More people in India have access to a mobile telephone than to a toilet, according to a study by United Nations University (UNU) on how to cut the number of people with inadequate sanitation.
"It is a tragic irony to think that in India, a country now wealthy enough that roughly half of the people own phones, about half cannot afford the basic necessity and dignity of a toilet," said Zafar Adeel, Director of United Nations University's Institute for Water, Environment and Health (IWEH), and chairman of UN-Water, a coordinating body for water-related work at 27 UN agencies and their partners.
India has some 545 million cell phones, enough to serve about 45 per cent of the population, but only about 366 million people or 31 per cent of the population had access to improved sanitation in 2008.
The study released Wednesday are meant to accelerate the pace towards reaching the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on halving the proportion of people without access to safe water and basic sanitation. If current global trends continue, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) predict there will be a shortfall of 1 billion persons from that sanitation goal by the target date of 2015.
"Anyone who shirks the topic as repugnant, minimizes it as undignified, or considers unworthy those in need should let others take over for the sake of 1.5 million children and countless others killed each year by contaminated water and unhealthy sanitation," said Adeel.
Included in the study's nine recommendations are the suggestions to adjust the MDG target from a 50 per cent improvement by 2015 to 100 per cent coverage by 2025; and to reassign official development assistance equal to 0.002 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) to sanitation.
The UNU report cites a rough cost of $300 to build a toilet, including labour, materials and advice. The world can expect, however, a return of between $3 and $34 for every dollar spent on sanitation, realized through reduced poverty and health costs.