21 November 2007

Access to sanitation is one of the most overlooked, and underserved human needs. It is nothing less than a fundamental issue of human dignity and human rights. It is a cornerstone of economic development and environmental protection. And it is deeply connected to virtually all the Millennium Development Goals, in particular those involving the environment, education, gender equality and the reduction of child mortality and poverty.

International efforts to deliver on this basic right have proved lackluster. Today, more than 2 billion people around the world lack access to basic sanitation services. Some 90 percent of sewage in developing countries is discharged into water courses without treatment, often polluting the usable water supply. An estimated 42,000 people die every week from diseases related to low water quality and an absence of adequate sanitation. This situation is unacceptable.

This International Year of Sanitation, declared by the United Nations General Assembly, can help jumpstart global initiatives. The coming 12 months provide us with a platform to prioritize sanitation on the international community’s agenda, and to energize efforts towards the MDG target of halving, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.

Investments in sanitation are among of the most important allocations any nation can make: for every dollar spent on improving sanitation it is estimated that at least nine dollars are saved in costs related to health, education, and social and economic development. 

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


Mr. Secretary-General, Mr. Under-Secretary- ladies and gentlemen It is an honor and a pleasure to be with you today and to officially launch the UN International Year of Sanitation 2008.

Of course, you are all now about to listen attentively to my speech – but maybe some of you are a little distracted because nature calls and when the break comes, those of us who 'need to go' will probably try to hit the restroom as quickly as possible. But suppose there were no toilets in the building? And suppose you had to relieve yourself in the streets of New York? There's no way you could find a quiet, secluded spot here. And suppose we could smell excrement as I speak, because the city of New York had no money to build and maintain a proper sewer system? Ladies and gentlemen, you may ask yourselves: why do we need an International Year of Sanitation?

This is why: because you and I are not confronted with the world-wide sanitation crisis. We have our own toilets, we don't have to live with the appalling smell caused by the human waste of the entire neighborhood, and we and our children are not at risk from waterborne diseases. We also know what personal hygiene means and why it is important, and we can choose between hot and cold running water to wash our hands and between soft, pink or three-ply toilet paper. As long ago as 1925 Mahatma Gandhi wrote: “The cause of many of our diseases is the condition of our lavatories and our bad habit of disposing of excreta anywhere and everywhere”. And he had no hesitation saying that in his view sanitation was more important than independence.

Ladies and gentlemen, clean water and sanitation are not only about hygiene and disease, they're about dignity, too. Relieving yourself in hazardous places means risking everything from urological disease to harassment and rape. Many examples show that self-esteem begins with having a safe and proper toilet facility. That is why we, as policymakers, opinion leaders and stakeholders gathered here today, must make a supreme effort to make proper sanitation accessible and available to everyone. Because everyone and that means ALL the people in the world, has the right to a healthy life and a life with dignity. In other words: everyone has the right to sanitation. But at the current rate of progress, we will not reach our 2015 MDG target on sanitation before 2026! And it could take another hundred years to reach the target in sub- Saharan countries, which means that an additional 133 million African children will die if nothing changes.

Enough of the staggering statistics. Now is the time for action. “Sanitation for All” also implies “All for Sanitation!!” So ladies and gentlemen, what do we want to achieve in this Year of Sanitation and how do we achieve it? We want to raise awareness of the importance of sanitation and its impact on other Millennium Development Goals. We want to encourage government and their partners to implement policies and take action aimed at meeting the sanitation target. We want to mobilize communities, particularly women's groups, to change sanitation and hygiene practice through campaigns on sanitation and health education.

And we also want to encourage technical, social and financial innovation. We must focus our full attention on developing new technologies to dispose of and reuse human waste and waste water. The rapid growth of the world's population means increased urbanization, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Let us not forget that more than half the world's population lives in cities, with over one billion people in slums. And in these areas, water supply and sanitation conditions are downright appalling. Our prime aim is to provide as many people as possible with proper, sustainable sanitation facilities and to stress how to use them sustainably. So we should revisit the technological options contributing to the Millennium Development Goal's, for example by including a count of public toilets. I would like to ask the WHO and UNICEF to look into this matter more thoroughly.

Several technological innovations have already been realized. For example ecologically sound re-use options like urine diversion toilets which enable the collection, hygienization and reuse of urine and human excreta. And we should encourage cheaper small-bore sewerage systems, pit emptying facilities, low-cost septic tank sludge treatment methods and the development and marketing of biogas technologies which can help supply many poor households with energy.

Sulabh International showed me a good example during my recent visit to New Delhi. This organization has proved how effective small-scale solutions can be and how they can be extended all over India within a short time span. Thousands of 'pay & use' public toilet-cum-bath complexes and more than a million pour-flush latrines in private houses have been built (and are maintained), and they are used by more than ten million people every day. By doing so, Sulabh has restored human dignity and a new future to thousands of 'untouchables'.

