NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 10, 2006

The humble flush toilet, taken for granted in most rich countries, could be a cheap but powerful tool to reduce childhood deaths and boost global development, a U.N. report said Thursday.

According to the authors of the annual U.N. Development report:

  • Lack of access to clean water and basic sanitation kills nearly 2 million young children each year.
  • This amounts to nearly 5,000 deaths per day, most of them preventable, and made diarrhea the second biggest childhood killer.

The report cited Peruvian studies that the installation of a flush toilet in the home increased the chances of a child surviving to the first birthday by almost 60 percent and in Egypt by 57 percent.  But it also criticized developing countries for spending too little on water and sanitation:

  • Most sub-Saharan African countries normally spend 0.2 to 0.4 percent of their budget on water and sanitation.
  • In Ethiopia the military budget was 10 times the water and sanitation budget and in Pakistan it was 47 times.
  • In South Asia two-out-of-three people lack basic sanitation, numbers that put the region on a par with sub-Saharan Africa.

The United Nations estimates that around $10 billion will be needed to help address the problem.  When put into context, the cost is not overwhelming, say the authors: It represents less than five days worth of global military spending and less than half what rich countries spend each year on mineral water.

Source: Editorial, "U.N.: Lack of Sanitation Has Human Cost,", November 9, 2006.


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