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Key to fighting world poverty: toilets, report says

Oct. 19, 2008
Courtesy U.N. University
and World Science staff

Simply in­stal­ling toi­lets where needed through­out the world and en­sur­ing safe wa­ter sup­plies would do more to end crip­pling pov­er­ty and im­prove world health than any oth­er pos­si­ble meas­ure, ac­cord­ing to a new re­port.

The anal­y­sis re­leased Oct. 19 by the Tokyo-based Un­ited Na­tions Uni­ver­s­ity says bet­ter wa­ter and sanita­t­ion re­duces pov­er­ty in three ways: through new op­por­tun­i­ties for lo­cal en­trepreneurs, sav­ings for the pub­lic health sec­tor, and in­creased in­di­vid­ual pro­duc­ti­vity in con­tri­but­ing to economies.

The or­gan­iz­a­tion al­so calls on the world’s re­search com­mun­ity to help fill ma­jor knowl­edge gaps that ham­per prog­ress in ad­dress­ing the twin glob­al scourges of un­safe wa­ter and poor sanita­t­ion.

In­forma­t­ion gaps in­clude such seem­ingly ob­vi­ous meas­ures as com­mon def­i­ni­tions and world­wide maps to iden­ti­fy com­mun­i­ties most vul­ner­a­ble to health-related prob­lems as a re­sult of poor ac­cess to sanita­t­ion and safe wa­ter, the re­port says. 

The uni­ver­s­ity al­so called for crea­t­ion of a “tool-box” to help policy-makers choose be­tween avail­a­ble op­tions in lo­cal cir­cum­stances.

“Wa­ter prob­lems, caused largely by an ap­pall­ing ab­sence of ad­e­quate toi­lets in many places, con­trib­ute tre­men­dously to some of the world’s most pun­ish­ing prob­lems, fore­most among them the inter-related af­flic­tions of poor health and chron­ic pov­er­ty,” said Za­far Adeel, Di­rec­tor of the U.N. Uni­ver­s­ity’s Canadian-based In­terna­t­ional Net­work on Wa­ter, En­vi­ron­ment and Health.

“It is as­ton­ish­ing that, de­spite all the at­ten­tion these is­sues have re­ceived over dec­ades, the world has not even prop­erly mapped wa­ter and sanita­t­ion prob­lems nor agreed on such terms as ‘safe,’ or ‘ad­e­quate,’ or ‘ac­cessible’ or ‘af­ford­able,’ all of which are in daily use by of­fi­cials and policy-makers.”

U.N. Uni­ver­s­ity, an out­growth of the Uni­ted Na­tions, is an in­terna­t­ional com­mun­ity of schol­ars re­searching glob­al prob­lems, in­clud­ing the use of sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy to ad­vance hu­man wel­fare.


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Simply installing toilets where needed throughout the world and ensuring safe water supplies would do more to end crippling poverty and improve world health than any other possible measure, according to a new report. The analysis released Oct. 19 by the Tokyo-based United Nations University said better water and sanitation reduces poverty in three ways: through new opportunities for local entrepreneurs, savings for the public health sector, and increased individual productivity in contributing to economies. The organization also calls on the world’s research community to help fill major knowledge gaps that hamper progress in addressing the twin global scourges of unsafe water and poor sanitation. Information gaps include such seemingly obvious measures as common definitions and worldwide maps to identify communities most vulnerable to health-related problems as a result of poor access to sanitation and safe water, the report said. The university also called for creation of a “tool-box” to help policy-makers choose between available options in local circumstances. “Water problems, caused largely by an appalling absence of adequate toilets in many places, contribute tremendously to some of the world’s most punishing problems, foremost among them the inter-related afflictions of poor health and chronic poverty,” said Zafar Adeel, Director of the U.N. University’s Canadian-based International Network on Water, Environment and Health. “It is astonishing that, despite all the attention these issues have received over decades, the world has not even properly mapped water and sanitation problems nor agreed on such terms as ‘safe,’ or ‘adequate,’ or ‘accessible’ or ‘affordable,’ all of which are in daily use by officials and policy-makers.” U.N. University, an outgrowth of the U.N., is an international community of scholars researching global problems, including the use of science and technology to advance human welfare.