Sanitation as a Human Right

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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.