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East Asia officials meet to confront sanitation challenges

© UNICEF Lao PDR/Holmes

Inadequate progress leaves millions without basic sanitation across the region

26 January 2010, Manila – In East Asia 800 million people still lack decent toilets and are left using unclean alternatives or even defecating in the open. This alarming statistic, and the terrible impact poor sanitation has on the health of children, is driving countries across the region to increase their efforts and investments in sanitation and hygiene. 

Over the next three days, high level officials from 15 countries in East Asia will meet in Manila, Philippines, to tackle this challenge and look at better regional cooperation. 

The second East Asia Ministerial Conference on Sanitation and Hygiene (EASAN) from 27-29 January 2010 in Manila is a gathering of officials from health, public works and environment ministries.  The conference comes two years after the first EASAN held in Japan, on the eve of the International Year of Sanitation 2008. In Japan, governments committed to increase political attention, action and investment in sanitation and hygiene as primary requirements for poverty reduction and economic growth.

One result of the first EASAN has been in Cambodia, where greater attention to sanitation is now reflected in district development plans and increased government support to community-led sanitation initiatives.

The most recent estimates of the WHO-UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme show that sanitation coverage in East Asia is currently 62 per cent. This is a 14 per cent increase from 1990 levels.  While significant, this rate of progress is not enough for the region to meet the Millennium Development target of 74 per cent coverage by 2015. 

While many countries are on track, the most populous countries, China and Indonesia, still have large populations without improved sanitation.

In East Asia, 38 per cent of the population still does not use sanitation facilities hygienic enough to prevent excreta related diseases such as diarrhoea and intestinal worms. 

© UNICEF Cambodia

Children are the most vulnerable to these diseases, which are clearly linked to poor sanitation, with diarrhea the second leading killer of children under the age of 5 worldwide. Additionally, at least 26 million school-age children in the region suffer from heavy intestinal worm infections. 

In Asia, the use of improved sanitation is higher in urban areas (69 per cent) than in rural areas (56 per cent).  In some countries the sanitation coverage in rural areas is only half that of urban areas.  The worst case scenario is where people have to practice open defecation.  The WHO and UNICEF estimates that 134 million people in East Asia resort to open defecation even in urban areas.

The Manila EASAN conference is organized and hosted by the Government of Philippines with support from international agencies such as UNICEF, WHO, and the Water and Sanitation Program of the World Bank. 

Countries attending the conference include the focus countries of Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Mongolia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Timor Leste and Viet Nam as well as countries with greater sanitation coverage such as Brunei, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand.


For more information, please contact:

Geoffrey Keele, Regional Communication Specialist, Bangkok, +66-2-326-9407,

Angela Travis, Communication Chief, UNICEF Philippines, +63-2901-0177,





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