Today some 2.6 billion people worldwide, that is 41 percent of the global population, do not have access to toilets or any sort of basic sanitation facilities. As a result, millions suffer from a wide range of preventable illnesses that claim thousands of lives each day, very often those of young children. To highlight the problem the UN General Assembly has declared 2008 to be the International Year of Sanitation.
The World Toilet Summit in October 2007 in New Delhi
Billions of people across the world, especially in developing countries, are forced to seek refuge in bushes, rivers or lakes when they need to follow nature’s call. As a consequence, rivers, lakes and groundwater are often polluted. It is mainly the poorest of the poor who depend on this polluted public water.
Poor Sanitation causing Health Hazards
The lack of appropriate sanitation facilities is a tremendous hazard for human health, says Uschi Eid, a German Green Party Member of Parliament and vice president of the United Nations Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation (UNSGAB). “80 percent of all illnesses in developing countries derive from contaminated water. There are huge slums without toilets, which means that people can't dispose of their excreta. There is no infrastructure in the cities for transporting, processing or safely depositing the faeces. “
The consequences of inadequate sanitation are especially severe for women and girls, Uschi Eid adds: ” We know that 10 percent of girls don’t go to school because there are no separate toilets for girls and boys. And when they start menstruating they stop going to school on a regular basis. This has long-term consequences for their lives and even for the national economy. “
Motivated by the UN's declaration of 2008 as the International Year of Sanitation, 50 prominent organisations, research institutes, companies and governments have froemed an open network on sustainable sanitation. The network promotes sanitation systems especially designed to meet the needs of local people and recommends new, re-use-oriented approaches and technologies.
Personal Hygiene- A Taboo?
In India, 700 million people still live without toilets. Most of them would be glad to have such a facility, says Bindeshwar Pathak. He is a pioneer in the field of sanitation. He has developed two different types of toilet facilities for villages and cities and founded a social movement for the integration of outcasts. When, 40 years ago, he started to demand toilets for all, he had to fight against a social taboo:” India is a society based on caste structures. And I belong to the highest caste in the Indian society. And I had to work for the lowest among the low, the untouchables. My father in law was very angry, he said: “What are all this nonsense, all these toilets?"
His organisation has installed 1,200,000 toilets till now and provided a new life for thousands of so-called "untouchables". However, there are many who continue to carry away their excrement in buckets, which they put on their heads.
Not only in India, but also in many other countries, personal hygiene is still a taboo. The United Nations’ Year of Sanitation is meant to highlight the key role of sanitation for development and to increase public awareness all over the world.