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Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

UNICEF hosts first preparatory meeting for 2008 International Year of Sanitation

© UNICEF/HQ07-0455/Markisz
At UNICEF headquarters in New York, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon attends the first preparatory meeting for the 2008 International Year of Sanitation.

By Anwulika Okafor

NEW YORK, USA, 7 May 2007 – Proper sanitation: It’s a seemingly mundane thing that most people in the developed world take for granted. Yet at least 2.6 billion people – some 41 percent of the global population, including 980 million children – do not have access to latrines or other basic sanitation facilities.

The lack of access to sanitation and safe water sources is linked to a wide range of diseases such as diarrhoea, which often leads to or accelerates malnutrition, and pneumonia. And these illnesses, in turn, account for a staggering number of deaths yearly, especially among children.

To focus attention on this global crisis, the United Nations declared in December that 2008 would be the International Year of Sanitation. At the first preparatory meeting for that year-long observance, held today at UNICEF headquarters in New York, panellists explored new ways to highlight the importance of meeting Millennium Development Goal 7 – to cut in half the proportion of people without access to safe water and basic sanitation by 2015.

Planning for the challenge ahead

Led by the Chair of the UN Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation, His Royal Highness, Prince of Orange Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, the all-day meeting brought together representatives of non-governmental organizations, donor agencies, academia, development banks and 29 governments.

© UNICEF/HQ07-0452/Markisz
His Royal Highness, Prince of Orange Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, chairs the preparatory meeting on the 2008 International Year of Sanitation.

Their common goal: developing a focused plan to attack the daunting task ahead. To reach MDG 7, the international community will need to provide over 160 million additional people with access to safe water and sanitation facilities each year.

In his opening remarks, Prince Willem-Alexander called the International Year of Sanitation “a unique opportunity to raise awareness and galvanize political will, especially at the national level, and this is crucial. For it is the national governments – working with communities, municipalities, NGOs and international actors – who ultimately must expand sanitation services.”

Key to child survival

Discussions at the preparatory meeting made it clear that educating the global community on the importance of proper sanitation and hygiene is but one obstacle to overcome. In addition, the process of upgrading a community’s water and sanitation system is costly, and in many areas the benefits associated with these costs are not widely understood.

And disparities between rich and poor, urban and rural communities serve as a further hindrance to progress on sanitation.

But the benefits of addressing this issue through a global programme of action cannot be understated. Some 1.5 million children under the age of five die from diarrhoea each year. Meanwhile, children who become chronically ill due to unsafe water and inadequate sanitation frequently miss school – accounting for an estimated 500 million school days lost worldwide last year.

© UNICEF/ HQ06-0717/Cranston
In North Darfur, Sudan, children send a clear message to the world about the consequences of poor access to safe water and basic sanitation.

As these statistics demonstrate, access to sanitation is a key to child survival and development.

Measuring success

Participants in today’s meeting drafted objectives for the International Year of Sanitation and presented them to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who attended the afternoon session. The list will be finalized and then provided to governments and other partners around the world as a basis for measuring the success of the initiative. The objectives include:

  • Greater outreach on issues of sanitation and hygiene at the local, national and international levels
  • Increased funding for sanitation programmes worldwide
  • Hard and fast commitments from governments and partners to address the sanitation crisis
  • An emphasis on sustainability to ensure that areas reached will be able to continue providing access to sanitation on their own.

“Let us make this a remarkable year of global sanitation achievement – one that generates real positive changes for the millions, even billions of people who do not yet enjoy this basic ingredient of human welfare,” remarked Mr. Ban.

Though it may seem mundane to those who think nothing of being able to use a toilet or wash their hands with soap and water, access to proper sanitation opens up the possibility of a better life for everyone – including improved economic growth, sustained progress in education and a solid foundation for public health. Through the plans set in motion at UNICEF today, the International Year of Sanitation will seek to make that simple dream a reality.




7 May 2007:
UNICEF correspondent Anwulika Okafor reports on the first preparatory meeting for the 2008 International Year of Sanitation.
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