BANGKOK, Thailand -- Two out of three people in South Asia lack basic sanitation, numbers that put the region on a par with sub-Saharan Africa, said a UN report issued Thursday that described the provision of toilet facilities as crucial to social and economic development.
Out of the 2.6 billion people around the world who lack access to sanitation, 1.9 billion are in Asia, which is also home to 720 million out of the 1.1 billion people globally without satisfactory access to water, the UN Development Program said.
"This is really an Asian issue," Hakan Bjorkman, UNDP deputy resident representative in Thailand, said at press conference held Tuesday in advance of the official release of the agency's annual Human Development Report.
In some major cities, such as Jakarta and Manila, levels of sewage coverage are lower, at 8 to 10 percent, than in West African cities such as Dakar and Abidjan, it said.
"In Manila, pit latrines are widespread while waste treatment and disposal infrastructure is underdeveloped," the report said.
Poor sanitation and limited access to clean water are serious problems undermining human progress in many developing Asian countries, the report said, adding that even in East Asia, almost half the population lacks access to sanitation.
In addition to health issues -- an estimated 1.8 million children worldwide die each year from diarrhea -- providing access to clean water and sanitation can "develop economic opportunities, reduce poverty, improve the situation for women, and increase chances for education," Bjorkman said.
In Asia -- where people in the countryside often randomly squat in open fields to relieve themselves -- many women face constant difficulties regarding sanitation, said the report.
From Cambodia to Indonesia and Vietnam, UNDP said, studies have shown that women consistently place higher value on having a toilet than do men, reflecting the greater disadvantages women suffer from insecurity, loss of dignity and ill health associated with having no decent sanitation.
Bjorkman blamed bad governmental policies and poor funding priorities for the water and sanitation crisis.
As an example, he cited Pakistan, which he said "spends about 50 times more on the military than on water and sanitation."
Thailand, he said, represents a positive model for providing its people with access to sanitation. Since 1990, Thailand's national sanitation coverage rate has increased from 80 to 100 percent, he said.
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