So back to the WHO/Unicef report which has dismal statistics on how far we have to go. Unhappily this is far more familiar MDG territory. Almost 39% of the world's population - more than a third of the people on the planet - do not have imporved sanitation facilities. "If the current trend continues unchanged, the international community will miss the 2015 sanitation MDG by almost one billion people," they say.
Open defecation, they say, is on the decline, from a quarter of people on the planet in 1990 to 17% in 2008. But this most risky of all sanitation practices is still widespread in southern Asia, says the report, where 44% of people still defecate in the open. Maybe it doesn't need spelling out for a sophisticated western audience who enjoy flush toilets behind closed doors, soap dispensers and taps that pour water if you so much as wave at them, but some of the worst diseases that kill small children are spread from hand to mouth - and that's unwashed hands that have been in contact with the shit that is lying around. I can't get the image of the sewage ditches running through Indian streets out of my head.
"Unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene claim the lives of an estimated 1.5 million children under the age of five each year," says the report. It may not be as big a conversational issue as Aids or malaria, but it sure matters, and this one is not just amenable to healthcare improvements. It needs poverty reduction and education - the basic stuff of development - just as much.
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