Tag Archives: United Nations

Toilet takes up seat at the UN

At the first official UN celebration of World Toilet Day on 19 November 2013, a “mobile” toilet takes over the seat of Yemen at the UN headquarters in New York. Listen to the podcast of the UN Seminar and panel discussion entitled “Sanitation for All”  here.

Sanitation for All – UN resolution on World Toilet Day – it’s Official

wtd-resolution-final

Credit: UNICEF

The General Assembly has today passed a resolution [1] proposed by the Government of Singapore on Sanitation for All  and the establishment of November 19th as World Toilet Day. [2]

The amusement and laughter likely to follow the designation of 19 November as “World Toilet Day” would all be worthwhile if people’s attention was drawn to the fact that 2.5 billion people lacked proper sanitation and 1.1 billion were forced to defecate in the open, the General Assembly heard today. [3]

In a statement issued immediately following the Assembly’s action, UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said that the new annual observance would “go a long way toward raising awareness about the need for all human beings to have access to sanitation”. [4]

The resolution builds on the Call to Action on Sanitation launched by Mr. Eliasson in March 2013 and to the General Assembly’s “Sustainable sanitation: the drive to 2015”, agreed in 2010.

Over 100 UN delegations are said to be co-sponsoring the “Sanitation for all” resolution  — including Bangladesh, Viet Nam, Jamaica and the United Kingdom [5].

Jack Sim, the Father of World Toilet Day. Credit: World Toilet Organization.

For updates follow @team_toilet and the hashtags #Toilets4All and #WorldToiletDay on Twitter.

World Toilet Day started off in 2001 as an initiative of the World Toilet Organization (WTO), founded by Jack Sim.

The UN General Assembly has requested UN-Water to facilitate the implementation of World Toilet Day in the context of Sanitation for All  [1]. 

Source:

[1] Sanitation for All. UN General Assembly A/67/L.75, 17 July 2013. Full text
[2] Therese Dooley, UNICEF, E-mail,  24 July 2013
[3] UN General Assembly GA/11397, 24 July 2013
[4] UN News, 24 July 2013
[5] UN adopts S’pore’s resolution on sanitation, ChannelNews Asia, 24 July 2013

Medical waste, bad for your health and bad for your rights, warns UN expert

A new UN report says the international community has to date paid little attention to the growing problem of medical waste around the world, especially in developing countries. The report was released in September 2011 by the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and toxic waste Calin Georgescu.

“Some 20 to 25 per cent of the total waste generated by health-care establishments is regarded as hazardous and may create a variety of health and environmental risks if not managed and disposed of in an appropriate manner,” warns the independent expert designated by the UN Human Rights Council to report on the adverse effects of the movement and dumping of toxic and dangerous products and wastes on the enjoyment of human rights.

Hazardous health-care waste includes infectious waste, sharps, anatomical and pathological waste, obsolete or expired chemical products and pharmaceuticals, and radioactive materials. Medical waste is often mixed with general household waste, and either disposed of in municipal waste facilities or dumped illegally.

A significant amount of chemicals and pharmaceuticals is disposed of through hospital wastewater.

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Advances in sanitation bypassing the poor and rural communities

The UN’s latest Millennium Development Goals Report notes that progress in sanitation has largely bypassed the poor while rural populations remain disadvantaged.

An analysis of trends over the period 1995-2008 for three countries in Southern Asia shows that improvements in sanitation disproportionately benefited the better off, while sanitation coverage for the poorest 40 per cent of households hardly increased. Although gaps in sanitation coverage between urban and rural areas are narrowing, rural populations remain at a distinct disadvantage in a number of regions.

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Haiti: UN panel reports on source of cholera outbreak

The cholera outbreak that has so far killed 4,888 people in Haiti was caused by a strain “very similar but not identical” to current South Asian strains, a UN independent panel of experts said. The source of the outbreak was due to contamination of the Meye Tributary of the Artibonite River, used by tens of thousands of people for washing, bathing, and drinking.

Anti-UN protests in Haiti

Many people in Haiti blamed the epidemic on UN peacekeepers from Nepal, who had been accused of poor sanitation at their base near Mirebalais, the town where the epidemic first began. In November 2010, this led to violent protests against the UN peacekeeping forces. Others believed that the outbreak was linked to voodoo. More than 50 voodoo followers have been killed since the outbreak of cholera following accusations that they spread the disease with occult power. However, the U.N. panel declined to point the finger at any single group for the outbreak, saying it was the result of a “confluence of circumstances”.

