Better sanitation focus of UN World Water Day observance in Bangkok

More than 1.5 billion people in the Asia-Pacific region still lack basic sanitation, such as access to a toilet—leaving them vulnerable to preventable diseases such as cholera, worms, diarrhea, pneumonia and malnutrition. Globally, one child dies every 20 seconds as a result of poor sanitation.

In order to raise awareness of this issue, the United Nations General Assembly declared 2008 to be the International Year of Sanitation (IYS) and adopted the theme “Accelerating progress on sanitation to help save lives and foster economic and social development”.

The Year will be highlighted at the observance of World Water Day (which falls on Sunday 22 March) in Bangkok. The event, organized by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), will take place at the United Nations Conference Centre (UNCC) on Thursday 20 March and will feature a panel discussion, workshops and an exhibition.

The keynote address will be delivered by Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, Founder of the Sulabh Sanitation & Social Reform Movement, which has so far set up 7,500 community toilets in India. A special presentation will be given by Mr. Jack Sim, founder and CEO of the World Toilet Organization.

The panel discussion will feature experts from Bangladesh, India, Indonesia and the Philippines who will share their first hand experience in sanitation initiatives and community projects. The panel will focus on strategies and lessons learned in the provision of sanitation.

The workshops will look at the East Asia Ministerial Conference on Sanitation and Hygiene 2007 and how UN agencies, governments and civil society can work together to implement IYS 2008. In addition an exhibition highlighting the work of Thai and intergovernmental agencies’ on sanitation will run from 19-21 March.

Each year, more than 200 million tonnes of human waste go uncollected and untreated around the world, fouling the environment and spreading diseases. Poor sanitation affects 2.6 billion people globally, forcing them to live in deeper poverty and indignity. But investment in sanitation pays big dividends. According to a recent study by the World Health Organization, for every one dollar spent on sanitation there is an economic return of nine dollars, and that halving the number of people without access to clean drinking water would result in a gain of $66 billion annually.

Note to editors: You or your representatives are cordially invited to attend the observance of World Water Day from 08.30 hrs to 16.30 hrs on Thursday, 20 March 2008 at the United Nations Conference Centre, Rajadamnern Nok Avenue, Bangkok.