A UN report says six of the world's seven billion people have mobile phones but only 4.5 billion have toilets. In response to the statistics the UN has issued a call "to change a situation in which more people worldwide have mobile phones than toilets."
At a press conference held on Thursday in which he announced the report, the UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, said that the UN has launched a global effort to improve sanitation for 2.5 billion people who do not have toilets, 1.1 billion of whom defecate in the open, some making calls on their cellphones while relieving themselves under bridges and on refuse dumps. As Slate comments: "That phenomenon is easily visible in Indonesia, for example, where it is common to see people who live in metal roofed shacks without bathrooms surfing Facebook on their smartphones or feature phones."
NPR notes that the Hindustan Times reported Wednesday that in India's state of Maharashtra about 70 percent of the state's 100 million people have cellphones, and 60 percent have televisions in their homes, but nearly half of families still don't have a toilet.
Eliasson said: "I am determined to energize action that will lead to results. I am calling on all actors – government, civil society, business and international organizations – to commit to measurable action and to mobilize the resources to rapidly increase access to basic sanitation."
Eliasson described the situation as a "silent disaster" that reflects the wide income disparities in the world. He said: "I am determined to energize action that will lead to results. I am calling on all actors – government, civil society, business and international organizations – to commit to measurable action and to mobilize the resources to rapidly increase access to basic sanitation."
He continued: "Let’s face it—this is a problem that people do not like to talk about. But it goes to the heart of ensuring good health, a clean environment and fundamental human dignity for billions of people."
The announcement follows the initiation in August 2012 of the Bill Gates Foundation program to "reinvent the toilet" as part of effort to reduce the number of people who do not have access to sanitary waste disposal facilities.
Eliasson told the press conference that the problem of access to toilets must be tackled for the UN to achieve its goal of cutting by half by the end of 2015 the proportion of the world's people without access to sanitation and eliminating by 2025 the practice of open defecation. He noted that out of all the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to end poverty set in 2000, the UN has made the slowest progress with the goal of improving sanitation for the world's poor.
UN figures estimate that 1.8 billion people gained access to improved sanitation since 1990 and that the MDG target to halve the proportion of people without access to improved sources of water has been met. The organization, however, estimates that about 1.1 billion people or 15 percent of the world's population continue to defecate in the open.
According to UN public health experts the practice of open defecation is a major cause of diarrhea that causes the death of more than 750,000 children under the age of five every year. Eliasson said that 22 countries account for more than 80 percent of the world's incidence of open defecation. He listed the countries: Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Zambia, Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Chad, Congo, Niger, Sudan and South Sudan.
UN figures indicate that India alone accounts for 60 per cent of the number of people in the world who practice open defecation. The number of people who use mobile phones in India increased from 45 million in 2002 to 1 billion in 2012. However, only about 30 percent of Indians have proper sanitation.