Lack of political will biggest obstacle to improving sanitation – Secretary-General

Lack of political will biggest obstacle to improving sanitation – Secretary-General

A lack of political will remains the greatest obstacle to efforts to drastically reduce the number of people without access to basic sanitation and clean, running water, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today, calling on the international community to take firmer and faster steps to tackle the problem.

“If we take up the challenge, the positive impact will reverberate far beyond better access to clean water,” Mr. Ban said in a message to mark World Water Day, which is celebrated today. This year's Day also coincides with the International Year of Sanitation.

“Every dollar invested in water and sanitation yields an estimate seven dollars worth of productive activity. And that comes on top of the immeasurable gains in cutting poverty, improving health and raising living standards.”

The Secretary-General described it as unconscionable that a child dies on average every 20 seconds because of sub-standard sanitation conditions – a situation endured by an estimated 2.6 billion people worldwide, or more than a third of the global population – that are preventable.

“Poor sanitation combines with a lack of safe drinking water and inadequate hygiene to contribute to the terrible global death toll. Those who survive face diminished chances of living a healthy and productive existence. Children, especially girls, are forced to stay out of school, while hygiene-related diseases keep adults from engaging in productive work.”

Halving the proportion of people without access to basic sanitation is one of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) devised at a global leaders' summit in 2000, but the world is far behind the pace to achieve that by the target date of 2015, Mr. Ban said.

“Experts predict that by 2015, 2.1 billion people will still lack basic sanitation. At the present rate, sub-Saharan Africa will not reach the target until 2076.”

This year's World Water Day also coincides with the International Year of Sanitation.

Population growth, widespread poverty and insufficient investment are among the key obstacles, but the Secretary-General noted that “the biggest culprit” is the lack of political will.

Events are being held around the world this weekend to highlight World Water Day, including the staging of a public toilet queue demonstration to raise awareness about the sanitation crisis around the globe. A similar event was held in New York's Central Park on Thursday.