UN launches International Year to draw attention to global sanitation crisis

21 November 2007 – The United Nations today kicked off the International Year of Sanitation in a bid to accelerate progress for the 2.6 billion people around the world who do not enjoy the basic right to proper sanitation facilities.

Speaking at the official launch at UN Headquarters in New York, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said access to sanitation is one of the most “overlooked, and underserved human needs.”

International efforts to deliver on this basic right have proved “lacklustre,” with an estimated 42,000 people dying every week from diseases related to low water quality and an absence of adequate sanitation, he stated. “This situation is unacceptable.”

The Secretary-General stressed that investments in sanitation are among of the most important allocations any nation can make. “For every dollar spent on improving sanitation it is estimated that at least nine dollars are saved in costs related to health, education, and social and economic development.”

He called on the international community, national governments and civil society to take up the cause of sanitation with “unprecedented vigour” to accelerate progress towards the global target to reduce by half the proportion of people without access to basic sanitation by 2015 – one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set at a 200 UN summit.

According to the UN, although more than 1.2 billion people worldwide have gained access to improved sanitation between 1990 and 2004, an estimated 2.6 billion people – including 980 million children – still lag behind.

If current trends continue, there will be 2.4 billion people without basic sanitation in 2015, with children continuing to pay the price in lost lives, missed schooling, in disease, malnutrition and poverty.

The International Year will include major regional conferences on sanitation, including one focusing on school sanitation. It will also encourage public and private partnerships to bring real changes for the billions who bear the brunt of the crisis.

“Today, we go from a stage of planning to one of implementation,” said His Royal Highness Prince Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, Chairperson of the UN Secretary-General's Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation. “It is vital that progress is accelerated if we are to reach the Millennium Development Goal target on sanitation, and indeed the other development goals.”

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