2 January 2008The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has welcomed the start of the International Year of Sanitation 2008 which draws attention to the plight of over 40 per cent of the world’s population living without proper sanitation. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has welcomed the start of the International Year of Sanitation 2008 which draws attention to the plight of over 40 per cent of the world’s population living without proper sanitation. Thousands of women and children die every day from largely preventable causes, such as diarrhoeal diseases which are the second biggest killer of children under five, to which the lack of proper sanitation plays a part, the agency noted in a press release. Improving sanitation for an estimated 2.6 billion people, including 980 million children, is one of the single biggest development challenges the world faces today, UNICEF said. Speaking at the official launch of the Year at UN Headquarters in New York, held on 21 November 2007, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said access to sanitation is one of the most “overlooked, and underserved human needs.” The International Year, which officially began yesterday, was established by the General Assembly in December 2006 to speed up progress towards achieving Millennium Development Goal (MDG) number 7 – ensuring environmental sustainability – which includes halving the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. Sanitation will be improved by promoting clean, safe toilets; wastewater management; and hygiene promotion. These measures prevent the transfer of pathogens in human excreta, which, if not treated properly, impacts health and can deprive children of an education as well as impede social and economic development. Poor sanitation can contribute to absenteeism and poor classroom performance due to illness, low enrollment and early school dropout, especially for girls whose parents take them out of school when they begin menstruating. During the course of the International Year, major regional conferences on sanitation will be held to share practices and bolster progress, as well as encourage public-private partnerships to raise awareness on the importance of the issue. Many events will be held to commemorate Sanitation and Hygiene Week, from 15-21 March, and World Water Day on 22 March.