sanitation as a Human RightThe end of the year saw the recognition of sanitation as a human right, separate and distinct from other acknowledged human rights, by the United Nations General Assembly. The Assembly adopted a resolution early in December 2015, recognizing the distinct nature of sanitation as a human right. Previously the right of sanitation was linked to the right to safe drinking water. This combination right was only recognized by the U.N. in 2010.

While both the rights continue to have a strong relation, Léo Heller, a U.N. Special Reporter focused on the human rights of safe drinking water and sanitation, said the split would help governments and non-governmental organizations to focus more specifically on what needs to be done. Having sanitation as a standalone right demonstrates that sanitation is not solely tied to water.

“It gives people a clearer perception of the right, strengthening their capacity to claim this right when the State fails to provide the services or when they are unsafe, unaffordable, inaccessible or with inadequate privacy,” said Heller.

The U.N. reports that more than 2.5 billion people worldwide, one-third of the total world population, live without access to proper toilets.

The World Health Organization (WHO) states that hygienic sanitation facilities are crucial for public health. With this in mind, the U.N. hopes that the effect of recognizing sanitation as a human right will curb a major source of deadly infections.

A recent U.N. study found that more than 443 million school days are lost every year due to sanitation and water-related issues. Inadequate sanitation facilities are a common barrier for school attendance, particularly for girls.

“It is hoped that this will have a direct impact on those women, children, people with disabilities and marginalized individuals and groups who currently lack access to sanitation . . . an opportunity to highlight their plight,” Mr. Heller said.

Heller continued saying, “The move to making sanitation its own human right means that we can directly address the particular human rights challenges associated with sanitation.”

Progress in sanitation is being made. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2015, 68 percent of the world’s population had access to improved sanitation facilities including flush toilets and covered latrines, compared with 54 percent in 1990.

Despite reports like this, the 2015 Millennium Development Goal target to halve the proportion of the population without access to improved sanitation facilities was missed by almost 700 million people.

The worldwide provision of clean water and sanitation is the sixth of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the U.N. in September. These goals are a part of the ambitious 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Kara Buckley

Sources: UN, WHO
Photo: Wikipedia

The topics of global warming and climate change have been discussed in great length in recent times. The effects of both of these trends have an especially significant impact on those living in poverty. Here are some ways climate change impacts poverty by making life more difficult for those already experiencing poor conditions:

Climate change causes more extreme weather. For instance, floods or hurricanes can result in damage to homes and land. Displacement is especially an issue in developing countries when natural disasters strike because victims may flee to safer areas, but are unable to return to their homes.

According to the Brookings Institute, since 2008, an average of 26.4 million people have been displaced by natural disasters every year. Relocating impoverished communities means that efforts to end poverty slow down and become more complicated, especially in developing countries.

Many impoverished communities live in rural areas where agriculture is their source of sustenance. Climate change can cause droughts, famines and loss of livestock, which causes food and water to become scarce.

A survey of households in India’s Andhra found that in a 25-year span, 12 percent of households became more impoverished, and 44 percent of them cited the weather as the cause.

The poor rural farmers who produce the bare minimum needed to feed their families have few resources as it is. Climate change will lead to more undernourished households.

Sanitation and Water Supply
Climate change jeopardizes the availability of clean drinking water. For example, severe flooding causes damage to drinking water infrastructures, which often take weeks to repair. Climate change also creates an environment where diseases are easily spread. In 2007, floods in Bangladesh resulted in the widespread contamination of tubewells.

More countries are enforcing climate policies in order to slow down global warming. These strategies include policies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, carbon pricing to reduce emission and phasing out fossil fuel emissions.

Dr. Margaret Chan, the World Health Organization Director-General stated: “The evidence is overwhelming: climate change endangers human health. Solutions exist and we need to act decisively to change this trajectory.”

Marie Helene Ngom

Sources: World Bank, Brookings, WHO
Photo: Pixabay

diarrheal diseaseFollowing the increased efforts made to improve global health in the past 25 years, there have been incredible advances in the reduction of preventable deaths including diarrheal disease.

Nevertheless, children remain the most vulnerable demographic when it comes to being affected by preventable diseases. Notably, one in five children will die of avoidable causes before the age of 5.

