METRO MANILA, NOVEMBER 29, 2003  (STAR) FROM THE STANDS By Domini M. Torrevillas - Scandal of the century.

At 8:30 this morning, an unusual caravan will roll down from Intramuros to Brgy. Bagong Lupa, Baseco compound, in Port Area. Jeepneys with colorful drawings of children washing hands and women washing clothes printed on their sides, will be ferrying messages of good hygiene and sanitation. At Baseco, they will be coaching kids to wash their hands before eating. And to be introduced will be a mascot called "Captain WASH," and a song and dance troupe called WASH Bubbles. There will be pep talks on where people should defecate and why.

The day’s many activities form Manila’s celebration of WASH CARAVAN, an activity of the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for All (WASH) Manila Campaign, in cooperation with the Asian Alliance of Appropriate Technology Practitioners (Approtech Asia) and the Non-formal Education Services (NEFS) of the Division of City Schools of Manila.

The WASH Campaign, on the other hand, is an initiative of the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), Southeast Asia Region. WSCC, based in Geneva, is an international organization which has undertaken a global advocacy campaign on the need for safe water, sanitation and hygiene to be placed firmly on the political agenda of governments around the world.

The campaign and caravan were formed to meet the challenges put forward by world leaders in Johannesburg, South Africa last year, who set forth the UN Millenium Development Goals for water and sanitation – that is, to halve the proportion of people without safe water supply and adequate sanitation by the year 2015.

Gourishanker Ghosh, WSSCC executive director, talks about the evils of poor sanitation. Excrement, he says, kills by the million. "Lack of safe sanitation is the world’s biggest cause of infection. It is the number one enemy of the world."

One of the world’s longest running scandals, says Ghosh, is that today a hundred million people in slums and shanty towns still defecate in the open air or in plastic bags. Why, he asks, do feces still contaminate water, food, hands, homes , so that infection and disease are everywhere?

The reason is that governments have failed to lay "the obvious foundation stones" of public health, and where government fails to assume its responsibilities, media is called to awaken it.

Figures show the extent of the problem of lack of water and adequate hygiene and sanitation. Today 1.1 billion people are still without access to safe water supply. Over 2.4 billion are without adequate hygiene and sanitation.

In 2000, there was an estimated 620 million people who gained access to water supply, and some 435 million more had access to sanitation facilities.

There is a connection between not having clean water and spread of diseases. WASH DAY of Manila organizers say that clean water alone leads to minor health improvements, and sound hygiene behavior and practices must be recognized as a separate issue in its own right, with adequate sanitation and clean water as supporting environment.

The WSSCC reveals startling facts:

- More than half the poor of the developing world are ill from causes related to hygiene, sanitation and water supply. Diarrheal disease alone kills 6,000 children everyday.

- The majority of illnesses in the world are caused by fecal matter.

- One gram of feces can contain 10 million viruses, 1 million bacteria, 1,000 parasite cysts, a hundred worm eggs.

- A billion people live without safe, plentifiul water – to drink, to wash hands, face and body, to wash and rinse clothes, to brush teeth, to cook food, to clean homes and kitchens.

- Two and a half billion people do not have a private place to defecate and urinate. They use fields, streams, rivers, railway lines, canal banks, roadsides, plastic bags, waste-paper, or squalid, foul-smelling, disease-breeding buckets and insanitary latrines.

Today’s first CARAVAN WASH kicks off a long series of education and information drives to make people see the connection between safe water and sanitary practices. From Port Area, it will go to other places in Manila, then move on to other parts of the country, then to Southeast Asian countries.

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Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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