LONDON (AlertNet) – At least 24 million people living in 39,000 communities in 50 countries have eliminated open defecation over the past five years, signalling that progress is being made in the fight to help 1.1 billion people who do not use proper facilities, the U.N. children’s agency (UNICEF) reported on Monday.
Under its Community Approaches to Total Sanitation (CATS) programme, UNICEF aims to eliminate open defecation by encouraging social and behavioural change among villagers leading to the construction of latrines.
“No aid operation in the world can provide toilets for 1.1 billion people,” said Therese Dooley, UNICEF's senior advisor on sanitation, on World Toilet Day.
“They have to do it for themselves – with support. And we've found, in fact, that it is only when they do it for themselves that the changes are achievable and sustainable,” she added in a statement.
A lack of toilets remains one of the leading causes of illness and death among children. UNICEF estimates that around 2 million children die each year from pneumonia and diarrhoea, illnesses that are largely preventable with improvements in water, sanitation and hygiene.
Globally, 2.5 billion people do not have access to adequate sanitation, according to charity WaterAid.
REVERSING THE TREND
In India, 626 million people – the highest number in the world – defecate in the open, followed by 63 million in Indonesia and 40 million in Pakistan, according to a joint UNICEF-World Health Organisation (WHO) report.
Trends in the past five years “allow for cautious optimism that significant progress will be made in decreasing the number of people globally who practice open defecation,” UNICEF said.
In Pakistan, through UNICEF-supported CATS programmes, almost 5,000 villages with a total of 5.8 million people have been declared free of open defecation.
Rapid and notable improvements have also been made in Mozambique, Zambia, Mali, Sierra Leone, Malawi and Ethiopia, UNICEF said.
In South Sudan, which in 2011 became the world’s newest country, five communities have achieved “open defecation free” status.