UN Deputy Secretary-General Launches Call to Action on Sanitation

22 March 2013: In a message delivered to mark World Water Day 2013 at UN Headquarters in New York, US, UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson announced a renewed effort to achieve progress on sanitation. Eliasson's “Call to Action” aims to improve hygiene, change social norms, and improve management of human waste and wastewater, with the overall goal of eliminating open defecation by 2025.

The Call to Action further aims to accelerate progress on the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target on sanitation and hygiene. It builds upon Member States' commitment to take action through the Sanitation Drive to 2015, which the UN General Assembly (UNGA) endorsed in 2010, and will not create new structures or funding mechanisms.

Eliasson called on all actors, including governments, civil society, business and international organizations, to commit to measurable action at the community level to rapidly increase basic access to sanitation and to mobilize necessary resources. While acknowledging that sanitation and hygiene are problems “that people do not like to talk about,” Eliasson said sanitation “goes to the heart of ensuring good health, a clean environment and fundamental human dignity for billions of people - and achieving the MDGs.”

Similarly, Martin Mogwanja, Deputy Executive Director, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), described a sanitation project that “succeeded by getting people to recognize and to talk about the problem.” The MDG target on halving the proportion of people without access to sanitation is lagging: 2.5 billion people lack basic sanitation and 1.5 million more people have mobile phones than access to latrines or toilets. In comparison, the world has already met the MDG target on halving the proportion of people without access to improved sources of water.

Action on sanitation is also expected to generate benefits such as improved health, a cleaner environment, enhanced equity, and increased economic growth and productivity. Mogwanja stated that ending open defecation would reduce deaths from diarrhea by 36% annually, noting that poor sanitation and inadequate hygiene play a significant role in child mortality. Open defecation is also associated with high levels of poverty, high levels of under-nutrition and wealth disparities. Eighty percent of open defecation around the world takes place in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. [UN Press Release[UNEP Press Release[Sanitation Drive to 2015[Facts on Sanitation]