U.N. calls for concerted effort to fight open defecation

by Magda Mis | @magdalenamis1 | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 3 September 2013 07:13 GMT

A man uses a makeshift toilet which empties sewage into a polluted canal at a poor village in Beijing, on August 1, 2013. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

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More than 2.5 billion people around the world do not have access to toilets, meaning that one in four people in developing countries defecate in the open

STOCKHOLM (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The U.N. has called for collaboration between governments, the private sector and scientists to improve sanitation needs of billions of people around the world and to focus on the issue of open defecation.

“We must break taboos. As was the case for the word ‘toilets’ a few years ago, it is time to incorporate ‘open defecation’ in the political language and in the diplomatic discourse,” said Jan Eliasson, U.N. deputy secretary-general, at World Water Week in Stockholm on Monday.

Despite reaching the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving the proportion of people without access to improved water sources five years ahead of schedule, the sanitation target is still far short of its MDG goal.

More than 2.5 billion people around the world - more than one-third of the population - still lack access to adequate sanitation such as toilets or latrines, and of those, 1 billion practice open defecation, which translates to one of every four people in developing countries defecating in the open.

Ending this practice could lead to a 36 percent reduction in diarrhoea, which is a leading cause of death in children under five, killing about 2,000 children every day.

“Even when diarrhoea does not kill, it empties nutrients from the body which in turn, and after repeated occurrences, results in stunting, stopping children in their growth,” Eliasson said.

Due to impaired brain development, stunted children are more vulnerable to disease and, as a consequence, fall behind at school and earn less when they grow up.

The “Call to Action on Sanitation” launched earlier this year identified 2025 as a target to end open defecation by providing all people access to sanitation.

“Sanitation is a huge challenge requiring sustainable solutions and concerted measures from a number of actors - national governments, local administrations, development partners, international organisations, the private sector, the research and science community and civil society. As we look beyond 2015, it is essential that sanitation is placed at the heart of the development framework,” Eliasson said.

“Governments and local administrations need to continue to give higher priority to investments in water, sanitation and hygiene - WASH. They should be aware of the substantial savings this would mean for other parts of society, not least for the health sector.”

According to World Health Organization, inadequate water supply and sanitation results in annual economic losses of $260 billion, while studies show that the economic benefits of meeting the MDG target on water and sanitation amounts to $60 billion annually.

“It is self-evident that dealing effectively with the water and sanitation crisis is fundamental to fighting disease and poverty. It is key for enabling a life of dignity for billions of people around the globe,” Eliasson said.

More than 2,500 policymakers, business leaders, innovators and practitioners gathered for World Water Week in Stockholm to find solutions for the world’s most pressing water issues.

By 2050 there will be 9 billion people in a world, and with a finite amount of water, there will be less water available per person.

The theme for this year’s World Water Week, “Water Cooperation, Building Partnerships,” encourages participants to think outside the “water box” so that water is managed equitably and sustainably in the future and that every person gets access to safe drinking water.

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