Deputy Secretary-General: Statements
New York, 19 November 2014 - Deputy Secretary-General's keynote address at opening session of the World Toilet Day event [as prepared for delivery]
Thank you all for joining us as we mark World Toilet Day.
I would like to thank the Government of Singapore for its commitment and for co-organizing this event together with UN-Water.
For too long, the subject of sanitation and toilets has been surrounded by silence. It has been a taboo.
Yet today, more than 2.5 billion people around the world have no access to improved sanitation.
We need to change that reality and break the vicious cycle of disease and poverty.
That is why eighteen months ago, on behalf of the Secretary-General, I launched a Call to Action on Sanitation.
It aims to mobilize global, national and community efforts to improve hygiene, change social norms and eliminate open defecation by 2025.
These words – open defecation – often cause uncomfortable silence.
Is it the sadness or anger at the completely preventable deaths of so many?
Is it the overwhelming scale of the problem?
Or perhaps it is just the social awkwardness or embarrassment over the subject or the words used?
Our campaign aims to promote an open conversation about open defecation.
We are reaching out to global citizens, media, development partners, the private sector and political leaders to join us in a global movement. I invite you to join the conversation on opendefecation.org.
Ending open defecation, would lead to a 36% reduction in deaths due to diarrhoea for children under five.
If we could end open defecation in just ten countries, the numbers of people affected would drop by 80%.
Ending this practice, would transform the lives of women and girls who face the daily indignity of finding somewhere to go each day for their basic needs, risking sexual harassment and abuse for not having a toilet.
We would change the lives for the many, many girls who abandon school due to the lack of basic sanitation facilities.
When I was in Ethiopia earlier this year, I had the chance to hear first-hand from young girls about the importance of having access to clean and safe toilets.
They told me that toilets bring dignity and bring equality. The official theme of World Toilet Day 2014 could not be more fitting.
Universal access to toilets is central to defending women’s dignity and equality, as well as their safety.
Too often, policy-makers view sanitation as simply an outcome of other development efforts.
Yet experience has shown that sanitation and sound hygiene are critical drivers of development – helping to secure good health, save lives and liberate people to pursue their potential.
We are making progress. The Sanitation and Water for All Partnership, has registered almost 400 commitments to break down the obstacles to sanitation and water services.
We are seeing a difference on the ground.
In Ethiopia, the rate of open defecation was halved between 2000 and 2012.
In Viet Nam, improved sanitation is changing the lives of a great number of women and girls.
One woman who benefitted from UNICEF’s sanitation programme said very simply: “Before…the environment was horrible. As women, we needed to try to do it in the darkness. It was particularly difficult when it was raining, now it is much more convenient and more comfortable.”
We need to build on this progress if we are to meet our goal of eliminating open defecation by 2025.
Finally, investing in sanitation makes good economic sense.
Poor sanitation costs some countries as much as 7% of their GDP.
Every $1 devoted to sanitation brings a $5.50 return by keeping people healthy and productive.
And the timing is right. United Nations Member States are now shaping a post-2015 sustainable development agenda. One of the proposed sustainable development goals is ensuring the “availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”.
This is essential. By working together, we can end open defecation.
Today and every day, let us send the clear message: the road to a life of dignity for all is through a world with sanitation for all.
Statements on 19 November 2014