NEW YORK (TrustLaw) - More people in the world have mobile phones than have access to proper sanitation, the United Nations said ahead of World Water Day.
U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said on Thursday he was pushing a renewed effort to drive progress on sanitation to meet the 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Six billion of the world’s seven billion people have mobile phones, but only 4.5 billion have access to toilets or sanitary latrines, according to the United Nations. Some 2.5 billion people, mostly in rural areas, have no access to proper sanitation and 1.1 billion people defecate in the open, it said.
“Let’s face it – this is a problem that people do not like to talk about. But it goes to the heart of ensuring good health, a clean environment and fundamental human dignity for billions of people – and achieving the Millennium Development Goals,” said Eliasson in a statement on the eve of World Water Day.
The MDG goal of halving the proportion of people without access to improved sources of water has been met, but the target to halve the proportion of people without access to sanitation still has “far to go”, according to the United Nations.
Eliasson’s call to action aims to improve hygiene, better manage human waste and waste-water and eliminate the practice of open defecation by 2025.
Some 20 countries, primarily in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, account for over 80 percent of open defecation globally. They have the highest incidence of under-five deaths, high levels of malnutrition and poverty and large disparities in wealth.
Lack of sanitation is particularly detrimental to women and girls. When they have to leave their homes to find a place to urinate or defecate they become vulnerable to sexual violence, and the lack of toilets in schools impedes girls’ access to education.
“Few interventions would have greater impact on the lives of women and girls than addressing the health problems caused by poor sanitation and hygiene,” said a statement by Kate Norgrove, head of campaigns for WaterAid, an NGO focused on water and sanitation.
Investing in good sanitation also produces a good return, the United Nations said. Every $1 spent on sanitation brings a $5.50 return by keeping people healthy and productive. By comparison, poor sanitation costs countries between 0.5 and 7.2 percent of their GDP.
“Ending open defecation will contribute to a 36 percent reduction in diarrhoea, which kills three quarters of a million children under five each year,” said a statement by Marin Mogwanja, deputy executive director of U.N. children’s agency UNICEF.
For more information on U.N. efforts to promote better sanitation, click here.