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UN launches global campaign to end open defecation

May 29, 2014

The UN has decided to address the issue of open defecation by launching a campaign to put an end to the practice, focusing primarily on countries like India and Bangladesh.

The United Nations on Wednesday launched a new campaign to end the practice of open defecation all over the world and improve access to toilets and latrines for the 2.5 billion people worldwide without basic sanitation.

Around 1 billion people worldwide practice open defecation, using rivers, fields or other places to relieve themselves due to a lack of latrines or toilets. The practice contributes to the rise of sexual violence and harassment of women and girls, and increases health risks through the spread of diseases, such as diarrhoea.

According to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO), India tops the list of countries which account for almost three-quarters of the people practicing open defecation, followed by Indonesia, Pakistan, Ethiopia and Nigeria.

The campaign is being launched in response to the UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson’s Call to Action on Sanitation, which focuses on open defecation and how to accelerate global action to reach the sanitation targets of the anti-poverty targets called the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by the 2015 deadline.

At the launch of the campaign, the Deputy Secretary-General urged diplomats to break the silence on the issue of open defecation, introducing words like “toilets” and “open defecation” into the diplomatic discourse and recognizing that it is “something the world chooses not to talk about”. According to him, the campaign urges people to “search open defecation,” find out more about the issue and participate in the solutions.

Elliason argued that poor sanitation, which costs around $260 billion in gross domestic product (GDP) annually, should be given international attention on par with more traditional issues, especially since millions of children die every year from diseases that could have been prevented with adequate sanitation.

He further noted that sanitation was crucially linked to five other MDGs. With proper sanitation, child mortality goes down, maternal mortality goes down, and girls stay longer in school past puberty, thus improving literacy rates.

As part of the launch, Raya, a new Sesame Street Muppet, made a special report on the importance of good sanitation to create awareness in children regarding proper latrine use and sanitation, particularly in the countries like Bangladesh and India.

Sesame Street, through the creative agency Mother, is one of the UN partners working on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) issues, along with the UN Millennium Campaign and the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, among others.

According to Nicholas Alipui, Director of Programmes at the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), ending open defecation, which kills three quarters of a million children under five each year, is a human right and a matter of equity.

The MDG target to halve the proportion of people without access to sanitation has significantly helped to bring the issue into focus and 1.8 billion people have gained access to improved sanitation since 1990. However, there is still far to go, notes a press release on the new initiative.

Also at the launch, the Permanent Mission of Singapore to the UN announced that it will hold a special event to focus on open defecation and its impact on women and girls. The UN Deputy Permanent Representative of the country, Neo Ek Beng Mark , further stressed that “we need to find a way to target the silences which are rooted in the taboos.”

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