Inaugurated under the theme of “Sanitation Enhances Quality of Life”, Sri Lanka hosted the Fourth Asian Conference of Sanitation (SACOSAN IV) last month in Colombo.
Participated by 450 delegates from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives and Afghanistan, the Conference deliberated on strategies to provide sanitation facilities to the uncovered 700 million-plus people in the region within the stipulated deadline of the Millennium Development Goals 2015.
“The MDG clock is ticking away. It is very easy to be discouraged,” said Daniel Toole, UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia. But since there was a renewed sense of urgency, all the stake-holders had to work harder to achieve the goals, he added.
Mr. Toole noted that between 1990 and 2008, sanitation coverage in South Asia had increased from 22 per cent to 35 per cent. In total numbers, this brought 310 million persons access to sanitation. He informed the participants that open defecation had also fallen to 58 per cent from the previous 81 per cent during this period as India has been sanctioning more funds for rural sanitation and has also been encouraging community leaders to take a lead in increasing awareness.
F.R. Mehta, the WHO Country Representative for Sri Lanka said diarrhoeal diseases are the single largest reason for the death of 1.5 million children under the age of five. Better sanitation could easily prevent a majority of these deaths, he urged.
Speaking on the occasion, Dinesh Gunawardena, Sri Lankan Minister for Water Supply and Drainage informed his audience about the Sri Lankan government’s initiatives for providing better sanitary and water supply facilities to its people. He also pointed out the importance of media and the strong role that it can play in educating the masses about sanitation.
The United Nations estimates a staggering 2.6 billion of the world’s population who do not have access to improved sanitation facilities. Around 72 per cent of this 2.6 billion live in Asia alone.