In India I also saw the positive results of the Total Sanitation Campaign, a good example of social innovation implemented by the Indian government. This community-led approach works to end the practice of 'open defecation' in the community as a whole and to promote the use of latrines. Bangladesh and Ethiopia are now also implementing this comprehensive sanitation campaign that combines community pressure and government rewards. As I have said, sanitation is important to human health and dignity. But let's not forget its contribution to development. Every dollar invested in water and sanitation triggers seven dollars worth of productive activity. And good money can be made from sanitation, through the production of fertilizers and soil improvers derived from human excreta. In this way, innovative sanitation technologies can help the poorest people break out of the cycle of poverty and raise their dignity and social status.

Ladies and gentlemen, I don't think money is the biggest issue. If we take a collective decision to provide water and sanitation, the money will follow. The problem is largely one of priority and political will. This is the challenge I'm working on in my capacity as Chair of UNSGAB. I'm convinced that the International Year of Sanitation will significantly contribute to the setting of political agendas and thus trigger follow-up and acceleration to the 2015 target. The G8 conference in Tokyo in June 2008 is a great opportunity for the world's most powerful countries to tackle our planet's most urgent development crisis.

Before that, CSD16 here in New York next May, under the responsibility of Under-Secretary-General Sha Zukang, will also provide an opportunity to stress the importance of good water management and to take action accordingly. As a direct action of the chair of UNSGAB, I will do my utmost to get water and sanitation high on the agenda of both events.

Before I finish, I want to thank the Secretary-General, UNDESA, the inter-agency Task Force, and all the stakeholders and participants for all your work to make the coming International Year of Sanitation possible. And ladies and gentlemen, I would like to encourage you, with all my heart, to work together. It is of the utmost importance for us to undertake a long-term commitment today to reach our common goals and to work towards health, dignity and development for all.

Everyone has the right to sanitation. No one should have to squat in the street or an open field!

Statement by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs to the Launch of the International Year of Sanitation 2008

New York, 21 November 2007


It is an honour for the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs to serve as the focal point for the International Year of Sanitation, and to host this global launch of the Year – in partnership with the UN Water Task Force on Sanitation, which includes DESA, HABITAT, UNDP, UNICEF, the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, the World Bank and WHO.

The Secretary-General has painted a clear picture of what has been a silent crisis. The silence stops today. Sanitation is not a dirty word. It is a critical factor for human dignity and sustainable development.

Access to basic sanitation has a dramatic social impact. It has vast economic benefits. And appropriate sanitation infrastructure can improve water quality with positive impacts for the environment.

We have, as our foundation for action, an important set of international commitments and consensus, going back to Agenda 21 and various sessions of the Commission on Sustainable Development.

Let me recall the recommendations of the Commission’s 13th Session, on some of the most important national strategies and policy actions to address the sanitation challenge: establishment of an institutional home for sanitation; prioritization of sanitation in national development plans; incorporation of sanitation in integrated water resources management plans; and promotion of gender-sensitive sanitation and hygiene education and awareness.

The international community will review progress on implementation of these recommendations during the 16th Session of the Commission, next year.

By declaring next year the International Year of Sanitation, the General Assembly has provided us with a critical opportunity to lift sanitation prominently onto the global agenda – and to get in gear to meet the international sanitation target by 2015.

To achieve the Year’s objectives, a strong cooperative effort will be essential.

In this regard, the work of the Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation and of the UN-Water Task Force on Sanitation is most valuable.

I pledge to everyone here my Department’s full support. DESA looks forward to working with all partners to ensure a truly successful International Year of Sanitation in 2008.

Thank you.

Mr. Jamal Saghir,


Energy, Transport and Water, World Bank

Talking Points for International Year of Sanitation Global Launch

Wednesday, 21 November 2007,

United Nation Headquarters, New York

Room 6 Delegates Dining Room

Mr. Secretary-General, Your Royal Highness, Distinguished Delegates, ladies and gentlemen, good morning

On behalf of the World Bank, I am honored to be here today to discuss why sanitation is a smart economic investment. As we all know, sanitation contributes to the economy through better health, greater household productivity, a cleaner environment. For the same reasons, poor sanitation is a poverty trap for low income families.

A series of World Bank studies and empirical evidence from our projects have shown in recent years that the economic costs of poor sanitation are as high as 1% of GDP, both in middle income countries like Colombia and in low income countries like Bangladesh. When these economies grow 3-7%, we can see that the economic impacts of sanitation are significant.

