The international day that is made fun of the most is probably World Toilet Day. Close second is Global Handwashing Day. But why make fun of these days unless it is because they focus our attention on these issues for one day and should be our concern for 365 days, 24/7.
Lack of basic sanitation is a silent serial killer that targets the most vulnerable: every 20 seconds a child is killed by a disease directly related to poor sanitation. This amounts to more deaths than AIDS, malaria and measles combined.
Perhaps there should be a wanted sign somewhere promising a bounty for the capture of this serial killer which kills 4,000 children every day. So far the world has made less progress in providing sanitation than on most of the other Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), largely because the sanitation sector is in desperate need of more financial resources.
“Investing in sanitation is good business and a smart deal,” says Catarina de Albuquerque, the UN Human Rights Rapporteur on water and sanitation, stressing that for every dollar spent on sanitation facilities, there is an average return of $8 in averted costs and productivity gains.
Universal access to sanitation by 2015 (the target year for the MDGs) would require over $14.5 billion annually, according to a 2006 study by the UN World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP).
“This seems a huge sum,” Ms. de Albuquerque pointed out. “Yet, put in perspective, it is less than what people in rich countries spend on bottled water each year.”
October 15 is Global Handwashing Day. On that occasion last year the UN reminded people across the world that simply washing hands with soap and water remains the most cost-effective way to prevent diseases, and urged everyone to motivate others, especially children who are easily infected by disease-carrying germs present in dirty hands, to make it a habit.
Washing hands with soap at critical moments, such as after using the toilet or before handling food, is an easy and affordable intervention that can reduce the incidence of diarrhoea (which kills 1.1 million children a year) among children under the age of five by almost 50%, and cut respiratory infections (which kill 1.2 millions a year) by as much as 25%.
“Soap is not in short supply, even in developing countries,” says UNICEF´s Therese Dooley, “The vast majority of poor households have soap in the home. The problem is that soap is used for laundry or bathing, but rarely for handwashing.”
So wash your hands after going to the toilet and stop making fun of handwashing and toilet days!
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