- Faeces (“poo”, “number two”, “doodoo”, “shit”) can kill children.
Over 800 children under 5 years old die every day from diseases linked to inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene. That is like two Boeing 747’s full of babies and pre-kindergartners crashing without a survivor every single day, 365 days a year. This happens because small children are most vulnerable to germs from playing or crawling on ground contaminated by faeces, or from drinking contaminated water.
- Lack of sanitation can also stunt children’s growth.
Globally, 159 million children under 5 are stunted. Stunting means that a child has failed to develop, and can have permanent physical and even cognitive impairment. Research on UNICEF’s sanitation programmes links stunting and malnutrition directly to sanitation and to open defecation in particular.
- 1 in 3 people do not have adequate toilets
Some 2.4 billion people do not have an improved toilet – one that is sufficient to hygienically separate human faecal waste from human contact. Of these, 1 in 8 people (946 million) still defecates in the open – in rivers, streams, fields, bushes, beside railroad tracks, on the sea shore, in the sea, or other such places.
- Lack of sanitation affects every region of the world.
Although the number of people who defecate in the open are highest in sub-Saharan Africa (where the number is going up due to population growth) and South Asia (due to very high numbers in India), lack of sanitation is a global issue. The populations without adequate sanitation access are in:
- Southern Asia – 953 million people
- Sub-Saharan Africa – 695 million people
- Eastern Asia – 337 million people
- South Eastern Asia – 176 million people
- Latin America & the Caribbean – 106 million people
- Other regions – 98 million people
- We have 15 years to get it right.
The world did not meet the target in the Millennium Development Goals that would have brought sanitation access to 77% of the global population by 2015; we are now up to 68%. World governments have set 2030 as a new date, this time for universal access. Some countries are speeding ahead. China by itself accounts for about 97% of the progress in access to improved sanitation in Eastern Asia, with over 500 million people gaining access between 1990 and 2015. Malaysia and Pakistan are among countries with previous high open defecation rates which have met the target and are moving towards universal access. Thailand has almost achieved universal access. Others, like Nigeria, have missed by a wide margin. (Check out this map to see how your country did.)
Sanjay Wijesekera is Associate Director, Programmes, in UNICEF, and head of the organization’s global Water, Sanitation and Hygiene programme.