Top of the agenda at an annual week-long water conference that has opened in Stockholm, Sweden is how to provide clean water and basic sanitation to millions across the world but especially in Asia.
Dutch Crown Prince Willem Alexander speaking at the inauguration of World Water Week in Stockholm
Most of the world’s people who do not have access to basic sanitation facilities live in Asia. In India alone, over 700 million people have to go outside when nature calls. As a result, human faeces pollute the rivers, lakes and ground water. But millions of people still have to drink and use the contaminated water. Many fall ill from diarrhoea.
Many even die says Sunita Narain is the head of the New-Delhi based Centre for Science and Environment: “If we do not treat water, if we do not provide clean drinking water for people, then it becomes a major health burden. And even now water-borne diseases are still the largest killer as far as children are concerned.”
According to the World Bank, 88 percent of all diseases worldwide are caused by unsafe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene.
In order to put the spotlight on this issue, the United Nations have declared this year the International Year of Sanitation. As a result, toilets and water-induced diseases, which are often taboo, are being discussed publicly and globally.
Water specialists are calling for more investment in sanitation in order to improve people’s living conditions and health, and thus reduce poverty worldwide.
Heads of state and finance ministers find the argument that improved sanitation creates economic development more convincing than the health aspect, said Jon Lane, the executive director of the international Water and Sanitation Collaborative Council.
“One dollar invested in sanitation and hygiene generates on average in places like South Asia and Africa about nine dollars worth of economic benefit. A ratio of one to nine is very attractive,” he said.
If millions of people did not have to fight for their survival because of disastrous sewage and drinking water problems, they could use their time and energy to work for their own development and that of their society, Lane added.
Initiatives to provide basic sanitation
Several initiatives have been started across South Asia to improve basic sanitation. One such project that is currently attracting a lot of interest has been developed in Bangladesh. Several small village communities have set up their own comprehensive water and sanitation systems.
Jon Lane explained: “The concept is that people improving their sanitation will see that building a latrine or toilet of some sort, is important, not only for their own house and that of their family but for the well-being of the whole community. It makes a really powerful motivator for bringing communities together to improve their sanitation and enhance their overall quality of life.”
This model project is also being emulated in India, where the central government is now giving more priority to water and sanitation issues and supporting such local initiatives.
Dehydration toilets, using human waste as a natural fertilizer, rainwater-harvesting and new sewage and treatment technologies are just some of the approaches of improving basic sanitation worldwide that will be discussed during World Water Week in Stockholm.