As world leaders and grassroots groups discuss how to reduce poverty and improve lives, debates
over precise definitions and accurate measurements are taking on a new urgency. The agenda-setting Millennium Development Goals expire in 2015, but already new definitions for water, sanitation, and hygiene — called WASH by insiders — seek to influence the post-MDG global development agenda.
In February this year, the Water Institute at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, challenged official statistics from the United Nations on the number of people without proper toilet facilities: UNC put the figure at 4.1 billion people, compared with 2.5 billion claimed by the United Nations. Both figures assessed conditions in 2010.
The discrepancy between the two sets of sanitation figures comes from different accounting methods. The United Nations measures hardware — the toilet, in this case — and how well it protects the user from immediate contact with the waste. The UNC researchers, on the other hand, approached the question from a public health angle: they also considered hardware, but in a broader sense, by asking whether or not the sewage is treated.
“We looked at public health and the environment beyond just the user,” Rachel Baum told Circle of Blue. Baum is a co-author on the paper, which was published online in January in the journal Environmental Science and New Sanitation Figures Compete with Official UN Statistics: 6 in 10 Lack Proper FacilitiesNew Sanitation Figures Compete with Official UN Statistics: in 10 Lack Proper FacilitiesTechnology.
The below is an excerpt of the full article. Article and references are accessible as open accessonline at Sustainability 2012, 4(11), 3023-3041; doi:10.3390/ su4113023 at http://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/4/11/3023
Approximately 884 million people lack access to safe water sources and more than 2.6 billion people do not have access to sanitation(a system for the collection, transport, treatment and disposal or re-use of human excreta and associated hygiene ) . Access to clean water and sanitation is also a major challenge faced by disabled people around the world although concrete numbers do not exist. According to the Statement of the Committee on the Right to Sanitation (45th session, E/C.12/2010/1) of the United Nations Committee on Social, Economic and Cultural Right, “over a billion people still have no option but to practice open defecation”; no numbers have been generated for disabled people so far. The statement highlights further that “girls do not go to school in many parts of the world for lack of toilets, or lack of separate toilets for them” .
Access to toilets is also essential to disabled girls and boys [4;5] however no numbers exist as to extend of this problem. According to the 2004 United National General Assembly resolution 58/217, “water is critical for sustainable development, including environmental integrity and the eradication of poverty and hunger, and is indispensable for human health and wellbeing” . Sustainable management of water resources is seen as vital for economic growth, public health, food security and stable societies .
Wetland ecosystems, including rivers, lakes, swamps, marshes, dams, fishponds, rice fields, coastal marine areas, provide many services that contribute to human wellbeing and poverty alleviation. In Kenya, wetlands occupy approximately 3-4 per cent of Kenya’s land area. Despite this seemingly small geographic extent, wetlands provide some of the most critical ecosystem services to a large number of communities particularly those living near wet- lands.
Wetlands regulate the water flows, provide food, store carbon, store energy, and are crucial for biodiversity. Their benefits to people are essential for the future security of humankind. Conservation and the wise and use of wetlands are vital for sustainable socio-economic development. Therefore, human well-being depends on many benefits provided to people by healthy wetland ecosystems.
Policymaking, planning, decision-making and management action by a wide range of the social and economic sectors, at all levels from international to local, can benefit from the global consensus input that the Ramsar Convention on wetlands provides. This includes the identification of the relevance of wetlands, the importance of their conservation and wise use, and ensuring security of the benefits that wetlands provide in terms of water, carbon storage, food, energy, biodiversity and livelihoods. Wetlands are therefore crucial for the attainment of the Millenium Development Goals and the Kenya Vision 2030 goals. Despite the critical functions wetlands provide they are constantly under threat and many continue to be degraded and even lost at an alarming pace.
A year ago, recalls Ashorou Miko, 31, “We were living surrounded by human excreta. The only way to relieve ourselves was by defecating in the bushes. The stench was unbearable.” Today, he and other residents of Kollia, a remote village in the Niger, are proud to walk us through their spotless dust streets and clean mud-brick courtyards. Every house has a covered latrine constructed by household members, themselves, using local materials.
Open defecation brings risk
In 2010, 91 per cent of the population in the rural Niger defecated in the open. The risks were many. Communities were exposed to illness. Women were forced to walk, often for hours, and in the dark, in search of privacy. Adolescent girls missed school during menses. Children were among the most vulnerable. The two main causes of mortality among children under 5 – acute respiratory infections and diarrhoeal disease – are closely linked to poor water, hygiene and sanitation. Repeated diarrhoea is a main cause of malnutrition.
Efforts to improve sanitation in the Niger had been focused on providing subsidies to individuals for cement and metals for the construction of latrines. This approach was expensive and often failed to ensure actual use. “The barriers to latrine usage are many,” explains UNICEF Communication Officer Adamou Matti Dan Mallam. “Using toilets was never part of our practice. And people did not understand its importance. They preferred the simplicity and easiness of defecating in the field.”