How to deliver water and sanitation to everyone

Published on by in Non Profit

On Friday, world leaders will embark upon a new journey to tackle extreme poverty and make our planet a healthier, more equal place to live with the adoption of the new U.N. Sustainable Development framework. These are exciting times, and a real chance for change.

Water and sanitation play a key role in these 17 global goals on sustainable development — not only in SDG 6, but crosscutting through health, education and gender rights. It’s hard to imagine a successful school, a successful hospital or a successful community without such basics as safe drinking water, a decent, private toilet, effective removal of human waste, and good hygiene practice, including hand and face washing with soap.

But sanitation was an afterthought in the original Millennium Development Goals. After all, human excrement and sewage systems are not attractive topics, especially in official circles. When addressing the U.N. Commission on Sustainable Development in 2008, I used the word ‘shit’ to get my point about the impending crisis across — it was translated, albeit hesitantly, after a definite pause. And even the U.N. Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson, a champion of ending open defecation, has had translators hesitate at his use of the word ‘toilet’ in the conference rooms of the United Nations.

When the final review of the MDGs came in, it was no surprise that sanitation was among the most off-track of all the targets, falling short by more than 650 million people. That is more than double the population of the United States. This is a failing we can ill-afford to repeat in these new global goals.

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