South Asia's GDP loss over lack of sanitation

 Of the 1.5 billion people living in South Asia, 65 per cent lack basic sanitation even today. Daniel Toole, the Regional Director for South Asia, UNICEF, presented the alarming statistics at the South Asian Conference on Sanitation (SACOSAN), in Colombo.

Senior ministers and secretaries of all the South Asian nations including India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Afghanistan and Maldives are taking part in the three-day conference, inaugurated on April 4. The conference has the representation of UNICEF, WHO (World Health Organisation), WaterAid, WSSCC (Water Supply Sanitation Collaborative Council), besides civil society members working in the sector.

Country-specific target

In the last SACOSAN, held in Delhi in 2008, all the nations committed to achieve their country specific targets for complete sanitation under Millennium Development Goal but since then 750,000 children have died in this region due to diarrhoea caused by poor sanitation and hygiene. Sri Lanka is the only country in the whole region, where 95 per cent population has been covered with improved sanitation facilities — over 85 per cent population is covered with improved sanitation.       

The current conference aims at learning and sharing from the success of Sri Lanka. “There is no single recipe to address the problem in different nations in the South Asia but SACOSAN at least provides a platform to these nations for formulation of their strategies with the help of civil society organisations working in the sector at the grass root level,” said Dinesh Gunawardena, the Sri Lanka minister for water supply and drainage. Sanitation is directly connected to human dignity, health and nutrition. Children under the age of five years are most vulnerable to get affected by poor sanitation. The presentation on the status of water and sanitation, from each participatory nation, revealed that majority of child morbidity in this region is attributed to lack of water and sanitation. 

“The burden of diarrhoeal deaths in South Asian countries is manifold in comparison to the burden of AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined together on which huge amount of money is being spent. Over 1.4 million deaths in this part of the world take place annually due to lack of sanitation, hygiene and water related diseases or injury,” said the UNICEF Global Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Clarissa Brocklehurst.

Present at the event, the civil society organisations from all the eight SAARC nations decided to lobby in their respective countries demanding the governments to include water and sanitation as basic human rights.  In July 2010 all governments in South Asia voted in support of a United Nations  General Assembly resolution to declare water and sanitation a basic human right. However, apart from Maldives and Nepal (drafting the constitution), which have included water and sanitation as fundamental rights, no other country has made any move in this direction.

The organisations working at the grass root level also decided to demand the government to develop a strong accountability mechanism by including everyone from government to community level for monitoring of water and sanitation related projects in these countries. The participants hoped that the South Asia, which is on the path of economic growth with 21 per cent contribution to world economy, should stress on improving water and sanitation situation for faster growth.

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