Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Next UN Development Goals Must Tackle Open Defecation
Experts have crafted tentative development goals to improve sanitation for the 1.1 billion people who are forced to practise open defecation due to poor water supplies, a lack of toilets and absent sewage systems.
A report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF, the U.N. children's agency, says at least 15 percent of the world's population regularly defecates in fields, forests, bushes, bodies of water or other open spaces, putting health at risk.
The combined effects of improper sanitation, unsafe water supply and poor personal hygiene are responsible for 88 percent of childhood deaths from diarrhoea and are estimated to cause more than 3,000 child deaths per day, UNICEF says.
It is a problem sanitation experts are hoping will be properly addressed in the next set of global development targets to replace the current U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015
One goal could be to eradicate open defecation by 2030, says Clarissa Brocklehurst, a consultant for a working group tasked with establishing sanitation targets for 2015 and beyond.
"One of the reasons why I'm so keen on an open-defecation goal is because it is achievable," said Brocklehurst of the Sanitation Working Group with theJoint Monitoring Programme (JMP) led by WHO and UNICEF.
"If you had a big country like India say, 'We will eliminate open defecation in the next 15 to 25 years', the number of children's lives that would save would be just astronomical."
Although the proportion of people who defecate in the open is actually decreasing, due to population growth, the absolute number has stayed the same for several years, the U.N. study said. Overall, some 2.5 billion people do not have proper sanitation facilities, almost three-quarters of them living in rural areas.
Open defecation is still practised by a majority of the rural population in 19 countries, the report said. Nearly 60 percent of those practising open defecation - 626 million people - live in India. Indonesia ranks second with 63 million defecating in the open and Pakistan third with 40 million.
"A lot of people practise open defecation as the default behaviour," Brocklehurst told AlertNet.
"I'm not saying they like it, but in order to get people to understand why they should abandon open defecation – the toll it's taking on their health, their children's health and to make the investments necessary to pull themselves out of open defecation – that's a big job."