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One of the best illustrations of the divide between rich and poor nations is the designation of 2008 as the International Year of Sanitation by the United Nations General Assembly.
The international year aims to highlight the need for urgent action on behalf of the more than 40% of the world’s population who continue to live without improved sanitation.
Lack of proper sanitation contributes to the deaths of thousands of men, women and children every day from largely preventable causes, including diarrhoeal diseases.
Though more than 1.2 billion people worldwide gained access to improved sanitation between 1990 and 2004, an estimated 2.6 billion people - including 980 million children – have yet to be reached. This is one of the single biggest development challenges facing the world.
The International Year of Sanitation 2008 was established to accelerate progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goal of reducing by half the proportion of people living without access to improved sanitation by 2015. In addition, progress on sanitation will contribute to the achievement of all the Millennium Development Goals.
Improved sanitation includes clean, safe toilets, wastewater management and hygiene promotion, all of which prevent the transfer of pathogens in human excreta. When not treated safely, these elements adversely affect health, often depriving children of an education, and impede social and economic development.
The absence of improved sanitation in schools is an underlying factor in absenteeism and poor classroom performance due to illness, low enrolment and early dropout from school, especially for girls whose parents may remove them from the education system when they start menstruating.
Lack of toilets exposes women and girls to violence and abuse, as some females are able to defecate only after nightfall and in secluded areas. Proper sanitation, including hand-washing with soap, averts the spread of diarrhoeal disease, which is the second biggest killer of children under five.
Improving sanitation leads to improved health, dignity, and social and economic development, protects the environment and helps people break the cycle of poverty.Continued...