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  2. World Water Day 2008 will be celebrated by the UN on Thursday, March 20 and UN Water officially launched the World Water Day 2008 website.  The day will highlight issues on sanitation in accordance with the International Year of Sanitation (IYS) 2008.  The goal of the IYS is to raise awareness and to draw attention to the global sanitation crisis.
    Speaking at the IYS official launch last November at UN Headquarters in New York, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said access to sanitation is one of the most “overlooked, and underserved human needs.”
    International efforts to deliver on this basic right have proved “lackluster,” with an estimated 42,000 people dying every week from diseases related to low water quality and an absence of adequate sanitation, he stated. “This situation is unacceptable.”
    The Secretary-General stressed that investments in sanitation are among of the most important allocations any nation can make. “For every dollar spent on improving sanitation it is estimated that at least nine dollars are saved in costs related to health, education, and social and economic development.”
    According to the UN, although more than 1.2 billion people worldwide have gained access to improved sanitation between 1990 and 2004, an estimated 2.6 billion people – including 980 million children – still lag behind.
    If current trends continue, there will be 2.4 billion people without basic sanitation in 2015, with children continuing to pay the price in lost lives, missed schooling, in disease, malnutrition and poverty.
    The International Year will include major regional conferences on sanitation, including one focusing on school sanitation. It will also encourage public and private partnerships to bring real changes for the billions who bear the brunt of the crisis.
    Issues to be discussed on World Water Day include: 
    • Sanitation is vital for human health:  Sanitation is the most important medical advance since 1840, according to a reader survey in the British Medical Journal. Improved sanitation reduces cholera, worms, diarrhea, pneumonia and malnutrition, among other maladies, that cause disease and death in millions of people. Today 2.6 billion people, including almost one billion children, live without even basic sanitation. Every 20 seconds, a child dies as a result of poor sanitation. That’s 1.5 million preventable deaths each year.
    • Sanitation generates economic benefits:  Improved sanitation has positive impacts on economic growth and poverty reduction. According to a recent WHO study, every dollar spent on improving sanitation generates an average economic benefit of $7. The economic cost of inaction is astronomical. Without improving sanitation, none of the other Millennium Development Goals, to which the world has committed itself, will be achieved.
    • Sanitation contributes to dignity and social development:  Sanitation enhances dignity, privacy and safety, especially for women and girls. It improves convenience and social status. Sanitation in schools enables children, especially girls reaching puberty, to remain in the educational system. Restricted toilet opportunities increase the chance of chronic constipation and is making women vulnerable to violence if they are forced to defecate during nightfall and in secluded areas. Providing improved sanitation facilities is a liberating development for women and girls and is providing substantial benefits for the whole community.
    • Sanitation helps the environment:  Improved disposal of human waste protects the quality of drinking water sources. Re-use of composted waste for agriculture is an environmental, as well as economic, gain. At present, each year more than 200 million tons of human waste – and vast quantities of waste water and solid waste – go uncollected and untreated around the world, fouling the environment and exposing millions of people to disease and squalor.
    • Improving sanitation is achievable!:  Now is the time to act. The technologies, approaches and skilled people are ready. Households, communities, local and national governments, civil society, and private companies all need to work together. Media and public opinion around the world can influence political leaders to act now. The estimated $10 billion annual cost to halve the proportion of people without basic sanitation by 2015 is modest and affordable. If sustained, the same investment could achieve basic sanitation for the entire world within one or two decades. This sum is less than 1% of world military spending in 2005, one-third of the estimated global spending on bottled water, or about as much as Europeans spend on ice cream each year.

    To receive additional information on World Water Day, International Year of Sanitation, activities planned, or how you can get involved, please visit the below organization’s respective websites.
    World Water Day
    International Year of Sanitation
    UN Water
    World Health Organization