New Delhi, Nov 17 (IANS) India might be an emerging economic power, but it is way behind Pakistan, Bangladesh and even Afghanistan in providing basic sanitation facilities, a key reason behind the death of 2.1 million children under five in the country.
Lizette Burgers, chief water and environment sanitation of the Unicef, Monday said India is making progress in providing sanitation but it lags behind most of the other countries in South Asia.
While a mere 14 percent of people in rural areas of the country - that account for 65 percent of its 1.1 billion population - had access to toilets in 1990, the number had gone up to 28 percent in 2006. In comparison, 33 percent rural Pakistanis had access to toilets in 1990 and it went up to an impressive 58 percent in 2006.
Similarly in Bangladesh, 36 percent of rural people have access to proper sanitation. The corresponding figures for Afghanistan and Sri Lanka were 30 percent and 86 percent respectively.
"This is a huge problem. India has made some progress but there is a lot to be desired. The speed in which we are (India) increasing the toilet usage will not help much," Burgers told IANS, a day before an international sanitation campaign in Delhi.
She, however, said that the huge population in India is a major challenge. Burgers said that between 1990 and 2006, rural areas of the country has witnessed a growth of 181 million people of which 39 million people did not have access to toilets.
According to the international health and sanitation watchdog, there are at least 2.5 billion people across the globe who do not have access to toilets and 50 percent of them are in the south Asian region.
That is the main reason why 50 percent of the global child mortality rate is reported from the same region. Besides, many children suffer from diarrhoea as well as pneumonia and other respiratory problems in India.
While 88 percent of all diarrhoea case are attributed to water, and lack of sanitation and hygiene, all roundworm and hookworm cases in children are due to poor sanitation facilities.
Experts said open defecation is one of the key reasons for malnutrition and stunted growth among kids and looking at the sanitation scenario, the situation is not bright for Indian children.
To highlight the issue, New Delhi is hosting the third South Asian Conference on Sanitation (SACOSAN-III). Beginning Tuesday, the four-day conference will be inaugurated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Over 1,000 delegates from both government and private sector from several South Asian countries including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan will participate in the programme.
"We are stressing on four major issues - urban sanitation, manual scavenging, menstrual hygiene and school sanitation," said S.K. Singh, of Water Aid, a partner NGO of the conference.
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