Bridging the sanitation gap in Asia Pacific

تم النشر: 26 أغسطس 2014 15:36 CET

By John Sparrow, IFRC

In summer, Bolormaa, 5, and Ariunaa, 2, often have diarrhoea. It worries the little girls’ father, Batbayar Gezegt, a hardworking man and former herder who, like hundreds of thousands of other pastoralists, has been forced from the Mongolian countryside by extreme weather cycles. 

Since he lost all his animals to dzud – an extended natural disaster that begins with summer drought and a shortage of pasture and culminates in the severest of winters – he has lived with his wife and four children in an Ulaanbaatar shantytown. It is one of many deprived areas around the Mongolian capital which is now home to almost half the country’s total population.  

The unremitting flow of rural people has overwhelmed the urban infrastructure and poor access to clean water and decent sanitation has been reflected in a worrying increase of contagious disease over the past two decades. Batbayar’s plight is a common one. His home, a ger – the traditional tent dwelling displaced herders have spread across the city’s outlying hillsides – is in a compound without a latrine. 

“We have urban district’s where, at most, 15 per cent of the population has proper sanitation,” explains Bolormaa Nordov, Secretary General of the Mongolian Red Cross Society (MRCS). “On top of that, only 21 per cent of our households are connected to a water supply and less than half the population has a reliable source of drinking water.” 

This urban sanitation challenge is the subject of an International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies workshop being held in Ulaanbaatar from 26 to 28 August. It will look at how Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies can strengthen their capacity to deliver appropriate and sustainable sanitation, and help bridge what is clearly a sanitation gap. 

The background statistics are grim. Around the world, more than 2.6 billion people still live without basic sanitation. Some 1.8 billion of those are in the Asia Pacific region and in South Asian countries like India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh; more than 700 million in total still defecate in the open. Progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goal of access to basic sanitation for all by 2015 is woefully off track, with communities left vulnerable to a multitude of health risks and disasters. Diarrhoea is the leading cause of illness and death around the world, the UN reports, with 88 per cent of diarrhoeal deaths due to water and sanitation shortages, and poor hygiene.

For more than a decade now, the Mongolian Red Cross, in partnership with the Netherlands Red Cross, has worked to turn Mongolia’s plight around in some of its most troubled communities. Over the past three years alone, 60,000 people have benefited from new Red Cross water sources and the provision of latrines, and the MRCS has installed or improved indoor sanitation in schools and kindergartens. Importantly, it has trained children and parents in good hygiene practise, an issue that has been introduced into school curricula.

Things are also about to change for Batbayar Gezegt. He has started work on digging a pit for a ventilated latrine. The Red Cross is providing the design and materials.

It is a wise investment. Apart from anything else, preventing disease through improved sanitation saves on curative and developmental losses. According to a recent World Health Organization study, every dollar spent generates an average economic benefit of $7.