Finding a solution to the sanitation crisis has been a long-term priority for the Deputy Secretary-General. In this 2006 photo, from his time as President of the 60th session of the General Assembly, he greets children during a visit to the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya. Credit: UN Photo/Bernard Wahihia

Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson wants you to know the facts on sanitation, so this week he is initiating, on behalf of the Secretary-General, a renewed effort to drive progress on sanitation and water goals as we head towards the Millennium Development Goals target date of 2015.

Here are the facts:

  • Of the world’s seven billion people, six billion have mobile phones.  Yet only 4.5 billion people have access to toilets or latrines — meaning that two and a half billion people, mostly in rural areas, do not have proper sanitation.
  • There are 1.1 billion people still defecating in the open.
  • In many countries, 95 per cent or more of the poorest fifth of the population practices open defecation.
  • Despite progress since 1990, the poorest 40 per cent have seen minimal change.
  • One out of every four people in the least developed countries practices open defecation.
  • Ending open defecation is not just about building toilets and latrines.  Poor sanitation has a direct impact on health, nutrition, education, gender equality and poverty reduction.
  • Ending open defecation will lead to a 35 per cent reduction in diarrhoea, which now results in over three quarters of a million deaths of children under five annually.
  • Having to go outside the safety of their homes in order to relieve themselves makes women and girls vulnerable to violence.  Girls are often reluctant to attend school, and parents are disinclined to send them, if there are no safe, private toilets for them to use.

What can be done?

Doing nothing is costly. Every US$1 spent on sanitation brings a US$5.50 return by keeping people healthy and productive. Poor sanitation, on the other hand, costs countries between 0.5 and 7.2 per cent of their GDP.  The global economic gains from investing in sanitation and water are estimated at US$260 billion per year.

By issuing a call to action this week, the Deputy Secretary-General is aiming to bring together key partners from government, civil society, business and international organizations to commit to action.  The aim is to mobilize resources to rapidly increase access to basic sanitation, with a focus on improving hygiene, changing social norms and better managing human waste and waste-water and ending open defecation.  By 2025, the practice of open defecation must be totally eliminated.

Tune in via UN Web TV on Thursday to find out more. Joining him will be Ambassador Csaba Korosi, Permanent Representative of Hungary to the UN; Martin Mogwanja, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director; and Kate Norgrove, Head of Campaigns, WaterAid.

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