More mobile phones in India than toilets, says UN report

A new UN report says that a far greater number of Indians have access to cell phones than to toilet and basic sanitation. "It is a tragic irony to think that in India, a country now wealthy enough that roughly half of the people own phones, about half cannot afford the basic necessity and dignity of a toilet," said Zafar Adeel, Director of United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health.

"Popular education about the health dangers of poor sanitation is also needed. But this simple measure could do more to save lives, especially those of young people, improve health and help pull India and other countries in similar circumstances out of poverty than any alternative investment. It can also serve as a very significant boost to the local economy," he added.

The report is produced by experts who prescribe ways to meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on sanitation by 2015. The research shows roughly 366 million people (31 per cent of the population) in India had access to improved sanitation in 2008. Other data, meanwhile, shows 545 million cellphones are now in service in India's emerging economy.

The number of cellphones per 100 people has skyrocketed from 0.35 in year 2000-01 to about 45 today.

Worldwide, some 1.1 billion people defecate in the open and data shows that progress in creating access to toilets and sanitation lags far behind world MDG targets, even as mobile phone connections continue their march towards the predicted 1 billion in India by 2015, according to the study.

Another report released last year by the WHO and UNICEF found that India has the largest number of persons who defecate in the open worldwide - around 665 million.

The report says it costs about 300 dollars to build a toilet, and worldwide an estimated 358 billion dollars is needed between now and 2015 to reach the MDG for sanitation. "The world can expect, however, a return of between 3 and 34 dollars for every dollar spent on sanitation, realised through reduced poverty and health costs and higher productivity, an economic and humanitarian opportunity of historic proportions," said Adeel.

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