Deputy U.N. Chief Urges More Action on Sanitation Crisis

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Posted on 3/27/2013

Many of us take clean drinking water for granted because it just comes out of our faucets. It's easy to overlook how difficult it is for millions of people in developing countries to get clean water and adequate sanitation facilities. But U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson is trying to keep the issue in the forefront, calling for renewed action to tackle the problem of inadequate sanitation around the world following the recent U.N. World Water Day.

A Call to Action

More than 783 million people — more than twice the population of the United States — lack access to improved water supplies, and millions more are forced to drink unclean or unsafe water in order to survive.

Although substantial progress has been made toward achieving the U.N.'s Millennium Development Goals (MDG) of improving sanitation conditions around the world, the U.N.'s current objectives are likely to be missed by a significant margin, as 2.5 billion people lack access to improved sanitation facilities. More than 1 billion people lack any kind of toilets, a situation that causes widespread exposure to diseases carried by human waste.

Eliasson acknowledged that dealing with sanitation problems can be a touchy subject, but he added that continued discussion and action is vital to improving the lives of millions of people across the globe.

"Let's face it — this is a problem that people do not like to talk about," said Eliasson. "But it goes to the heart of ensuring good health, a clean environment and fundamental human dignity for billions of people — and achieving the Millennium Development Goals. With just over a thousand days for action before the 2015 MDG deadline, we have a unique window of opportunity to deliver a generational change."

Sobering Statistics

When dealing with a problem of this magnitude, it can be difficult to truly grasp the scale and urgency of the situation. To put matters into perspective, the world has 7 billion people and 6 billion mobile phone subscriptions, according to the U.N. In comparison, only 4.5 billion people have access to adequate sanitation facilities. Insufficient sanitation and access to clean drinking water are perhaps the most urgent health problems facing the world today, as these factors contribute substantially to the spread of preventable diseases and children's health in developing nations.

More than 24,000 children die every day from diarrhea and other easily treatable and preventable illnesses caused by poor sanitation. Even children who do not die from consuming unclean water are at substantially higher risk of developing complications due to malnutrition, which causes an additional 3.5 million child deaths every year.

ChildFund recognizes the importance of clean water and reliable sanitation in early childhood development. For this reason, we work in some of the poorest countries in the world to ensure children have clean water, from Senegal to Sri Lanka. Our Water Watchers initiative in Brazil has benefited more than 7,000, and our programs in Ethiopia have provided improved sanitation and drinking water for more than 8,000 people. Despite these success stories, there is still much work to do.

To help ChildFund make a difference in the lives of communities around the world, please consider making a donation to our Essentials for Survival fund. Alternatively, sponsoring a child is an excellent way to invest in the future of vulnerable children in developing countries and offer them the hope of a healthy and happy future.