Safe toilets key to reaching MDGs but progress slow - report

by olesya-dmitracova | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 8 September 2010 07:10 GMT

LONDON (AlertNet) - Access to hygienic toilets is indispensable for achieving the Millennium Development Goals, including targets on health, nutrition and poverty, however progress on improving sanitation is glacial, a report said on Wednesday.

One of the targets, set in 2000 and due to be met by 2015, is to halve the proportion of people living without basic sanitation. At the current pace, this target will not be reached until 2049 globally and not until the 23rd century in Sub-Saharan Africa, according to the study by international charity WaterAid.

Â?Without sanitation in place we will fail to reach the MDGs across large parts of the developing world,Â? WaterAid said.

Almost 39 percent of the global population has no access to adequate toilet facilities, the World Health Organisation and U.N. children's fund UNICEF said in March. In turn, exposed excrement infects water sources.

Unsafe water and poor sanitation and hygiene kill an estimated 1.5 million children under the age of five each year, mainly through diarrhoeal diseases, the two world bodies added.

According to WaterAid, progress on sanitation has a direct impact on the worldÂ?s ability to reach the MDGs, which include halting the spread of HIV/AIDS, reducing the child mortality rate, and halving between 1990 and 2015 the proportion of people who go hungry and who live on less than $1.25 a day.

Lack of proper toilets is particularly dangerous for people whose immune systems are already lowered, most notably for those living with HIV/AIDS, WaterAid said.

Â?If you have HIV/AIDS the diarrhoea can be prolonged. It also means people canÂ?t work, which increases their poverty,Â? the charity quoted Zambian doctor Claudia Caracciolo as saying.

Â?One patient who died had been readmitted up to 20 times as he was taking his medicine with bad water, so every time we discharged him he went home and got sick again. The drugs were working on him but what killed him was poor hygiene and diarrhoea.Â?

Another medical expert, Steve Luby in Bangladesh, told WaterAid that children with frequent diarrhoea do not grow and develop at the same rate as children without diarrhoea.

Â?This really contributes to the countryÂ?s under-development because children do not reach their full intellectual potential because of these repeated infections,Â? he added.

Moreover, diarrhoeal diseases place a big burden on already under-resourced health systems, WaterAid said, citing U.N. data stating that at any one time half the hospital beds in developing countries are filled with people suffering from diarrhoea.

The link between poor sanitation and undernutrition is less well-known but a 2009 report in the British medical journal The Lancet, quoted in the WaterAid study, suggested that a key cause of child undernutrition is an intestinal disorder rooted in the ingestion by young children of faecal bacteria.

Â?Without clear political commitment and prioritisation, sanitation will continue to be neglected, with disastrous impact across all MDGs,Â? WaterAid concluded.

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