Each year, more than 800,000 children under five die needlessly from diarrhoea — more than one child a minute. Countless others fall seriously ill, with many suffering long-term health and developmental consequences. Poor sanitation and hygiene are the primary cause.
Worldwide, some 2.5 billion people lack the benefits of adequate sanitation. More than 1 billion people practise open defecation. We must break the taboos and make sanitation for all a global development priority.
This first official observance by the United Nations of World Toilet Day is an opportunity to highlight this important topic. Sanitation is central to human and environmental health. It is essential for sustainable development, dignity and opportunity. Poor water and sanitation cost developing countries around $260 billion a year — 1.5 per cent of their gross domestic product (GDP). On the other hand, every dollar invested can bring a five-fold return by keeping people healthy and productive. When schools offer decent toilets, 11 per cent more girls attend. When women have access to a private latrine, they are less vulnerable to assault.
Despite the compelling moral and economic case for action on sanitation, progress has been too little and too slow. That is why I launched a Call to Action on Sanitation this year to end open defecation by 2025 and build on existing efforts, such as Sanitation and Water for All and the Sanitation Drive to 2015, the target date for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
We are a long way from achieving the MDG target of reducing by half the proportion of people lacking adequate sanitation. We must urgently step up our efforts, with all actors working together for rapid, tangible results. And, as we look beyond 2015, it is essential that sanitation is placed at the heart of the post-2015 development framework. The solutions need not be expensive or technology driven. There are many successful models that can be replicated and scaled up. We must also work to educate at-risk communities and change cultural perceptions and long-standing practices that have no place in our modern world.
By working together — and by having an open and frank discussion on the importance of toilets and sanitation — we can improve the health and well-being of one third of the human family. That is the goal of World Toilet Day.