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Serious delays achieving sanitation Millennium Development Goal

Woman digging her own latrine to avoid food and water contamination by open-defecation in the community
Woman digging her own latrine to avoid food and water contamination by open-defecation in the community
November 19, 2012
International Toilet day: Six out of ten Africans still do not have proper toilets

980 million children around the world - do not have toilets at home. If current trends continue, by 2015 2.4 billion people will still lack access to basic sanitation. Children are especially vulnerable to diseases spread through fecal contamination; high mortality rates, school enrollment down for girls, etc. Overall 27% of people in Sub-Saharan part of Africa still practice open defecation. NGOs - WaterAid and Plan International are raising the alert to this serious risk for health and an affront to human dignity.

The combined lack of sanitation and the strong belief certain taboos force people to defecate in the open, frequently in rivers near where children play and food prepared, increases the risk of disease transmission. One gram of human feces can contain 10 million viruses, 1 million bacteria, 1,000 parasite cysts and 100 eggs of intestinal worms. On average, 115 people die every hour in Africa from diseases associated with poor sanitation, lack of hygiene and water contamination.

According to the Head of Region for WaterAid in West Africa, Mariame Dem, when women do not have access to secure, clean and private toilets they face risks and become vulnerable. And when they practice open defecation, they are exposed to harassment. Women do not like to talk about it or are reluctant to complain.

"Separate school latrines promote education, especially for girls. This has a big impact both on learning and on children’s health. When building schools, Plan considers the needs of children and offers private and separate toilets for girls and boys. When adequate facilities are not available, girls may drop out of school when they reach puberty,” adds Mr. Adama Coulibaly Regional Director for Plan, West Africa.

The Millennium Development Goals have set global sanitation coverage of 75% by 2015, which is a figure far from being achieved. The use of proper toilet prevents bacteria, viruses and parasites found in human excreta to contaminate water, soil and food. This contamination is a major cause of diarrhea, second leading cause of death of children in Africa, and other diseases including cholera, schistosomiasis, and trachoma.

During the 2011 cholera outbreak in the North Region of Cameroon, Plan broke taboos with community awareness campaigns and advocacy activities at council level. Understanding the link between hygiene and sanitation, cholera and death, the council and community leaders approved a law recommending the building of latrines in all homes: defaulters faced sanctions and penalties.

Improve access to sanitation is a critical step to reduce the impact of these diseases and create an environment that takes into account safety, dignity and self-esteem.

“Give women and girls access to decent toilets, is the topic of the International World Toilet Day this year, and it is an opportunity for WaterAid and Plan International to raise awareness and call all the organizations around the world and governments to keep their promises and enable poorest people in the world to have access to proper sanitation” concludes Mariame Dem.