If you live in a third world country with poorly developed sanitation, then you’re extremely lucky to have a proper toilet system. According to the UN World Health, one third of the world’s population still lacks this basic commodity we take for granted in the West. If you still don’t value your toilet enough, go ahead and watch ‘Slum Dog Millionaire’ for a better perspective!
The main drawback of not having a well-functioning sanitation system – according to the UN – is that it inevitably leads to polluted, contaminated water sources – jeopardizing public water supplies and leading to various water-borne infections.
India is by far the leading culprit in this icky situation, with more than 640 million people defecating in the open, and not always due to a lack of facilities. Many men who have installed toilets at home still prefer going outdoors as they survey their farmlands or seek a few minutes of quiet.
“Until everyone has access to adequate sanitation facilities, the quality of water supplies will be undermined and too many people will continue to die from waterborne and water-related diseases,” WHO’s public health department director, Dr. Maria Neira, said in a statement.
Malnutrition and childhood stunting is part of the vicious cycle, impairing 161 million children both physically and mentally every year. Diarrheal diseases kill 700,000 children every year, most of which could have been prevented with better sanitation. India still needs to build some 100 million toilets to provide everyone access
The report published by the U.N. is a joint effort by various agencies analyzing the progress on clean drinking water and sanitation facilities, along with other goals in areas such as poverty, hunger, disease and inequality.
With those benchmarks expiring this year, the United Nations is leading efforts to come up with a new set of “sustainable development goals” that are expected to focus on how some $2.5 trillion in development funds will be spent through 2030.
Past efforts to improve water and sanitation have seen some success, with 2.1 billion people gaining access to better sanitation facilities since 1990, according to the report. Yet, another 2.4 billion people have seen no improvement, including 946 million people still relieving themselves outdoors – the vast majority among the rural poor.
However, sadly India slashed its sanitation budget into half.
“There is a kind of a feeling among politicians that, if we ignore the problem it will go away,” said Nitya Jacob, who leads policy for the Indian branch of the international charity WaterAid. “And so we’ve had years of poor funding, poor quality equipment and poor solutions being offered to the poor.”
India is also a victim of its own population growth, with some 1.26 billion citizens now and counting. That “just wipes out any gains in sanitation, or on any development front,” Jacob said.
Still, 663 million of the world’s poorest – more than the populations of the European Union and Russia put together – have seen no change at all. They are left to scavenge for water around broken pipes and stagnant ponds, may walk miles (kilometers) to the nearest spigot for clean water, or may be financially exploited by “water mafias” charging almost a full day’s wages for single cup of water.
“It’s important not to lose sight of the fact that things have gotten much better” even if the goals haven’t been met in full, said economist Bjorn Lomborg, founder of the Copenhagen Consensus Center economic think tank. For example, the world aimed to cut child mortality by two-thirds, but managed to reduce it only by half. “That’s still 6 million children now who don’t die every year. That’s still a big victory,” Lomborg said.