Lack of toilets, clean water costs world $260 bln each year – Liberia president

January 31, 2013

Poor access to sanitation and clean water costs the global economy $260 billion each year, according to Liberia’s president who is leading work to craft proposals for a new set of global anti-poverty goals.

They are intended to replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were agreed in 2000 and expire in 2015.

“$260 billion in economic losses annually is directly linked to inadequate water supply and sanitation around the world,” Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf told a meeting on the post-2015 development agenda in the capital Monrovia this week. “We must take this issue more seriously.”

If governments meet the current MDG to halve the proportion of the population without sanitation by 2015, the lives of 400,000 children under the age of five would be saved worldwide, including more than 100,000 in Nigeria and 66,000 in India, according to charity WaterAid. In total, 2.5 million lives would be saved each year if everyone had access to safe water and sanitation, the charity says.

“All too often, access to adequate sanitation in particular is seen as an outcome of development, rather than a driver of economic development and poverty reduction,” said Johnson Sirleaf, one of three co-chairs of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon’s high-level panel on the post-2015 development agenda.

The other co-chairs of the panel – which includes 27 leaders from government, the private sector and civil society – are British Prime Minister David Cameron and Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The panel must submit a report with recommendations to the United Nations in May.

DRAG ON WOMEN’S PROGRESS

The eight MDGs were established by U.N. member states in 2000. The goal on water – to halve the proportion of people worldwide without access to safe drinking water – was met five years early in 2010, but the sanitation goal is off track by a wide margin.

“Without more progress in providing access to safe water and effective sanitation, children will continue to miss school, health costs will continue to be a drag on national economies, adults will continue to miss work, and women and girls – and it’s almost always women and girls – will continue to spend hours every day fetching water, typically from dirty sources,” said Johnson Sirleaf, who is also a Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

At current rates of progress, sub-Saharan Africa will meet the sanitation goal 150 years after the 2015 deadline, according to WaterAid.

In Liberia, 73 percent of the country’s 3.9 billion people have access to safe drinking water, but only 18 percent have access to proper sanitation, according to WaterAid. Across sub-Saharan Africa, the figures are 61 percent for clean water and 30 percent for sanitation.

Globally, 783 million people lack access to safe water, roughly one in eight of the world’s population, the charity says. And at least 2.5 billion people, or 39 percent of the world’s population, do not have adequate sanitation.

“International efforts on the existing Millennium Development Goals have shown us that to succeed in areas like education, child health and gender equality, progress on access to water, sanitation and hygiene is crucial,” Girish Menon, director of international programmes at WaterAid, said in a statement. “Integrating these approaches will be the key to success.”

Picture caption: A woman stands in pouring rain in the slum of Susan’s Bay in Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown, where a cholera outbreak was branded “a national emergency”. August 22, 2012. REUTERS/Simon Akam

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