Press Conference in Observance of First World Toilet Day

19 November 2013

Press Conference in Observance of First World Toilet Day

19 November 2013
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference in Observance of First World Toilet Day

Proper sanitation and hygiene were key to promoting robust and healthy living conditions in communities around the world, and ensuring sustainable development, panellists said at a Headquarters press conference today to mark the first World Toilet Day.

Singapore had sponsored the resolution to designate the Day, which had been adopted by the General Assembly earlier this year.  Speaking at the briefing today, the country’s Permanent Representative Karen Tan said that, unfortunately, toilets and sanitation were still taboo topics, as they were often discussed in lowered voices like “a dirty secret or laughed at like a bad joke”.

Joining her at the podium were Therese Dooley, Senior Adviser on Sanitation and Hygiene, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); Tanya Khan, National Coordinator, Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, Pakistan;

and Alex Kent, International Campaigns Manager, WaterAid.

Ms. Tan went on to say that sanitation was no laughing matter, as it affected large and small countries alike.  The statistics were sobering, she said, noting that some 2.5 billion people without access to proper sanitation and as many as 1 billion people still defecated in the open.  “This leads to public health problems and was linked to some 760,000 child deaths each year,” she said.

When Singapore became independent in 1965, she recalled, only 45 per cent of the population had access to proper sanitation.  Three decades later, all Singaporeans had access to proper sanitation.  That had taken discipline, creativity and investments in infrastructure.

“For instance, we have relied on advanced membrane technology to purify used water to drinking standards.  We call this NEWater,” said Ms. Tan, adding that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who had tried it, said it was “the elixir of life”.

Ms. Dooley of UNICEF said that a lack of access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene was a leading cause of deaths from diarrhoea in children under five, which killed approximately 1,400 children each day.

UNICEF, she noted, had spearheaded a social change movement that had led to toilet use and the end of the practice of open defecation for 25 million people.  The Community Approaches to Total Sanitation, or CATS, programme, encouraged communities to take the lead and identify their own measures in that regard.

She urged communities and individuals to change behaviour towards sanitation and hygiene, and encouraged Governments to promote policies and programmes to enhance better water and sanitation management, and to end open defecation.

Picking up that thread, Ms. Kent of WaterAid said that sanitation affected nearly all of the Millennium Development Goals, yet it was the most “off-track”.  Today was important because of the spotlight on toilets and the launch of a new report “We Can’t Wait”, which she said broke a global taboo and the focus on poor sanitation as a woman’s issue.  She attributed that to the fact that women menstruated and to their “all-too-often” subordinate position in society.

Diarrhoea spread by a lack of safe water and sanitation claimed the lives of more children under the age of 5 every day than did malaria, AIDS and measles combined, she added.

Hailing from the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, Ms. Khan similarly said that the global sanitation crisis affected women and girls disproportionately.  One in three women worldwide risked shame, disease, harassment and even attack because they had nowhere safe to go to use a toilet. 

In fact, she said, 526 million women had no choice but to go to the toilet out in the open and women and girls around the world living without any toilets spent “97 billion hours” each year finding a place to go.  Sanitation was a human right and access to safe drinking water and sanitation were central to a life of dignity.  Yet, billions of people still did not enjoy those fundamental rights.

Responding to questions on enhancing global sanitation, Ms.  Kent said that Governments must deliver on their existing commitments to sanitation for the well-being of their citizens, while African Governments should commit to spending 0.5 per cent of their gross domestic product (GDP) on sanitation and hygiene.

She called on Heads of Government to give the issue the attention it deserved by participating in the sanitation and water for all global partnership high-level meeting in April next year.  United Nations Member States also must put safe water and sanitation at the heart of the post-2015 agenda, with a dedicated goal on water and sanitation to ensure their universal access.

“By 2030, no one should have to defecate in the open, and every household, every school and every health clinic should have access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene,” she added.

Similarly, Ms. Khan urged Asian Governments to devote more resources to enhance sanitation and hygiene in their respective countries and for the private sector to also get involved.  All agreed that Governments, international and regional organizations, local communities, the private sector and civil society should do more to expand access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation, especially in developing countries.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.