Sanitation and Water for All -- Because We Must

04/01/2014 09:18 pm ET | Updated Jun 01, 2014

In just under two weeks around 50 countries from the Sanitation and Water for All partnership will meet at the World Bank in Washington, D.C. to make tangible, measurable pledges to deal with the problem of global access to two of the most basic necessities of life: safe drinking water and adequate toilets.

'Sanitation and water for all' is more than a title. It is a goal that is both morally right and unquestionably necessary.

Why is it so important?

Because diarrhea from inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene kills 1,400 children under five each day. This is like several jumbo jets filled with babies and little children crashing every single day, 365 days of the year. Were this to happen even two days in a row, it would cause a media storm, wouldn't it? As well it should.

Because, apart from the deaths, diarrheal diseases sicken many thousands more. Stunting, linked to frequent bouts of diarrhea, retards the development of about 165 million children worldwide. These figures can be drastically reduced if they get access to improved water and sanitation.

Because, as UNICEF noted on World Water Day this year, three-quarters of a billion of the world's population still do not have access to safe water.

Because we estimate that 2.5 billion people do not have adequate toilets. Of these, 1 billion have to defecate in the open.

Because these are real people -- people living in the poorest and most marginalized regions of the world.

The good news is that many countries are making huge progress. For example, between 2000 and 2012, Ethiopia was able to cut in half the proportion of people practicing open defecation -- equitably across its 11 states, and with progress across all income levels.

However, we will not reach the last person with water and sanitation unless we find new, innovative, cost-effective and sustainable methods. One key challenge is helping people to get inexpensive, good quality products that they will use.

Martin Ayo, a carpenter in the village of Iyorpuu in the state of Benue in Nigeria, invented a simple latrine cover made of wood and mesh, which serves the dual purpose of keeping flies out of the pits, and releasing the build-up of gasses which was causing people to shun latrines as unhealthy. At $3 per cover, it is affordable and in high demand well beyond Martin's own community. We need more solutions like this.

Lower cost manual drilling technologies are helping to supply water to some of the world's poorest and most isolated regions. For example, UNICEF and partners have used hand-dug boreholes in Pakistan to supply safe water to around 100,000 people since 2012.

We are also using social media to generate awareness of issues in WASH. Like the hugely successful 'Take poo to the loo' campaign in India, which leads people to talk about the unmentionable subject of faeces and defecation through their various online platforms, and agree that a problem exists and the solution is in their hands.

UNICEF is using mobile phones for water point mapping in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda. This is helping to show where water sources are working, pinpoint where repairs are needed, as well as to identify the most deprived areas.

The SWA commitments -- and the commitment to hold ourselves accountable to them - will be one of many steps the world needs to take to get sanitation and water to where they are sorely needed.

We need to take these steps together -- communities, countries, donors, recipients, and ordinary people -- because when we leave one person behind, all of us have failed.