It’s no exaggeration to say that toilets save lives and money. Yet for so many residing in developing countries, it’s still a rare privilege due to unsuitable or nonexistent sanitation facilities.
It was two years ago exactly this time of the year, when travelling to the eastern part of Nepal, I realised that for two weeks the jungle would have been my daily spot for toilet purposes. The men would face fewer problems finding places to do their business, but for women there was not much of a choice.
According to the latest joint report published by several United Nations agencies, one in every three, or 2.4 billion people on the planet, are still without sanitation facilities – including 946 million people who defecate in the open.
Moving toilets and basic sanitation facilities into focus
Nearly one billion people regularly defecate in rivers or fields, spreading germs that cause diseases, killing thousands of people each day.
Access to improved drinking water sources has been a major achievement for countries and the international community, yet UN agencies warn that the lack of progress on sanitation facilities threatens to undermine all the health benefits from such gains.
“Until everyone has access to adequate sanitation facilities, the quality of water supplies will be undermined and too many people will continue to die from waterborne and water-related diseases,” said Dr. Maria Neira, Director of the WHO Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health.
Furthermore, the practice of open defecation is believed to be linked to a higher risk of stunting – or chronic malnutrition – which affects 161 million children worldwide, leaving them with permanent physical and cognitive damage, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The practice of open defecation
The UN plans to include a target to eliminate open defecation by 2030. This, however, would require a doubling of current rates of reduction, especially in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
Although some 2.1 billion people have gained access to improved sanitation since 1990, the world has missed the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target by nearly 700 million people. Progress has been hampered by “inadequate investments” on awareness campaigns, lack of cost-effective alternatives for low-income households, and even social norms, which accept or even encourage open defecation.
Focusing on closing the inequality gap
With the 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for improved sanitation access falling short, focusing on inequalities is crucial, according to Sanjay Wijesekera, head of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) global water, sanitation and hygiene programmes.
In other words, “the global model so far has been that the wealthiest move ahead first, and only when they have access do the poorest start catching up. If we are to reach universal access to sanitation by 2030, we need to ensure the poorest start making progress right away,” Mr. Wijesekera said.
The latest report published by WHO, in conjunction with UNICEF, shows that we still have a lot of ground to cover to achieve universal access to water and sanitation facilities for all.
Clean water, sanitation facilities, appreciate these basic comforts. HidrateMe teaches you how to appreciate water: