Sanitation is world's 'most urgent problem'

Posted: 21 August 2009

Inadequate sanitation and its devastating effects on the world's poor are humanity's most urgent, yet solvable crisis, according to international leaders and experts meeting at the 2009 World Water Week in Stockholm.

Inadequate sanitation, Pune, India. Credit: UN-Habitat
Inadequate sanitation, Pune, India. Credit: UN-Habitat
Inadequate sanitation, Pune, India.© UN-Habitat
"The correlation between sanitation and disease is dramatic and unmistakable," said Anders Berntell, Executive Director of the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI). "Yet, at the current rate of progress, we are going to miss the Millennium Development Goal for sanitation by more than 700 million people, leaving still 2.4 billion people without adequate sanitation by 2015, about the same number as today. By any standard, this is unacceptable. We need the political will to translate our intentions into meaningful action."

In seminars, workshops, and side events during the week, participants have explored the causes, health impacts and possible solutions to inadequate sanitation that currently affects more than 2.6 billion people across the planet, kills over 5000 children daily, and causes the illnesses that fill half of the hospital beds in the developing world. The topics include manual scavenging, sanitation for the urban poor, financing of sanitation, and the effects that climate change could have on sanitation, among many other subjects.

"The sanitation problem has a complex solution," said Jon Lane, Executive Director of the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC). "If it was easy it would have been done by now. It needs a systemic intervention. This involves politicians, educationalists, marketers, entrepreneurs, technologists, financiers and philanthropists. Each has a particular role to play."

Washing hands: schoolchildren in Vietnam
Washing hands: schoolchildren in Vietnam
Hand-washing prevents sickness: schoolchildren in Vietnam. Photo © UNICEF/HQ99-0812/Lemoyne
The urgency and international importance of the sanitation challenge will be stressed in a speech tonight by Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of Sulabh Sanitation Movement in India. Dr. Pathak is known around the world for his wide-ranging work in the sanitation field.

Accepting the 2009 Stockholm Water Prize he said: "Provision of sanitation provides dignity and safety, especially to women, and reduction of child mortality. As a matter of fact, safe water and sanitation go hand in hand for improvement of community health."

The Stockholm Water Prize is the world's most prestigious prize for outstanding achievement in water-related activities.