(Digital Journal) -A UN report says six of the world’s seven billion people have mobile phones but only 4.5 billion have toilets. In response to the statistics the UN has issued a call “to change a situation in which more people worldwide have mobile phones than toilets.”
At a press conference held on Thursday in which he announced the report
, the UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, said that the UN has launched a global effort to improve sanitation for 2.5 billion people who do not have toilets, 1.1 billion of whom defecate in the open, some making calls on their cellphones while relieving themselves under bridges and on refuse dumps. As Slate
comments: “That phenomenon is easily visible in Indonesia, for example, where it is common to see people who live in metal roofed shacks without bathrooms surfing Facebook on their smartphones or feature phones.”
NPR notes that the Hindustan Times reported Wednesday that in India’s state of Maharashtra about 70 percent of the state’s 100 million people have cellphones, and 60 percent have televisions in their homes, but nearly half of families still don’t have a toilet.
Eliasson said: “I am determined to energize action that will lead to results. I am calling on all actors – government, civil society, business and international organizations – to commit to measurable action and to mobilize the resources to rapidly increase access to basic sanitation.”
Eliasson described the situation as a “silent disaster” that reflects the wide income disparities in the world. He said: “I am determined to energize action that will lead to results. I am calling on all actors – government, civil society, business and international organizations – to commit to measurable action and to mobilize the resources to rapidly increase access to basic sanitation.”
He continued: “Let’s face it—this is a problem that people do not like to talk about. But it goes to the heart of ensuring good health, a clean environment and fundamental human dignity for billions of people.”
The announcement follows the initiation in August 2012 of the Bill Gates Foundation program to “reinvent the toilet” as part of effort to reduce the number of people who do not have access to sanitary waste disposal facilities.
Eliasson told the press conference that the problem of access to toilets must be tackled for the UN to achieve its goal of cutting by half by the end of 2015 the proportion of the world’s people without access to sanitation and eliminating by 2025 the practice of open defecation. He noted that out of all the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to end poverty set in 2000, the UN has made the slowest progress with the goal of improving sanitation for the world’s poor.
UN figures estimate that 1.8 billion people gained access to improved sanitation since 1990 and that the MDG target to halve the proportion of people without access to improved sources of water has been met. The organization, however, estimates that about 1.1 billion people or 15 percent of the world’s population continue to defecate in the open.
According to UN public health experts the practice of open defecation is a major cause of diarrhea that causes the death of more than 750,000 children under the age of five every year. Eliasson said that 22 countries account for more than 80 percent of the world’s incidence of open defecation. He listed the countries: Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Zambia, Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Chad, Congo, Niger, Sudan and South Sudan.
UN figures indicate that India alone accounts for 60 per cent of the number of people in the world who practice open defecation. The number of people who use mobile phones in India increased from 45 million in 2002 to 1 billion in 2012. However, only about 30 percent of Indians have proper sanitation.
The Daily Mail reports that the UN lists ten countries with the highest number of people living without proper sanitation:
India – 626 million people without proper sanitation – but 893 million mobile phones. India accounts for 60 per cent of the number of people practicing open defecation around the globe.
Indonesia – 63 million people do not have a toilet but there are 250 million mobile phones.
Pakistan – 40 million people practicing open defecation. But 111 million mobile phones.
Ethiopia – 38 million people without a toilet but 14 million have mobile phones.
Nigeria – 34 million people without proper sanitation – but there are 95 million mobile phones.
Sudan – 19 million people practice open defecation – but there are 25 million mobile phones.
Nepal – 15 million people without sanitation but 13 million mobile phones.
China – 14 million people practice open defecation but 986 million mobile phones
Niger – 12 million people without proper sanitation but 4.8 million mobile phones
Burkina Faso – 9.7 million people without proper sanitation but 7.7 million mobiles
However, the reason why more of the world’s poor can afford to buy and maintain mobile phones is that they have become very cheap, even while governments continue to neglect public investment in sanitation. But as public planners note, the problem is not providing flush toilets for everybody but providing water to flush the toilets. Many with flush toilets in their homes in Nigerian cities abandon the facility when they become unusable due to lack of water supply.
In contrast to the prohibitive costs of acquiring and maintaining a toilet connected to a waste-water system, a brand new Nokia 1280 costs only about $15 in Nigeria and a secondhand one costs far less. The Daily Mail reports that Nokia now has its biggest factory in the world in Chennai, India where cheap phones that locals can afford to buy are produced.
However, with the information that countries where open defecation is practiced have the highest numbers of under-five child deaths, high levels of under-nutrition, poverty, and large wealth disparities, the emphasis on providing phones for the world’s poor may reflect the profit-making priorities of private companies rather than actual needs, though it has been argued convincingly that increasing interconnectivity in the modern world has made cellphones an essential commodity even for the world’s poor.
The Deputy Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Martin Mogwanja, said: “We strongly support this effort to increase the focus on sanitation. We can reduce the cases of diarrhea in children under five by a third simply by expanding the access of communities to sanitation and eliminating open defecation.” He emphasized that “diarrhea is the second largest killer of children under five in the developing world and this is caused largely by poor sanitation and inadequate hygiene.”
The UN estimated that poor sanitation costs up to 7.2 percent of GDP of poor countries and impacts adversely on economic growth.
According to Slate, UN figures indicate that poor sanitation costs India $53.8 billion a year, while Nigeria loses $3 billion annually.