Wednesday, 20 January 2021

UN in your language

Sanitation as a Human Right

SanitationDid you know that half of humanity lives in medieval conditions, with no clean, safe or private place to go to the toilet?

On July 2010, the UN General Assembly adopted a groundbreaking resolution officially recognizing sanitation – access to, and use of, excreta and wastewater facilities and services – as a human right. Because denying access to sanitation is denying basic human rights.

Lack of sanitation obstructs the right to life and health. Human excreta encourages the transmission of many infectious diseases including cholera, typhoid, hepatitis, polio, cryptosporidiosis, and ascariasis. Diarrhea – a disease directly related to poor sanitation – kills one child every 20 seconds, i.e. more than 4,000 children everyday. This amounts to more deaths than AIDS, malaria and measles combined.

Lack of sanitation hampers the right to education. 443 million school days are lost every year due to sanitation and water related issues. Inadequate school sanitation facilities are a common barrier to school attendance, especially for girls.

Lack of sanitation thwarts the right to dignity. Sick and elderly people face a loss of dignity when sanitation facilities are not available in the near vicinity.

Lack of sanitation hurts and kills. Yet there is a shortage of funding. According to the OECD, only 5.5 % of development aid was aimed at water and sanitation in 2009, compared to 8% in 1990. As one of the Millennium Development Goals, Member States of the United Nations committed to halving the proportion of people without sustainable access to basic sanitation by 2015. But if the current trend continues, it is estimated that the MDG sanitation target will not be met until 2049.

This situation is even less tenable given the fact that investment in sanitation is profitable. UNDP has estimated that every dollar spent on water and sanitation generates a return of 8 dollars in reduced health costs and increased productivity.

In order to turn the tide, the World Toilet Organization declared November 19 as “World Toilet Day”, which has been held every year since 2001. Similarly, world leaders will meet in Washington in April 2012 to tackle the issue at the second Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) Global High Level Meeting.

Talking about toilets might seem taboo. But the simple flush toilet is too often taken for granted in rich countries. Ensuring access to sanitation is imperative for health, education and dignity. It is a fundamental right that must be promoted.




3 Questions to Catarina de Albuquerque, the Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation.


  • Sanitation generally refers to the provision of facilities and services for the safe disposal of human urine and faeces. The word 'sanitation' also refers to the maintenance of hygienic conditions, through services such as garbage collection and wastewater disposal.


  • Access to sanitation has been recognized by the UN as a human right, a basic service required to live a normal life.


  • The second component of MDG Target 7.C is to halve the proportion of the population without sustainable access to basic sanitation. Current rates of progress towards this are insufficient. If current trends continue, this component of Target 7.C will not be met (World Health Statistics 2011, WHO)


  • Most countries that are not on track to meet the MDG sanitation target are in Sub-Saharan Africa and in Southern Asia


  • The United Nations estimates that 2.6 billion people, nearly 40% of the worlds population, still lack access to improved sanitation and around 1.2 billion practice open defecation. An estimated 1.6 million people, mostly children under the age of 5, die each year from water and sanitation-related diseases.


  • Cross-country studies show that the method of disposing of excreta is one of the strongest determinants of child survival: the transition from unimproved to improved sanitation reduces overall child mortality by about a third. Children under five are the most vulnerable to poor hygiene and inadequate sanitation, two of the major causes of diarrhoea. According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the disease kills at least 1.2 million children under five each year.


  • “Sanitation is a sensitive issue. It is an unpopular subject. Perhaps that is why the sanitation crisis has not been met with the kind of response we need,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said .


  •        He added that focusing on total hygiene does more than improve health. “It can also improve the safety of women and girls, who are often targeted when they are alone outdoors. And providing safe, private toilets may also help girls stay in school – which we know can increase their future earnings and help break the cycle of poverty.”