United Nations: With an estimated 1.1 billion people still defecate in the open, a large number of them being in India, the UN has called for ending the practice by 2025, noting that ending it is key to fighting poverty.
"I am determined to energize action that will lead to results," UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said on the eve of the World Water Day Thursday.
"I am calling on all actors - government, civil society, business and international organizations - to commit to measurable action and to mobilize the resources to rapidly increase access to basic sanitation," he said.
Of the world's seven billion people, six billion have mobile phones. Yet only 4.5 billion have access to toilets or latrines - meaning that 2.5 billion people, mostly in rural areas, do not have proper sanitation, a UN statement said.
Eliasson called for a renewed effort to drive progress on sanitation as the international community head towards the 2015 target date for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
The call to action aims to focus on improving hygiene, changing social norms, better managing human waste and waste-water, and, by 2025, completely eliminating the practice of open defecation, which perpetuates the vicious cycle of disease and entrenched poverty.
The countries where open defecation is most widely practiced are the same countries with the highest numbers of under-five child deaths, high levels of under-nutrition and poverty, and large wealth disparities, a UN statement said.
According to UN estimates, every USD 1 spent on sanitation brings a USD 5.50 return by keeping people healthy and productive. Poor sanitation, on the other hand, costs countries between 0.5 and 7.2 percent of their GDP.
Some 20 countries, mostly in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, account for over 80 percent of open defecation in the world.
"Ending open defecation will contribute to a 36 percent reduction in diarrhea, which kills three quarters of a million children under five each year. We know that community approaches to 'total sanitation' work," said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Martin Mogwanja.
According to UN, poor sanitation costs countries between 0.5 and 7.2 percent of their GDP; which is USD 53.8 billion or 6.4 percent of GDP in India.
Open defecation is one of the main causes of diarrhoea, which results in the deaths of more than 750,000 children under age 5 every year.
Each year, children lose 272 million school days due to diarrhoea. Each day about 3,000 children under age 5 die as a result of diarrhoea, most before their second birthday.