Environmental Health

Sanitation a key to health

With 6000 children dying each day of water-borne diseases, delegates at the World Summit on Sustainable Development are fighting for a specific target on sanitation to be included in the final plan of action. But their proposal is being opposed by the US, Japan, Canada and New Zealand who wish to avoid being tied down to a specific target.

With 6000 children dying each day of water-borne diseases, delegates at the World Summit on Sustainable Development are fighting for a specific target on sanitation to be included in the final plan of action. But their proposal is being opposed by the US, Japan, Canada and New Zealand who wish to avoid being tied down to a specific target.

Led by the Geneva-based Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, delegates are calling for a target which states that the number of 2.4 billion people presently without a safe water supply should be halved by the year 2015.

“Something dramatic must take place here,” said SA Water Affairs minister Ronnie Kasrils. “We encourage every head of state to join us on the need for a target.” The council was also calling for a clear plan to outline how the agreement will be taken forward.

Reaching this target would require an additional $12 billion per year, said council chair Richard Jolly.

The council’s report cites the serious consequences of almost 50 years of neglect by national and international development efforts – some seven million premature deaths each year due to diarrhoeal disease, including cholera and dysentery.

More than three quarters of diseases worldwide are caused by the lack of safe water, adequate sanitation and poor hygiene. Other diseases that can be attributed to the neglect are trachoma, which has taken the eyesight of six million people and is related to infrequent washing and inadequate water supply; and schistosomiasis, which affects 200 million people and can be easily eliminated by good water, sanitation and hygiene.

The neglect is also reflected in national and international expenditures: in many developing countries, less than 1% of government spending goes to low-cost water and sanitation and only about 5% of foreign aid is allocated to these interventions.

 Most of the available resources are spent on high-cost water and sanitation for the few rather than for the low cost services of the many.

Without action, this situation will rapidly worsen. Another 800 million are expected to migrate to urban areas over the next 15 years, and without a successful intervention, the numbers without adequate sanitation could double to almost five billion.

 The council has spearheaded the move to put sanitation issues on the political agenda since the International Conference on Freshwater in Bonn last December.

Working in partnership with governments, NGOs, the private sector, community groups and UN agencies, the council has been advocating for a sanitation target by 2015 to be added to the Millennium Development Goals on water and poverty reduction.

About the author