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Safe water and toilets vital to poverty goals, says UN

The lack of clean drinking water and toilets in the world’s poorest countries is a major obstacle to global progress, world leaders said yesterday.

It threatens progress towards The United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to raise the world's poorest people out of poverty and disease and also raises the risk of fighting, they said.

Reviewing progress towards the targets at a three-day New York summit that ended last night, world leaders heard that The United Nations' goal to improve sanitation is far off the mark a decade after it was set.

Half of the world's population in developing nations have no toilets at all and at least 1.1 billion people still have to relieve themselves outside, reports said.

Lack of safe water and toilets is especially bad in sub-Saharan Africa, said Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, adding that boosting access to sanitation has become the "the orphan MDG."

"At the present rate it would take us hundreds of years to achieve what we want in Africa," said Jan Eliasson, of WaterAid Sweden who led the sanitation debate.

She said 26 of 54 African countries were on track to meet the goal of halving the number of people without safe drinking water by 2015, but only six nations look set to meet the sanitation goal.

Eliasson said part of the problem could be the embarrassment many experience when talking about toilets. "I don't think I have ever seen so many presidents and prime ministers and ministers and leaders of the world in a room talking about toilets, and it's about time we do that," Eliasson said.

Where there is nowhere safe and clean to go to the toilet, people are exposed to disease, lack of privacy, and indignity. Diarrhoea kills 4,000 children a day, according to figures from WaterAid, which says these children are dying because they do not have access to adequate sanitation or safe water.

In many cultures women have to wait until it is dark to go to the toilet or have to walk long distances to find an isolated spot. Where there are no toilets, girls are prevented from going to school. And women in households without running water are expected to carry water home for the entire family.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the water and sanitation millennium goal was vital to the success of other targets.

"(Inadequate water and sanitation) increases the likelihood of disease and death, it perpetuates poverty," he said. "Water is not only a necessity, it's a human right."

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