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Deputy Secretary-General Contrasts Widespread Mobile Phone Ownership with Poor Access to Sanitation Services, in World Toilet Day Remarks

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Deputy Secretary-General

Following are UN Deputy Secretary‑General Amina Mohamed’s remarks, as prepared for delivery on World Toilet Day in New York today:

I am pleased to be with you on this important global observance. I have long been a committed advocate for toilets and sanitation.

Before being appointed Deputy Secretary‑General, I was Chair of the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council Steering Committee. In that role, I made the point that safe sanitation is vital for the attainment of global goals on poverty, health, nutrition, education and gender equality.

I saw this most recently on my trip to Haiti, where lack of adequate sanitation impedes efforts to swiftly end the cholera crisis and improve the lives of the people of Haiti, but where communities across the country are creating the space and opportunities — empowering themselves — to develop their own solutions to the country’s lack of sanitation infrastructure.

While I was there, I spent a day in the Artibonite, in a remote place called Saint‑Michele de L’Atalaye. I visited with a community that had been affected by cholera, like many others, but which had taken it upon itself to create and spread its own local and sustainable solutions to a widespread lack of sanitation infrastructure. Their empowered efforts highlight an important need for countrywide, sustainable sanitation solutions which are developed alongside the Government of Haiti.

As I sat and spoke with community members in Saint‑Michele de L’Atalaye, I spoke of how access for all to dignified toilets and safe sanitation is a value that we share; and we reminded each other that among the great equalizing factors is the fact that we all go to the bathroom in the same way; regardless of where we are from, we all have the right to safe and dignified toilets. I will continue, in the renewed spirit of partnership with the Government and people of Haiti, to work to make that a reality for all communities across Haiti.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls for ending open defecation and working towards universal access to safely managed sanitation services and safely treated wastewater. This means everyone should have access to a basic toilet facility and a system to safely dispose of and treat waste. World Toilet Day gives sanitation the attention it deserves.

Today, almost everyone owns a mobile phone but less than 40 per cent of the population has access to safely‑managed sanitation services. And nearly 900 million people practise open defecation — not because they want to, but because they have no choice. We now have an ambitious global target to achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all, while ending open defecation and halving untreated wastewater by 2030.

This year, World Toilet Day is focusing on wastewater and is asking the question: “Where does our poo go?” We should also ask questions such as, “Who is responsible for disposal?”, “What are people’s working conditions?” And “Where does menstrual hygiene waste go?

For billions of people, sanitation systems are either non‑existent or ineffective. Faeces contaminate the environment, spreading dangerous diseases and undermining progress in health and child survival. Even in wealthier countries, where people have access to toilets and faecal material is contained, treatment and final disposal of wastewater can be far from perfect, leading to polluted rivers and coastlines. Disposable menstrual products often end up in solid waste or wastewater systems not designed to handle them.

This year’s Toilet Day observance encourages people to think about the sanitation chain. Toilets can take many forms. Some systems provide treatment and safe disposal in situ, while others are connected to a sewer. But for many onsite sanitation systems, there is a need for emptying and transport. Pit latrines and septic tanks need to be regularly emptied and the waste taken to a treatment facility.

These services must protect the health and dignity of workers. These workers are protecting public health and the environment. They are true sanitation heroes. Wastewater and faecal sludge must also be treated and converted into products that can be safely used or returned to the environment. Treated wastewater has massive potential as a source of energy, nutrients and water.

Use of safe waste by-products in agriculture and other sectors is increasing. Of course, it is essential to manage and regulate potential risks. And all these systems must safely treat menstrual waste products.

As we strive to meet Sustainable Development Goal 6, our ambition must be high. Only when we meet the pledge to leave no one behind will we have achieved our Sustainable Development Goals.

Thank you again for inviting me here today to celebrate World Toilet Day.

For information media. Not an official record.