At a glance: United States of America

Promoting sustainable sanitation as a development cornerstone

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF/HQ07-1137/ Noorani
Water pitchers in hand, a girl jumps over a stream after using the UNICEF-provided latrine at Bam Sarai School in Bamyan Province, Afghanistan.

By Elizabeth Kiem

NEW YORK, USA, 8 May 2008 – Water and sanitation experts joined financing professionals at UNICEF House in New York yesterday to identify sustainable methods of providing clean water and safe sanitation to those who lack these basic rights.

At the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance meeting – organized by UNICEF, Ashoka and the German Technical Cooperation Agency – keynote speakers characterized sustainability as important to all aspects of sanitation improvement, including financial, environmental and political sustainability.

“We describe it as a people-centered policy,” said the Executive Director of the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), Jon Lane, who noted that sanitation improvement programmes in the past two decades have been primarily “top-down construction projects.”

A more holistic approach

“A sustainable sanitation approach looks much more holistically at way people can improve their sanitation,” he said, “and ensures that the improvements that they perceive can be sustained in the long run.”

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF/HQ07-2135/ Tucke
Corrugated metal sheets serve as a makeshift latrine on a garbage-strewn beach in a slum area of Monrovia, Liberia, where most residents do not have access to improved water and sanitation.

As an example, Mr. Lane noted that nearly all existing sewage systems in Africa are no longer functioning, largely because they are not treated as a personal priority by those they serve.

Today, 2.6 billion people – over 40 per cent of the world’s population – lack access to a safe toilet. It’s a situation that endangers the health of millions and claims more young lives than any other disease save pneumonia. Moreover, insufficient sanitation hinders economic and social development and hurts the environment.

Filling the sanitation funding gap

Sanitation advocates agree that efforts to address the problem lag behind most other development targets. That is why the declaration by the United Nations of 2008 as the International Year of Sanitation is so important.

Mr. Lane called the declaration “a political action made to generate more interest and support for the topic and, therefore, generate more financing.” He estimates that it will cost $10 billion yearly to fill the long-standing sanitation funding gap – spending to be shared by all stakeholders, from the individual householders investing in pit toilets to sustained financing from big multinational donors.

In March, the WSSCC launched the Global Sanitation Fund to channel pooled resources from donors directly to countries most in need financing for their sanitation programs. To date, the Fund has amassed $50 million in pledges.

“Our aspiration is for $100 million per year,” said Mr. Lane. “Then we can really start to make an impact.”


 

 

Video

7 May 2008: Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council Executive Director Jon Lane discusses the effort to achieve universal sanitation.
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