UN report spotlights India's sanitation problems

Published 22 April 2010  |  
The entire Indian population has greater access to mobile phones than toilets, according to a recent United Nations study.

Highlighting the country's hazardous sanitation issues, a study conducted by the United Nations University said, only 366 million people (36% of the population) had access to proper sanitation in 2008.

In contrast, the number of mobile phones subscribers in India totalled 563.73 million serving almost 50 percent of the country's entire population.

UN University Director, Zafar Adeel said: "It is a tragic irony to think that in India, a country now wealthy enough that roughly half of the people own phones, about half cannot afford the basic necessity and dignity of a toilet."

Adeel stressed the need for "popular education about the health dangers of poor sanitation." He added, "this simple measure could do more to save lives, especially those of young people, improve health and help pull India and other countries in similar circumstances out of poverty than any alternative investment."

Poor sanitation is a major contributor to water-borne diseases, which in the past three years alone killed an estimated 4.5 million children under the age of five worldwide.

An earlier WHO/UNICEF report said that out of 1.2 billion people who defecate in the open, 665 million are in India.

If current global trends continue, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) predict there will be a shortfall of 1 billion persons from the sanitation goal by the target date of 2015.

The latest UN report cites a rough cost of $300 to build a toilet, including labour, materials and advice.

Worldwide, an estimated $358 billion is needed between now and 2015 to reach the UN's Millennium Development Goal for sanitation – some of this funding is already mobilized at national and international levels.

Lizette Burgers, the chief of water and environmental sanitation of Unicef, however, says India is heading towards achieving Millennium Development Goal in sanitation as it has put sanitation on national agenda.

Unsafe drinking water and a lack of improved sanitation and hygiene contribute to about 88 per cent of diarrhoeal deaths. More than 5,000 children under five are dying every day as a result of diarrhoeal diseases.

Globally, more than 280 million children under five live in households without access to improved sanitation facilities.

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