A year and a half ago I wrote my first sanitation blog on the cholera crisis in Haiti. Today the epidemic is on-going and getting worse. This month the Pan American Health Organization estimated the disease could strike 200,000-250,000 Haitian this year. More than 7,000 have already died from the disease. Efforts to control the outbreak have been patchwork and investments slim as aid organization are beginning to leave. The solution is of course investment in adequate sanitation and water systems, estimated at a price of US$1 billion. This is small portion of the billions that were pledged to Haiti following the earthquake, but contributions have flagged as attention from the crisis fades.
Unfortunately, this situation is typical. It often takes a tragedy or a crisis for a problem to make the headlines and stimulate action to correct the situation. Yet what about the quiet tragedies that happen on a daily basis which no one seems to notice? When news becomes old or repetitive we tune it out. How many of you have heard the statistics on children mortality linked to lack of proper sanitation (millions of deaths per year) so often that you hardly react to it anymore?
One of the major challenges in the sanitation sector is making it a priority issue - for households as well as politicians. I am convinced that part of the solution will be finding a way to bring sanitation issues into the limelight on a more regular basis. Getting more press coverage does not always need to be negative. Many organizations in the sector are already using media tactics. Football stars support WASH campaigns (for water, sanitation & hygiene) around the world and this month the Bollywood actress, Vidya Balan, was named India's sanitation brand ambassador. Another Indian woman made the news when she threatened to divorce her newly-wed husband because he lacked a toilet. In March this year, she received a cash reward and the "Sulabh Sanitation Award" by the Union Minster for Rural Development.
People need to hear the sanitation news - both the bad and good. The only way to break a taboo is by talking about it. This can be done at high levels, like the Ministerial delegations that were assembled by the global partnership Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) last month to raise spending commitments for improved sanitation and water. Yet, it can also be done at a grass-roots level through local media, editorials, social-networking sites, and sharing stories at a personal level. We need to keep reminding ourselves of the importance of sanitation so that it is not quietly forgotten.
Maybe you have a catchy slogan to help get the issue stuck in people's heads? The Sanitation Drive to 2015 seeks to support and inspire people to take action towards achieving the sanitation MDG. They need a slogan - submit your idea on their website (http://www.sanitationdrive2015.org/).