“The introduction of this cholera strain as a result of environmental contamination with faeces could not have been the source of such an outbreak without simultaneous water and sanitation and health-care system deficiencies,” the report concludes.

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UN Human Rights Council affirms that right to water and sanitation is legally binding

The UN Human Rights Council has finally recognised the right to water and sanitation as legally binding in international law, in a landmark decision adopted on 30 September 2010.

[T]he UN affirmed […] by consensus that the right to water and sanitation is derived from the right to an adequate standard of living, which is contained in several international human rights treaties. While experts working with the UN human rights system have long acknowledged this, it was the first time that the Human Rights Council has declared itself on the issue.

According to the UN Independent Expert on human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque, “this means that for the UN, the right to water and sanitation, is contained in existing human rights treaties and is therefore legally binding”. She added that “this landmark decision has the potential to change the lives of the billions of human beings who still lack access to water and sanitation.”

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Zimbabwe: did the United Nations ignore the 2008 cholera outbreak to please Harare?

A U.N. official claims his warnings of a catastrophic cholera outbreak were stifled by a U.N. bureaucracy intent on keeping good relations with Zimbabwe’s dictator, Robert Mugabe.

Georges Tadonki, the former head of the Zimbabwe branch of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), was fired at the height of the cholera crisis in early January 2009 — in part, he says, because of the warnings he raised. He has appealed his termination, and his case opened before a U.N. dispute tribunal in Nairobi, Kenya, on 23 February 2010. International lawyer Robert Amsterdam, famous for defending the Russian political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky, is Mr. Tadonki’s pro-bono legal counsel.

Between August 2008 and July 2009, about 98,600 people contracted cholera and more than 4,000 died. In April 2008, months before the initial outbreak exploded into a full-blown epidemic, Tadonki says he warned his superiors of the severe risk. But U.N. country director Agostinho Zacarias stifled that warning, Tadonki claims.

Tadonki claims that Zacarias forced him to significantly lower the initial prediction of cholera cases from 30,000 to 2,000 in the UN funding appeal launched in November 2008. “Because the government did not accept that there was cholera, the United Nations was forced to align with that position.” Both a high-level official from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) who worked on the humanitarian response and Ed Schenkenberg van Mierop of the International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA), confirmed that Tadonki had warned of a catastrophic outbreak.

Although some facts are in dispute, Tadonki’s story highlights the perils of U.N. engagement in authoritarian states such as Zimbabwe.

In response to the claim that the figures in the November 2008 UN appeal document had been manipulated, OCHA’s Deputy Spokesman told Inner City Press that “the prediction of 2,000 was realistic when it was made”, comparing it to the previous cholera outbreak in 2002, when 3,125 people were infected and 192 died.

Some U.N. officials contested Tadonki’s allegations, including a former U.N. agency head who told Foreign Policy that “the actual size of the cholera outbreak was larger than anyone (including Tadonki) had forecasted.” And some claimed Tadonki’s clash with Zacarias was due to poor performance, which is cited in U.N. internal reports as the reason for his firing, not his efforts to sound the alarm.

There are also conflicting reports about the response of the World Health Organization (WHO), which lead the health response. WHO representative in Harare, Custodia Mandlhate, told Foreign Policy that she, Zacarias, and the country head of UNICEF had finally “decided to go and see the minister of health … and convinced him to declare cholera an emergency.”

Schenkenberg, however, said that WHO “didn’t have its first meeting [to begin coordinating operations] until the first week of December” — after the government had already declared the cholera emergency. Nor had Zacarias pushed the WHO to do so, according to Schenkenberg.

Commenting on the Tadonki case, Wall Street Journal columnist Marian L. Tupy reminds us that “the crisis started when the Mugabe government nationalized Zimbabwe’s water supply in 2005 but soon ran out of money to maintain the infrastructure and treat the water […]. In 2008 the government shut down the water supply altogether, reducing the people in the urban areas to scavenge for water in ponds and sewers. Since the Zimbabwean health-care system collapsed along with the rest of the economy, the U.N. effectively became responsible for providing the necessary aid to tackle the emerging health crisis”.

Source: Elizabeth Dickinson, Foreign Policy, 22 Feb 2010 ; Matthew Russell Lee, Inner City Press, 25 Feb 2010 ; Marian L. Tupy, Wall Street Journal, 22 Feb 2010