In East Asia, our recent work has shown that poor sanitation is responsible for economic losses of at least 9 billion dollars per year in Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam..

Health costs account for more than 4.8 billion dollars of these losses. These numbers should catch the attention of Ministers of Finance.

Sadly, these costs of poor sanitation are not evenly shared. A much greater burden falls on poor people – in terms of their health, lost time for productive work, and lost income. Poor people are those who suffer the most and pay the highest economic costs.

During the International Year of Sanitation we hope all will spread the message that improving sanitation and providing access to more people is possible. The challenge is enormous but we should not forget that during the past 14 years, more than 1 billion people have gained access to sanitation. I know I find that number very encouraging – and convincing. We at the World Bank are happy to contribute to these efforts, as one of the largest financing agencies in the sector.

During 2008 I also hope we spread the word about the economic benefits of investing in sanitation. I hope more Ministers of Finance and Economy, and government leaders hear about numbers like 9 billion dollars lost annually in East Asia due to poor sanitation – because without political will and the strong support of society, governments find it difficult to mobilize and commit the necessary resources to tackle the huge sanitation challenges.

If we cannot convince the Ministries of Finance around the world that investment in sanitation pays, they will not make the investments and will not set up the policies to mobilize the funding from all segments of society needed to tackle this challenge.

Let us spread the word this International Year of Sanitation that sanitation is an investment that makes good economic sense and should not only be a choice but a must.

Thank you.

UNICEF hosts first preparatory meeting for 2008 International Year of Sanitation

By Anwulika Okafor

NEW YORK, USA, 7 May 2007 – Proper sanitation: It’s a seemingly mundane thing that most people in the developed world take for granted. Yet at least 2.6 billion people – some 41 percent of the global population, including 980 million children – do not have access to latrines or other basic sanitation facilities.

The lack of access to sanitation and safe water sources is linked to a wide range of diseases such as diarrhoea, which often leads to or accelerates malnutrition, and pneumonia. And these illnesses, in turn, account for a staggering number of deaths yearly, especially among children.

To focus attention on this global crisis, the United Nations declared in December that 2008 would be the International Year of Sanitation. At the first preparatory meeting for that year-long observance, held today at UNICEF headquarters in New York panelists explored new ways to highlight the importance of meeting Millennium Development Goal 7 – to cut in half the proportion of people without access to safe water and basic sanitation by 2015.

Planning for the challenge ahead

Led by the Chair of the UN Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation, His Royal Highness, Prince of Orange Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, the all-day meeting brought together representatives of non-governmental organizations, donor agencies, academia, development banks and 29 governments.

Their common goal: developing a focused plan to attack the daunting task ahead. To reach MDG 7, the international community will need to provide over 160 million additional people with access to safe water and sanitation facilities each year. In his opening remarks, Prince Willem-Alexander called the International Year of Sanitation “a unique opportunity to raise awareness and galvanize political will, especially at the national level, and this is crucial. For it is the national governments – working with communities, municipalities, NGOs and international actors – who ultimately must expand sanitation services.”

Discussions at the preparatory meeting made it clear that educating the global community on the importance of proper sanitation and hygiene is but one obstacle to overcome. In addition, the process of upgrading a community’s water and sanitation system is costly, and in many areas the benefits associated with these costs are not widely understood.

And disparities between rich and poor, urban and rural communities serve as a further hindrance to progress on sanitation.

But the benefits of addressing this issue through a global programme of action cannot be understated. Some 1.5 million children under the age of five die from diarrhoea each year. Meanwhile, children who become chronically ill due to unsafe water and inadequate sanitation frequently miss school – accounting for an estimated 500 million school days lost worldwide last year.

As these statistics demonstrate, access to sanitation is a key to child survival and development.

Measuring success

Participants in today’s meeting drafted objectives for the International Year of Sanitation and presented them to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who attended the afternoon session. The list will be finalized and then provided to governments and other partners around the world as a basis for measuring the success of the initiative. The objectives include:

  • Greater outreach on issues of sanitation and hygiene at the local, national and international levels
  • Increased funding for sanitation programmes worldwide
  • Hard and fast commitments from governments and partners to address the sanitation crisis
  • An emphasis on sustainability to ensure that areas reached will be able to continue providing access to sanitation on their own. “Let us make this a remarkable year of global sanitation achievement – one that generates real positive changes for the millions, even billions of people who do not yet enjoy this basic ingredient of human welfare,” remarked Mr. Ban.

Though it may seem mundane to those who think nothing of being able to use a toilet or wash their hands with soap and water, access to proper sanitation opens up the possibility of a better life for everyone – including improved economic growth, sustained progress in education and a solid foundation for public health. Through the plans set in motion at UNICEF today, the International Year of Sanitation will seek to make that simple dream a reality.

