By Branwyn Lancourt
NEW YORK, USA, 21 June 2011 – Sanitation and access to proper toilets must be at the centre of discussions on development, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a gathering this morning at UN Headquarters that included members of the Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation, and other dignitaries.
|VIDEO: 21 June 2011 - UNICEF reports on the launch of 'Sustainable Sanitation: Five-Year Drive to 2015' by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York.|
“Sanitation is a sensitive issue,” said Mr. Ban. “It is an unpopular subject. Perhaps that is why the sanitation crisis has not been met with the kind of response we need – but that must change.”
Speeding up progress
He was speaking at the launch of ‘Sustainable Sanitation: Five-Year Drive to 2015’, an initiative established this past December with a resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly to speed up progress on the Millennium Development Goal target of improving global sanitation by 2015.
Also taking part at the launch were UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake, Ugandan Minister of Water and Environment Maria Mutagamba and his Royal Highness the Prince of Orange.
Mr. Ban went on to emphasize that the positive effects of improved sanitation are lasting and far-reaching, particularly in the areas of health and education.
|© UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe|
|At the launch: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (fourth from right) Prince Willem-Alexander of the Kingdom of the Netherlands (third from right), Chair of the Advisory Board; UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake (third from left); Maria Mutagamba (fourth from left), Uganda’s Minister of Water and Environment; and Tsuneo Nishida (second from right), Permanent Representative of Japan to the UN.|
“People living in hygienic conditions are better prepared to fight off harder diseases,” said Mr. Ban. “In addition, adequate school sanitation facilities have been shown to encourage school attendance by adolescent girls, contributing to their empowerment and equality. In short, improved sanitation can contribute to all our development goals.”
Sanitation is among the Millennium Development Goal targets making least progress. The aim is to halve the proportion of the global population without sustainable access to basic sanitation. About 2.6 billion people in the world – half of the population in developing regions – still don’t have access to a toilet or latrine.
Equity in sanitation
Mr. Lake addressed the issue of equity. “Many communities not only have inadequate access to sanitation. They have no access,” he said. “So we can make the greatest global progress by focusing our efforts more on reaching these communities. It’s common sense.”
Over a billion people worldwide have no sanitation facilities at all, and practise open defecation. Mr. Lake stressed that real progress in the area of sanitation needs to stem from the communities themselves, by getting them to talk about the problem and take the lead in ending this dangerous practice.
|© UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe|
|Speaking with reporters (from left): UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; Prince Willem-Alexander of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Chair of the Advisory Board; Maria Mutagamba, Uganda’s Minister of Water and Environment; UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake|
“Since we began emphasizing community-led approaches in Eastern and Southern Africa, the number of people who have gained access to sanitation through UNICEF programmes has increased six fold,” he said.
Ms. Mutagamba pointed out that in order to get people to fully commit to the idea of total sanitation, education must be a focus. “It is often said that providing toilets is not a rocket science and indeed it is true,” she noted, “…but it’s also not that easy, especially when you come to broken countries.”
Sanitation for all
Ms. Muragamba added that often in developing regions it is unclear how practices like open defecation can ultimately harm health or simply washing hands can lead to a better life. Education is fundamental to tempering such sanitation practices, she said.
The tangible benefits of improved sanitation include better health and higher levels of education, which in turn lead to increased wealth and productivity. ‘Sustainable Sanitation: Five-Year Drive to 2015’ aims to not only reach the Millennium Development Goal target, but go beyond it to ensure sanitation for all.