Monday, April 11, 2011

The “Ugly Twin” of Millennium Development Goal 7.C: Sanitation

MDG Goal 7.C: Halve the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.

Although these two issues are deeply intertwined, access to clean water over recent years has become the darling of the development ball so to speak, while access to improved sanitation has received notably less attention. Although the 2010 MDG Development Goals Report reveals that the world is on track to meet its drinking water goals by 2015, the likelihood that the sanitation goals will be met are slim. In fact, projections show that the number of people without access to improved sanitation will increase from 2.6 billion in 2008 to 2.7 billion in 2015. In 2008, this number reflects 48% of the developing population.
The biggest issue in tackling sanitation issues is open defecation which was the practice of an estimated 1.1 billion people in 2008. This practice not only denies a basic level of human dignity, it also has enormous negative health consequences and challenges the progress made on the first half of the MDG Goal 7.C.

Open defecation contaminates water supplies and continues cycles of diarrheal illnesses. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that these illnesses lead to approximately 1.5 million, often preventable, deaths every year. Notably, children under 5 make up a majority of these fatalities. Subsequently in areas lacking basic sanitation, water sources often become contaminated which further spreads these illnesses to others. It is important to recognize that diarrheal illness leads to developmental deficiencies, malnutrition, decreased time and energy to work, attend school and participate in society. WHO finds that improved sanitation decreases the death rate due to diarrhea by 1/3. Although some progress has been made, this chart shows there are significant challenges, specifically in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia, to meet the MDG goal by 2015.

Solutions used in the global north to improve sanitation may not be feasible or appropriate in many countries for a variety of reasons. To create sustainable sanitation improvements, many organizations have found it to be more effective to develop solutions that reflect to the needs of a specific region. The following guidelines were proposed for areas affected by water scarcity by The Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis. They look to develop sanitation technology or solutions that use little or no water and prioritize clean water for drinking, cooking, etc. In addition, technology that can prevent the contamination of groundwater by human waste while harvesting outputs for farming or energy uses creates sustainable and healthy sanitation systems. By developing sustainable and appropriate practices to improve sanitation, not only can an improvement in quality of life be achieved but also results in the preservation and conservation of precious natural resources and the surrounding environment.

Images: MDG Development Report 2010, pg. 60

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