40% of people in the world still lack access to a toilet; that is 2.6 billion people with poorer health, fewer economic opportunities, living in degraded environments and denied a basic human right.
Despite the United Nations General Assembly recently declaring access to sanitation a human right, 1.1 billion people around the world still practice open defecation – they go to the toilet behind bushes, in fields, plastic bags, ditches or along railway tracks; making them vulnerable to verbal, physical and sexual abuse. In sub-Saharan Africa, the poorest twenty percent are twenty times more likely to practice open defecation than the richest twenty percent. For these people, sanitation is about dignity, equity and safety!
This lack of sanitation leaves people, especially children, particularly vulnerable to disease. Most notably, children are at risk of diarrhoea mortality, as well as cholera, dysentery, worms, trachoma, pneumonia and malnutrition. According to the World Health Organization and UNICEF, improved sanitation could save the lives of 1 million children per year who would otherwise succumb to diarrhoeal diseases.
Sanitation contributes to economic development through improving school attendance, decreasing healthcare costs, and improving human productivity due to improved health. These effects make sanitation a smart economic investment, with a one dollar investment yielding an average return of nine dollars.
Moreover, water resources are compromised by poor sanitation. In the developing world, roughly 90% of sewage is discharged untreated into rivers, lakes and coastal areas, destroying natural environments and compromising drinking water.
Essentially, access to adequate sanitation is critical for all people for 5 key reasons:
Despite these facts, progress on improving access to sanitation has actually slowed in the past five years. The Millennium Development Goal target to reduce by half the proportion of the population without access to sanitation is at serious risk. In fact, at the current rate of progress, by 2015 more people will lack access to sanitation facilities, rather than fewer.
Achieving sustainable sanitation for all is a large feat, but the consequences of poor sanitation are too great to be ignored. Thus, a concerted and coordinated response is needed to meet this sanitation challenge.