At a glance: Japan

East Asian leaders commit to improving toilets and hygiene

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© UNICEF video
Delegates from 14 East Asian nations gathered in Japan for the first East Asia Ministerial Conference on Sanitation and Hygiene, co-hosted by UNICEF, the World Bank and the World Health Organization.

By Steve Nettleton

BEPPU CITY, Japan, 3 December 2007 – More than 170 delegates from 14 East Asian nations gathered last weekend in Beppu City, on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu, for the first East Asia Ministerial Conference on Sanitation and Hygiene.

Co-hosted by UNICEF, the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Programme (WSP) and the World Health Organization, it was the highest-level gathering of its kind ever held in the region.

Ministers and decision-makers pledged to boost efforts for improved sanitation and hygiene across East Asia, benefiting hundreds of millions of people who still live without proper toilet and washing facilities. Representatives signed a declaration calling for higher levels of investment in sanitation and hygiene – particularly in ways that benefit the poor and vulnerable – and for strengthening regional cooperation to expedite these changes.

800 million affected

While many countries in East Asia have made significant progress in recentg years, an estimated 800 million people, nearly half of the region’s total population, still lack access to safe water and sanitation.

Three-quarters of those without sanitation live in rural areas, where infant mortality and malnutrition are notably higher than in the cities and an estimated 190,000 die each year of diarrhoea-related diseases, according to data presented at the summit.

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© UNICEF video
Improved sanitation facilities are critical for education and overall development in East Asia.

“It is really the women who have to cope with the consequences of the lack of sanitation – whether because of continued ill-health of their children, whether they have concerns of privacy that they themselves face or whether they have to bear the cost of treatment in looking after their children who fall ill frequently,” said UNICEF Regional Director for East Asia and the Pacific Anupama Rao Singh.

‘It’s a struggle every day’

In an illustration of the problems addressed at the summit, Rakimi, a mother of two from Indonesia, blames poor sanitation and hygiene for an unexplained rash that has affected her sons.

For Rakimi, water for hygiene is a seasonal luxury. Her family’s only choice of toilet is a pit dug into the hillside. The only water source for her village of Selopamioro is the same pond used by cattle. In the dry season, she and her neighbours must pay for water to be trucked up from the city below.

“It’s a struggle every day, balancing going to get water and taking care of my children,” she said. “I expect the government should provide us running water and our own latrine – or any other donors that might help us.”

Commitment to follow-up

At the ministerial conference in Japan, delegates pledged to enable the participation of women like Rakimi in the planning and implementation of sanitation and hygiene programmes, and to provide strong leadership through their governments.

“We would like to see more political will. We would like to see some policy decisions so that an adequate environment for investment is there,” said the Director of the Energy, Transport and Water Department of the World Bank, Jamal Saghir. “And when you have this political will and the right regulation and right framework, investment will flow. We would like to see a framework in which sanitation is looked at much more comprehensively than we have seen so far in some countries.”

Representatives here have also agreed to hold a follow-up meeting every two years, providing an opportunity to measure how far pledges made today go to improving the lives of women and children in the developing countries of East Asia.


 

 

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3 December 2007:
UNICEF correspondent Steve Nettleton reports on a landmark summit in Japan to improve sanitation in East Asia.
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