Sense of urgency for toilets in Asia Pacific

Each year approximately 3.5 million Australians travel to the Asia Pacific region on holiday and business and for many, searching for a clean, private and functioning toilet can be a challenge to say the least.

However for one in three people worldwide, access to a toilet is not even an option and they are forced the indignity of relieving themselves on the street, in fields, rivers or waterways. 

While not always an easy topic of discussion, sanitation is a key focus this week for around 200 delegates from 20 countries who are meeting in Melbourne for the AusAid/World Vision Sanitation and Water conference. 

In opening the conference, Parliamentary Secretary for International Development Assistance, Bob McMullan spoke about the Australian Government’s increased commitment to aid for the water and sanitation sector, with $300 million to be spent over a three year period. 

World Vision’s water and sanitation specialist Rod Jackson said the conference was held during the International Year of Sanitation and would address the challenge of improved water and sanitation in the Asia Pacific region. 

“Today 2.5 billion people in the world still lack access to decent sanitation, and 1.2 billion have none at all,” Mr Jackson said. 

“Without such facilities many people particularly women and girls are forced to relieve themselves after dark and thereby risk violence or sexual harassment. 

“In many countries girl’s participation at school is lower than boys when there are no separate toilets for boys and girls,” he said. 

Clarissa Brocklehurst, the head of UNICEF’s water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) section, said UNICEF invested almost US$300 million annually on improved water and sanitation in 96 countries worldwide. 

“187 million people in South East Asia don’t have access to improved sanitation and 78 million don’t have access to improved water supply,” Ms Brocklehurst said. 

“UNICEF’s commitment to child development includes combating diarrhoeal disease which is the second biggest killer of children under five and accounts for the deaths of 5,000 children per day worldwide. 

“The single hygiene behavior of hand washing with soap could alone reduce the risk of diarrhoeal diseases by over 40 per cent,” she said. 

Jaehyang So, global manager of the Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) for the World Bank said that a recent WSP study showed that the economic impact of inadequate sanitation in four East Asian countries (Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam) was very high. 

“These four countries lose approximately US$9 billion per year due to poor sanitation, or 2.3 per cent of their combined Gross Domestic Product,” said Ms. So. 

“The estimated annual need for investment and maintenance is more than US$110 billion globally.” 

Mr Jackson said climate change and population growth were also making water supplies more unpredictable. 

“As populations and development increases, the risk of conflict over scarce water resources also increases, with the potential of creating instability in our region,” he said. 

Tomorrow night, the heads of water and sanitation from UNICEF, UN-Habitat and the World Bank will speak at a One Just World forum about how improving water and sanitation and hygiene practices in rural and urban areas can dramatically improve health, educational outcomes and economic opportunities in developing countries. 

Papua New Guinean water engineer, Pauline Komolong will also share her stories of how women in the PNG Highlands are using water to help build peace among warring communities. 

The event is part of One Just World, a national series of free discussion forums on global poverty and development issues. The forum a partnership between World Vision, International Women’s Development Agency, AusAID and the Globalism Institute at RMIT University, will be held on Wednesday 29 October at 6pm to 7.30pm at the BMW Edge, Federation Square. 

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Media contact: Tamara Blackmore: 03 9287 2211 / 0400 689 714

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