Sanitation is key to MDGs, says UN

2013-09-03 11:45
Adequate sanitation is critical to the MDGs, the UN has said. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Adequate sanitation is critical to the MDGs, the UN has said. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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2013-08-27 10:26

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Cape Town - The greatest threat to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is the lack of proper sanitation, the UN has said.

"One of the main factors that negatively affects water quality is that lack of sanitation. The sanitation target is the most lagging of the MDGs," UN deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said at the World Water Week plenary session.

World Water Week is focused on that the global scarcity of water and how to manage the resource, despite increased pressures from urbanisation and population growth.

Eliasson told the conference that the huge numbers of people who do not have access to adequate sanitation represented a health risk to the population.

"More than 2.5 billion people around the world do not have adequate sanitation, more than one third of humanity, he said.

Service delivery


Developing countries like SA have serious health risks with the bucket toilet system that is still used in many parts of the country.

AfricaCheck reported in July that 77 783 households in the Western Cape were not serviced with adequate sanitation.

In Hennenman township in the Free State province, residents rioted over continued use of the bucket system, despite politicians' promises of service delivery.

"One out of every four people in the least developed countries defecates in the open. This is largely a function of poverty, with serious human consequences," said Eliasson.

He cited examples from Africa where entrepreneurs have turned sanitation into a small business by offering hygienic services to residents for a small fee.

The improvement off sanitation services could result in an increase in health for the poorest in developing countries as well as lessen the impact of violent crime.

Target date

"Ending the practice [of open defecation] could, for example, lead to a 36% reduction in diarrhoea. It will also enhance the personal safety of women and girls.

"Reports from several countries show that many rape cases occur when women have to venture out from their homes to isolated places for their basic needs," Eliasson said.

The MDGs have a target date of 2015 and political leaders have been urged to accelerate progress on the goals.

"Financing discussions are important. Deliberations on the development goals should bear in mind that countries have different starting points, national priorities and regional circumstances," President Jacob Zuma said at the 59th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference.

Eliasson pointed to a range of studies that linked sanitation and poverty, saying that it was critical to uplift the circumstances of poor people.

"As we look beyond 2015, it is essential that sanitation is placed at the heart - in the centre of the development framework."


- Follow Duncan on Twitter
Read more on:    un  |  water  |  environment  |  poverty

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