Two charities call on governments to help increase sanitation in poorer countries...
Two British development charities say that the lack of proper sanitation is killing almost 6,000 children every day. Half the world's hospital beds are occupied by people suffering from water borne diseases.
The charities WaterAid and the Christian group, Tearfund, describe the problem as "one of the world's most urgent health crises". Yet they say the diseases are preventable, and solutions are both simple and cheap.They have published a report, The Human Waste, to mark the United Nations' World Water Day on 22 March.
In it they say the crisis is being made more urgent by "an urban time bomb as millions of people flood into major cities of the world's poorest countries". In the early 1970s the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, had about 250,000 people. Today it has more than 10 million.
A senior city official said last month: "The entire city is a cesspool, a septic tank... the urban poor have no sanitation facilities whatsoever. The situation is getting worse by the minute."
Across the world, the report says, 160,000 people migrate from the countryside to the cities every day. It cites the man forever linked with the Indian independence struggle, Mahatma Gandhi, who once said: "Sanitation is more important than independence."
The head of the World Health Organisation, Dr Gro Harlem Bruntland, said: "Safe water supply and adequate sanitation to protect health are among the basic human rights. Ensuring their availability would contribute immeasurably to health and productivity for development."
The report urges the UK Government to work to halve the number of people without adequate sanitation by 2015, and to ensure it is available to everyone by 2025. It also wants ministers to set a timetable for increasing the UK's overseas aid to meet the long-standing UN target of 0.7% of gross national product (GNP).
In 2000 the UK gave 0.32% of its GNP in aid. The charities say the scale of the problem is huge: in the last 10 years, diarrhoea has killed more children than the total number of people killed in armed conflict since the second world war.
In 1998 war in Africa killed 308,000 people, but diarrhoeal disease killed six times as many. Ill-health is often the lot of those who do not die: children often suffer anaemia and stunted growth because of the parasites they carry.
Diseases which thrive in the absence of sanitation and clean water include dysentery, cholera, typhus fever, typhoid, schistosomiasis and trachoma.
Many people, especially women and children, suffer real distress from their embarrassment at having to relieve themselves in public. One in Ethiopia said: "Women were ashamed to defecate during the day, but for men it was not a problem. They could go wherever they wanted. We had to wait until it was dark, and I was afraid of being attacked by wild animals or drunkards."
An Indian woman said: "The area where we went to the toilet had snakes. If we saw a snake we wouldn't go. Once a snake reared up behind me... " The report says a basic latrine can be built in India for £3-4, or £10-15 if the pit needs lining.
It says £11bn a year would by 2015 halve the number of people with no adequate sanitation. That is the amount spent on pet food each year in Europe and the US.