raise funds and contribute to country-specific sanitation, water and hygiene programs in poor communities around the world. Drawing further attention to the problem, the WHO, UNICEF, UNDP and WSSCC are inviting water and sanitation advocates to gather at the U.N. Palace in Geneva to celebrate World Water Day 2008. A sister event is being organized to take place New York City’s Central Park.
“The lack of access to safe water supply, sanitation and hygiene is the third-most significant risk factor for poor health in developing countries with high mortality rates. Diarrhoea alone is responsible for the deaths of 1.8 million people every year, 90% of whom are children under five…It is recognized that improved water quality reduces childhood diarrhoea by 15-20%, while better hygiene through hand washing and safe food handling reduces it by 35% and safe disposal of children’s faeces leads to a reduction of nearly 40%,” according to a U.N. WSSC media release (http://www.wsscc.org/en/what-we-do/global-sanitation-fund/index.htm).
Donations to the Global Sanitation Fund will be focused primarily on achieving two of the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals: those to reduce child mortality and ensure environmental sustainability. The WSSC’s targets for the Fund are by 2015 to reduce under-5 mortality by 2/3 and reduce by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to basic sanitation. The Fund also aims to contribute to the achievement of universal primary education and promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment, two other Millennium Development Goals.
“The Global Sanitation Fund will not embark on the construction of kilometers of sewerage pipes and other huge construction projects, since top-down investments in the sanitation sector don’t reach the poorest people. The Global Sanitation Fund will support programs that have been developed through decision-making processes involving local communities and will concentrate on hygiene education, raising awareness and creating demand,” WSSCC executive director Jon Lane stated in the media release.
Aiming to raise public awareness at the March 20 event in Geneva, a toilet queue is being organized. Joining it will be the guest of honor, HRH Willem-Alexander, Prince of Orange and Chair of the U.N. Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation. The sister event in New York City’s Central Park is being organized by UNICEF and UNDP, which are encouraging people in Central Park to “Stand up for those who cannot sit down”.