By Alka Pande
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Lucknow, India Despite years of global commitments to improving access to clean water and adequate sanitation, more than 7,000 children below the age of five years old still die every day across South Asia.
Under the umbrella of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) as well as part of the U.N.’s Millenium Development Goals, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Bhutan have committed to improving access to clean drinking water and sanitation for their people.
The promises and resolutions passed by these nations have really not materialised, with every second person forced to defecate in the open and every eighth person drinking contaminated water. “About one billion people in South Asian nations do not practice improved sanitation and remain exposed to severe health risks, besides adding to environmental pollution,” says Mustafa Talpur, regional advocacy and policy advisor for WaterAid in Pakistan.
“Similarly, over 211 million people in South Asia do not use improved source of drinking water and stay vulnerable to a number of diseases, especially diarrhoea,” he adds. Agencies like the World Health Organisation estimate than for every $1 invested in water and sanitation, countries will save $9 in costs related to sickness, death caused by diseases due to poor water supply.
Last year, the World Bank said that a lack of toilets and poor hygiene practices in India cost Asia’s third largest economy almost $54 billion every year. Premature death, treatment for the sick, wasted time and productiveity as well as lost tourism revenues are the main reasons for such huge losses.
Yet this has not spurred South Asia countries to take the issue seriously enough. “Of the eight South Asian nations, only Sri Lanka and Maldives have done parallel progress in the water and sanitation sector,” says Ashutosh Tiwari, country representative for WaterAid in Nepal.
“In the rest of the nations — India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bhutan — sanitation facilities are much lower than facilities for water,” he adds.
The region is now gearing up to discuss the importance of improving water and sanitation at the South Asian Conference on Sanitation or SACOSAN expected to be held in Colombo in April.