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Summit Pledges to Wipe Out World Toilet Inadequacies

Sanitation experts, town planners and economists are among those gathered in the Indian capital for the 7th World Toilet Summit. VOA's Steve Herman reports from New Delhi that those attending the four-day summit are pledging universal access to proper sanitation facilities in less than 20 years.

As the World Toilet Summit opens, former Indian president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam leads delegates from 44 nations in a pledge to provide toilets to all people by the year 2025.

"…We solemnly affirm our resolve to accelerate the sanitation coverage in our respective countries to improve health, provide dignity and enhance the quality of life of our people," he said.

India is an appropriate place to highlight the lack of proper sanitation in the developing world. By some estimates, half of the people in the capital have no access to a sewage system. Nationwide, it is estimated that 700 million of the country's billion-plus people defecate in the open.

The United Nations says they are among the more than 2.5 billion people in the world who enjoy no organized sanitation system.

Summit attendees, in order to make good on their pledge, are planning to publicize the problem throughout 2008 - which the U.N. has named the International Year of Sanitation.

The campaign will have four key messages as outlined by Jon Lane, executive director of the Geneva-based Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council.

"Sanitation is vital for human health,: he said. "Number two: sanitation generates economic benefits. Number three: that sanitation contributes to dignity and social development. And, number four: that sanitation helps the environment."

Leading the campaign will be the Netherlands' Prince of Orange, who is chairman of the United Nations secretary-general's advisory board on water and sanitation.

"Policy makers are usually not faced with the horrors of lacking sanitation in their personal surroundings. So we will have to keep reminding them what it is all about," he said.

What it is all about, in the end, is human health. Experts say that at any time, half the people in developing countries are suffering from a health problem caused by unclean water and poor sanitation.