The majority of these deaths are made up of children living in poor countries, and one of the leading causes is diarrheal disease. Nearly 90 percent of deaths caused by diarrheal disease occur in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Severe diarrhea leads to life-threatening dehydration, so even if the child survives the illness, subsequent issues such as infection, stunted growth, cognitive impairment and poor immune response to vaccines can lead to a lifetime of compromised health.

While improved sanitation and access to clean water may reduce cases of diarrheal disease, treatments are also necessary in cases where those tactics are not enough.

For example, oral rehydration solutions (ORS) (mixtures of salt, glucose, sucrose, citrates or molasses) work quickly and effectively to revive someone who is experiencing the negative symptoms of dehydration and the accompanying health complications.

The solutions have been widely used in response to cholera outbreaks as a low-cost way to handle dehydration and save lives. The medicine is inexpensive — packets of ORS run for about 10 cents a piece. Although they must be mixed with clean water, the benefits of ORS treatments significantly outweigh the risks.

Oral rehydration solutions have proven to be an effective remedy for dehydration caused by diarrheal disease, and implementing them could dramatically improve the life expectancy of children living in poverty.

Furthermore, the simple administration of the medication does not require a doctor, and families could relieve a child showing symptoms without a trip to the hospital. Not only is this convenient, but the measure could prevent the symptoms from becoming life-threatening.

Despite the solutions being cost-effective for the medical conditions found frequently in poor countries, they are not yet easy to obtain. Recent measures have been taken by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to expand the availability of ORS in countries that would benefit from these treatments.

There is hope that through child health policy changes and increased funding, oral rehydration solutions will help significantly reduce childhood deaths from diarrheal disease and other preventable illnesses.

Brittney Dimond

Sources: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Rehydration Project
Photo: Flickr

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced on March 20, 2014 that they were awarding $2 million worth of grants to multiple teams of researchers in India to work towards solving global sanitation issues.

These grants are part of the foundation’s “Grand Challenges,” a series of grant programs that was started ten years ago. The Gates Foundation describes Grand Challenges as a way to work with partners to “support innovative research to radically improve key problems in health and development around the world.”

In India, the foundation has partnered with the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) IRK Knowledge Park, and the Department of Biotechnology in hopes of designing a toilet that will provide sanitation services to the billions of people who currently lack those services.

Currently, 2.5 billion people worldwide do not have access to safe means of sanitation, which leads to the deaths of 1.5 million children under the age of five every year. Additionally, UNICEF reported that 2,000 children die every day because of poor sanitation and contaminated water. Many of these children die due to diarrhea, which can originate from the use of unsanitized toilets.

In India, more than half of the population does not have access to basic sanitation, which necessitates the building of proper toilets.

In the announcement of the grant, professor and biotechnologist K.Vijay Raghavan said, “Effective and comprehensive sanitation seems an impossible dream for India.” Raghavan went on to say, “Yet today we see a congruence of new and applicable science and technology, its affordability and sustainable implementation.”

The day after the announcement, the Reinvent the Toilet Fair took place in New Delhi and featured a variety of new devices, such as solar-powered electronic toilets. Other prototypes included a portable toilet that is capable of collapsing as well as another that emptied into a pit with waste-consuming insects.

The Gates Foundation’s goals for the scientists participating in the fair were to sanitize any waste, use a minimal amount of water or electricity, and produce a “usable product at low cost.” Another requirement was for the toilet to be something that people would want to use.

The World Bank currently estimates $260 billion to be the total global cost of poor sanitation every year, with India accounting for $54 billion of that total. These poor sanitation in India warrants change before things get worse and more lives are lost.

India is considered to have the worst conditions worldwide in regard to sanitation, an issue that is considered to be more of an annoyance in the Western world. Additional regions that lack basic sanitation include sub-Saharan Africa, southern Asia, Oceania and various islands in the Pacific Ocean. In countries where sanitation is a major issue, people commonly lose their lives due to preventable issues.

The Gates Foundation previously partnered with the BIRAC and Department of Biotechnology for the “Achieving Healthy Growth through Agriculture and Nutrition” program in August 2013.

In continuing its work with innovators in India, the foundation hopes to prevent these unnecessary deaths and improve sanitation worldwide.

– Julie Guacci

Sources: CNBC, Gates Foundation, The Japan Times, CNBC
Photo: InstaBlogs