UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres congratulates PM Modi for sanitation campaign

United Nations (UN) Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday congratulated Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his remarkable leadership and vision on the area that is vital for the well-being of humankind and to begin marking the 150th birthday of Mahatma Gandhi by honouring his long record of advocacy and action on this vital issue is a fitting tribute to this great human being and example for all us. 

Addressing the session at the Mahatma Gandhi International Sanitation Convention, Guterres said, “Mahatma Gandhi was ahead of his time when it came to safe, hygienic sanitation – as he was in so many areas. He demanded the right of sanitation for everyone. And he demanded respect for that right from everyone.”   

“The Clean India Mission builds on his genius and lifelong quest for human dignity. It is by far not only the largest investment, but the largest campaign of people’s mobilization in this area around the world. It is inspiring to see the international community come together around this important issue. It is essential that we are ready to break taboos and speak out when lives are at stake, even on the most sensitive matters,” Guterres added.    

Further speaking on the worldwide sanitation issue, Antonio said, “An estimated 2.3 billion people worldwide still do not have basic sanitation facilities — I believe that what’s happening in India is quickly changing the statistics — almost 1 billion still practice open defecation. All people have the right to safe water and sanitation. If we are to build resilient societies on a healthy planet and achieve the overarching ambition of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, we must tackle this issue urgently, as is being done in India.” 

“The 2030 Agenda, agreed by all countries, is a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity and sanitation plays a part in all three. No country can be content with less than universal sanitation; it is fundamental to sustainable development and India’s example is very much welcome at the present moment,” Antonio added.  

Antonio emphasised that “Poor sanitation causes disease, stunting, inconvenience and indignity. It exacerbates inequalities between men and women, rich and poor, city and countryside. And it has major implications for human rights and human dignity. Poor sanitation is not restricted to households and communities, but requires a holistic approach that includes schools, hospitals, transportation and even tourism facilities.  Poor sanitation in healthcare facilities carries even more serious risks: more infections, prolonged hospital stays, higher death rates. That was the background to my global call to action in March, for water, sanitation and hygiene in all healthcare facilities by 2030,” he added. 

Lauding India efforts, Antonio said, “The 2030 Agenda sets out our global aspiration to ensure all people have access to the sanitation they need, and India will be reaching our targets much before 2030. This means women, children, young people, people with disabilities, the elderly, indigenous peoples, the homeless, prisoners, refugees and migrants. Some of these groups are particularly hard to reach. They must be the focus of our most urgent efforts, if we are to meet our pledge to leave no one behind. That requires innovation, courage, commitment and leadership, as we have seen in the film that we were offered today.”  

Commending India’s effort for elimination of open defecation, Antonio said, “Eliminating open defecation must be central to efforts to improve sanitation. This practice poses a serious threat to children, contributing to the diarrhea and to malnutrition and stunting that has a lifelong impact. I commend India for making the elimination of open defecation a priority at the highest level and throughout government, and I congratulate all governments that have agreed plans and allocated budgets to eliminate open defecation. Improving sanitation is not only the right thing to do. It is also economically the smart thing to do.”  

The World Health Organization estimates that every dollar spent on sanitation generates a return of between $5 and $16, based on lower costs of healthcare, improved worker productivity and fewer premature deaths. Poor sanitation and open defecation have a disproportionate impact on women and girls.  They may face an increased risk of harassment and abuse, restrictions on their personal freedom of movement, and increased health risks because of lack of access to sanitation facilities and to menstruation materials.  

Girls cannot wait for safe, clean, private toilets in their schools. And women should not have to wait for sanitation in public spaces and workplaces.  

Sustainable Development Goal 6 concerns sanitation for all, but this issue is essential to achieving all the SDGs, particularly those on health, nutrition, sustainable cities and gender equality.   

Antonio further said, “I am proud and happy to be here at this important moment, when we are taking significant steps to build safer, more resilient societies on a healthy planet – the overarching goal of the 2030 Agenda that India is leading in such a wonderful way. The entire UN system stands ready to support you. I thank the government and people of India for hosting us, and I congratulate them again on the enormous progress that is being made. This shows that with political will and commitment, it is possible to achieve ambitious targets quickly, and to create a fundamental paradigm shift to achieve sanitation for all by 2030,” he concluded.