According to international development organization WaterAid, at least 10 million children 5 years old or younger have died since 2000 simply because they lack access to that amenity that Americans take for granted: a toilet. So, the United Nations declared today World Toilet Day in an effort to raise awareness about the astonishing gaps in sanitation across the globe, and to highlight the concept as integral to public health.
Approximately 2.5 billion people around the world lack access to the most basic sanitation facilities, while 1.8 billion drink water contaminated with bodily waste, causing widespread disease that is wholly preventable.
Yet the water and sanitation picture isn't all grim, said Jack Sim, the Singapore-based founder of the World Toilet Organization that spurred today's UN events. From 1990 to 2012, 2.3 billion people around the world gained access to an improved drinking-water source, according to UN-Water data.
In that time frame, child fatalities from diarrheal diseases -- strongly associated with poor water, sanitation and hygiene -- fell from about 1.5 million to about 578,000 children four and younger who died last year from diarrheal causes, a Lancet study published last month showed.
Indeed, according to the newly released UN-Water Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking-Water, commitment to facilitating access to clean water is on the rise, although, obviously, there is still much work to be done. In 2012, only 27 percent of global aid funds were spent on sanitation, while access to water received the remaining 73 percent. Therefore, it is not surprising that authorities assume that we will fail to meet the Millennium Development Goal for sanitation -- to halve the proportion of people without access to facilities -- by 2015.
"Now is the time to act," said Michel Jarraud, chair of UN-Water and secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization, in a statement. "We may not know yet what the post-2015 sustainable development agenda will look like. But we do know that water and sanitation must be clear priorities if we are to create a future that allows everyone to live healthy, prosperous and dignified lives."