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UN: Billions Still Will Lack Sanitation by 2015

  • Selah Hennessy

A child demonstrates how to wash hands to her friends, at the Child Protection Center, Kathmandu, Nepal, October 15, 2011.

A child demonstrates how to wash hands to her friends, at the Child Protection Center, Kathmandu, Nepal, October 15, 2011.

By 2015, almost one-third of the global population will remain without access to improved sanitation - which is U.N.-speak for hygienic toilet facilities. That would fall well short of a key global Millennium Development Goal [MDG], which is detailed in a new report published jointly by the World Health Organization and the U.N. Children’s Fund.

Bruce Gordon, the acting coordinator for water, sanitation and health at the World Health Organization, said Monday’s report was published as a wake-up call.

“Now, with the period of the MDGs coming to a close - I think it is in about 1,000 days or so - we are seeing very clearly that unless we do something very differently, the sanitation goal is going to be missed.”

The U.N.'s MDG, number 7, aims to reduce by half by 2015 the number of people without access to clean, reliable toilet facilities - compared to numbers reported in 1990.

According to the report, if the current trend persists, 2.4 billion people will still be living without improved sanitation. They say the MDG target will be missed by 8 percent.

Gordon said a major drive needs to be made to get the numbers on track.

One of the key efforts, he said, needs to be made in rural areas. Gordon noted that a lot of money is spent on complex urban sanitation systems in cities, at the expense of those in rural areas who have nothing.

“There is a big problem in rural areas with sanitation, especially with open defecation. [We need to] ensure that some of the scarce resources are directed toward those areas where we have a big problem, and that just means very basic sanitation,” said Gordon.

According to UN data, one billion people around the world in 2011 still were defecating in the open, and 90 percent of open defecation takes place in rural areas.

Bruce Gordon said the impact of poor sanitation has major impacts on global health, education, and economies.

The World Bank estimates global economic losses due to poor sanitation at $260 billion a year.

Tackling the problem would have major benefits, said Gordon.

“A big, huge benefit for us is health. We have 1.5 million people dying every year because of inadequate sanitation or lack of access to safe water or proper hygiene,” he said.

Gordon cited the most problematic regions by far as being Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

According to a recent report by the charity WaterAid, 600 million people in Africa do not have a safe, hygienic toilet; that is 70 percent of the continent's population. WaterAid says the numbers are up since 1990, largely due to population growth and surging urban slums.

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