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International Year Of Sanitation 2008: A Plea

By Anwulika Okafor

International Year of Sanitation 2008: A plea for dignity and health for all

Almost 2.6 billion people worldwide, 980 million of them children, lack access to even the most basic water and sanitation facilities - a situation that affects all aspects of their lives, from education to national development.

In a push to make adequate water and sanitation available to everyone, everywhere, His Royal Highness Prince Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, Prince of Orange; UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman; Goodwill Ambassador Angélique Kidjo; and representatives of other UN agencies and partners came together today at United Nations headquarters in New York to launch the International Year of Sanitation 2008.

"I call on the international community, national governments and civil society to take up the cause of sanitation with unprecedented vigour," said Mr. Ban. "Let us make this a year of global achievement, one that generates real, positive changes for the billions of people who do not enjoy this basic ingredient of human welfare."

Sanitation for development

The International Year of Sanitation aims to focus the world's attention on the benefits of meeting Millennium Development Goal 7: to cut in half the proportion of people without access to safe water and basic sanitation by 2015.

The importance of adequate sanitation cannot be understated. Women and young girls are often made vulnerable to violence because the lack of latrines forces them to relieve themselves in unsafe areas or in darkness. In some areas, young girls do not go to school because there no lavatory facilities for them - affecting not only their education, but their dignity and self-esteem as well.

Worldwide, lack of access to proper sanitation is linked to the deaths of 1.5 million children each year.

"Children are the most vulnerable and they are the ones who continue to pay the highest price in terms of lives and futures lost," said Ms. Veneman.

"Children are at the heart of the MDGs, from reducing poverty to improving education to maternal and child health and establishing gender equality and environmental sustainability," she added. "Addressing sanitation will have positive impact on all of these goals."

The economics of change

In an impassioned speech, Prince Willem-Alexander - who chairs the Secretary-General's Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation - spoke about the economics behind the improvement of sanitation facilities for all.

Research has shown that for every dollar invested in sanitation, up to $34 more in health, education, and social and economic development costs can be saved, he said.

"That is why we, as policy makers, opinion leaders and stakeholders gathered here today, must make a supreme effort to make proper sanitation accessible and available to everyone," asserted Prince Willem-Alexander. "Because everyone, and that means all the people in the world, have the right to a healthy life with dignity."

One year may not be enough time to change the way the world thinks about sanitation, but those present at the launch of the International Year of Sanitation hoped to show that even the simplest actions can bring impressive results.


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