Tuesday, February 24, 2009

An interview about the sanitation crisis in Asia and Africa

40 percent of the world's population still lack basic sanitation. A majority of that percentage are in Africa and Asia. It remains one of the Millennium Development Goals that the world if far behind on achieving.

From the IPS we find an interview with the leader of a group that has been building public toilets in many countries. The World Toilet Association says the most difficult thing about building sanitation worldwide is changing people's behavior.

Thalif Deen of the IPS interviewed WTA secretary general, Song Young-Gon.

IPS: What are the regions urgently in need of help to meet their sanitation goals? Africa? Asia? Latin America? According to the U.N., 62 percent of Africans do not have access to improved sanitation. If so, why are they lagging far behind other regions?

SY: About 40 percent of the world population lives without proper toilets. They primarily reside in Africa and Asia, two regions that are most urgently in need of toilets and sanitation aid. Residents live under the constant threat of contracting typhoid [enteric] fever, cholera, enteritis, and malaria.

For example, a lack of toilets makes it impossible to separate drinking water from waste water. As a result, drinking water becomes polluted. People must either buy water or drink polluted water. Yet, the average income of a slum resident in Africa is less than a dollar per day; when they are forced to buy drinking water they use more than 30 percent of their income. This contributes to the never-ending cycle of poverty.

In addition, polluted water and an inadequate water supply for people to wash their hands cause waterborne diseases, which ultimately prevents people from working. Unemployment then increases the poverty level. In extreme cases, these diseases result in death, since people cannot afford medical treatment. It is clear that the lack of toilets is intricately related to poverty and sickness.

The improvement of sanitation, therefore, can advance the improvement of other social problems. Without proper sanitation, poverty aid is but a temporary expedient.

IPS: What are the major shortcomings in meeting the sanitation needs of developing nations? Funding? Lack of support from governments? Absence of political will?

SY: The most urgent is changing people's mindset and behaviour. People must recognise the importance of defecating in toilets instead of open spaces. In order for this to happen, there needs to be proper education programmes. National and local governments must assume this responsibility.

There must also be adequate funding, political will, and popular support in place. These factors are crucial. People must first become aware of the importance of toilets and sanitation to motivate central and local governments to implement such programmes.

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