2008 INTERNATIONAL YEAR OF SANITATION: TIME FOR ACTION
Lack of sanitation is one of the single biggest challenges facing the world today. Every year, diarrhea resulting from unsafe water, poor sanitation, and hygiene kills more than 1.6 million children under the age of five globally. Diarrhea leads to under-nutrition which in turns compromises the immune system and puts children at a higher risk of other diseases like pneumonia. This vicious cycle of diarrhea, disease and under-nutrition is associated with more than half of all under-five deaths.
The nine Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are time-bound, inter-dependent targets for addressing the socio-economic challenges by 2015. These targets recognise that sustainable access to improved sanitation is fundamental to human rights, health and dignity. MDG 7 -reduction by half the proportion of people without access to improved sanitation is central to meeting all the MDGs and yet very little progress has been made both globally and in Mongolia.
In Mongolia, the percentage of the population with access to improved sanitation has remained relatively low and increased from 22.6 percent in 1990 to 28.2 percent in 2004 (77.2 percent MICS-3, 2005). Of this, only 42.6 percent (95 per cent – MICS-3, 2005) in urban areas and 4.8 (53 percent – MICS-3, 2005) in rural areas have access to safe sanitation. Internal migration from rural to urban areas, particularly to Ulaanbaatar stretches the already limited water and sanitation facilities. A study conducted by the State Inspectorate Agency in 2003 shows that 59 percent of total pit latrines did not meet hygienic requirement in the ‘ger’ districts. If this challenge is not addressed now, we are increasing the likelihood of having a major environmental disaster at hand with even higher incidence of water borne diseases such as infectious diarrhea and hepatitis. The proportion of people living in urban areas is increasing continuously and has reached 60 percent in 2005 from 57 percent in 2000.
The 2005, WHO and Ministry of Health survey shows that only 25 per cent of district schools and 46 per cent of district hospitals had ventilated improved sanitation and only 16 per cent of district hospitals and 28 per cent of district schools have access to water of which, only 50 per cent meet safety standards for drinking water.
A major structural constraint at the national level is the fragmentation of ministries and departments responsible for the provision of water and sanitation services. The roles and responsibilities of each ministry and agency need to be further specified and a clear coordination mechanism is essential for the effective delivery of water and sanitation services.
On 20 March 2008, the Government of Mongolia launched the International Year of Sanitation and developed an action plan on sanitation and hygiene. The objective of the International Year of Sanitation is to raise awareness, to mobilize resources and to increase commitment for the achievement of MDG -7, specifically to reach Target 10; which is to reduce by half the proportion of people without access to basic sanitation. UNICEF and key partners are supporting activities to raise people’s awareness of the importance of safe sanitation and good hygiene.
Meeting the MDG sanitation target is achievable and what is now required is high levels of political commitment, coordinated action at all levels of government, and the forging of a partnerships between key stakeholders such as development agencies, financial institutions, NGO’s, civil society and local communities.
Enhancing the profile of sanitation and hygiene among key policy makers and community members will contribute to initiating a pro-poor policy dialogue, development of strategies and investments in water, sanitation and safe hygiene. Studies have shown that by improving access to safe sanitation along with proper hand-washing with soap can reduce diarrhea rates by almost 50 percent. More families and communities, schools and health centres will have access to safe water and adequate sanitation and will practice proper hygiene. Safe sanitation is vital for health, is a good economic investment, supports social development and is achievable.