Inter-American Dialogue on Water and Sanitation Chair’s Summary

His Royal Highness, Prince Willem – Alexander of the Netherlands, Chair of United Nations Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation (UNSGAB) welcomed participants to the Inter-American Dialogue on Water and Sanitation. He thanked H.E. President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia for joining the Dialogue and expressed his gratitude to the Government of Colombia, for hosting UNSGAB so graciously and for supporting the meeting. He also thanked the other Dialogue hosts, the Inter-American Development Bank, Germany’s GTZ, and the Government of Japan. Mr, Sha Zukang, Under Secretary-General of the United Nations for the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), thanked the Government of Columbia along explained that DESA hosts the secretariats of both UNSGAB and the International Year of Sanitation and was poised to support the Inter-American Region in their efforts to meet the MDG targets on water and sanitation.

H.E. President Alvaro Uribe thanked UNSGAB for coming to Colombia. He stressed the importance of fostering both social prosperity and economic prosperity; neither is possible if safe water and sanitation is not available to all citizens. Mr. Roberto Vellutinni, manager, Infrastructure and Environment Department, IADB, outlined areas which can improve performance in water and sanitation sectors. He said serious managers who know the water business are needed along with stable regulatory frameworks.

Ms. Leyla Rojas Molano, Vice Minister of Water and Sanitation reviewed the Cali Ministerial Declaration signed at the conclusion of the LatinoSan Conference, 12 – 16 Nov. 2007. The agreement included, inter alia, commitments to: increase consciousness and actor commitments so they know the importance of reaching the MDGs; mobilize governments at local and national level and other actors through rapid implementation agreements; and ensure commitments to strengthen sanitation policies. She said a working group comprised of LatinoSan countries was formed. The group will meet annually and similar LatinoSan event will be held in 2010.

Prince Willem-Alexander welcomed participants to discuss the range of issues outlined in sets of questions and UNSGAB’s suggested actions on financing, capacity building & governance, sanitation and the International Year of Sanitation. Participants spoke openly and frankly about how the delivery of water and sanitation services is a technical and economic issue as well as a social challenge. Those currently living without water and sanitation services are overwhelmingly in poor communities in both rural and urban areas. The provision of water and sanitation services as in input to poverty alleviation, health, dignity and development were emphasized.

How to increase financing for water and sanitation, especially at the municipal level was discussed. Although systems can and should evolve toward improved levels of cost recovery to maintain the health of systems, state investment in water and sanitation is indispensable and must be maintained, particularly in initial stages as an input to the public good of greater health. Several requested greater flexibility on the part of International Financial Institutions. The need for capacity building to improve the performance of existing financial resources was stressed especially for water operators. Water Operator Partnerships (WOPs) were welcomed as the way to enhance the management capacity at the local level.

Decentralization of water and sanitation service delivery has meant in several instances that once transfers for these services are made to the local level, national governments do not have control over the funds, and it is difficult to track where the money is spent. The difficulties for local governments to reconcile economies of scale and the need to promote a regional approach to solve this problem were noted.

The proposal to hold an Inter-American Summit by Heads of State was given careful consideration by participants with several in agreement that this would be a way to increase political will and financial commitments to meet the MDG targets on water and sanitation. Most participants felt that to be worthwhile such a Summit would require extremely careful preparation focused on the real results to be sought, and should be based on as precise as possible analysis of the existing situation, funding potential, contribution of water and sanitation to national economy and changes being advocated. Finance and planning ministers might usefully be brought together to consider the financial and operational constraints of water operators as well as the actual return that investment in water brings to social and economic development.

Participants stressed that providing sanitation services in rural and urban areas raises different challenges. Reaching rural areas is often difficult where there is an acute need for training on basic sanitation. In urban areas, good planning and urban design with a long term perspective will both reduce costs and ensure wider sanitation coverage. In addition, there needs to be more regional attention given to other appropriate technologies, not just water borne sewage, and that knowledge could be diffused as to operation and maintenance costs. Industries must also be accountable for treating waste water through laws and strong regulations.

The importance of sanitation education was highlighted and several mentioned hand washing and personal hygiene campaigns can yield good results. How citizens take advantage of offered sanitation services was discussed. While even poor people are willing to pay for affordable sanitation facilities, at times they do not connect their homes to available sewage systems if they are unaware of the benefits derived from better sanitation. Adapting to local conditions, selecting appropriate technology, and involving social anthropologists were stressed as ways to ensure the success of sanitation programmes.

Participants concluded that both the Cali meeting on sanitation and the opportunity for extended policy discussions had brought great mutual benefit; all expressed the hope that such discussions would continue in different times and places in the future.