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 lacklustre. 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 three dollars, and as much as 34 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.