Shame over sanitation hampering development: NGOs

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Shame at frankly discussing sanitation needs is hampering development, leaving one in five people in the world with no dignified means of relieving themselves, a U.N.-led group of campaigners said on Monday.

Speaking on the first day of the World Water Forum in Istanbul, campaigners warned of the disease risks of open defecation still common in many areas, and stressed each $1 spent on digging latrines or building sewers would ultimately save $9 on health bills or work days lost to sickness.

“Things which have no name, things we do not talk about do not exist for policymakers,” said Uschi Eid, a German politician.

“Women and girls have to get up before dawn and defecate in the darkness in fields or on railtracks, putting themselves at risk of attack... while in densely populated areas people defecate into plastic bags and then throw them into rivers,” she added.

About 1 billion people have no access to safe drinking water while an estimated 2.5 billion people are without basic sanitation.

According to U.N. data, the total number of deaths in 2002 attributed to poor water, sanitation and hygiene was over 3.5 million.

About 94 percent of cases of diarrhea, which kills more than 1.4 million children a year, are preventable.

In 2002 a goal was added to the original Millennium goals on development to halve the proportion of people without sanitation by 2015, a reflection that the issue is often not at the forefront of policymaking.

Campaigners called for more private and dignified facilities and stressed how women, as those usually responsible for carrying water to the home in developing countries, and for hygiene and family health, must be fully involved in planning on improving water facilities.