WHO CC Newsletter No. 14 - December 2008

Dear Reader,

The International Year of Sanitation and the International Year of the Potato have a great deal in common. The United Nations declared the year 2008 to be the International Year of Sanitation (IYS) and the International Year of the Potato (IYP), thereby bringing light to two hidden treasures. For decades sanitation  has languished between sectoral approaches, taboos and political neglect. In a British Medical Journal online poll on the most important medical advances since 1840, sanitation was ranked first, surely qualifying it to be a treasure. It is likely that neither the two thirds of the global population who regard access to improved sanitation as normal, nor the one third lacking appropriate sanitation consider improved sanitation as a treasure. But doing so could make those who are lacking sanitation demand it and inspire politicians to promote it.

A key challenge in the future will be to ensure food security for the world‘s population, which is estimated to grow by more than 100 million additional people per year in the next few decades. More than 95 % of the increase will occur in low-income countries, where pressure on land and water is already intense. Protection of the natural resource base on which we all depend is essential. The potato, remarkable for both its adaptability and its nutritional value, is an option in helping to achieve food security in almost any habitat. The tuber provides starch, an essential dietary component, is rich in vitamin C, high in potassium and an excellent source of fibre. Potatoes are easy to grow and have the ability to provide more nutritious food more quickly and on less land than any other food crop. They are truly a treasure hidden by an ugly peel.

Sustainable sanitation can be seen as a link between these two treasures. Besides protecting and promoting human health, a sustainable sanitation system has to be economically viable, socially accepted and technically and institutionally appropriate. It protects the environment and natural resources and additionally offers the hygienic reuse of nutrients from human and animal excreta which can help to ensure future food security. The current issue of the Water & Risk Newsletter includes striking examples of contributions towards reaching MDG 7, Target 10 from the grass-roots up to the political level. During the IYS and IYP it became evident that enough knowledge and expertise already exists, ready to be shared, to tackle the lack of sanitation and to eliminate hunger and poverty. Implementing improved and sustainable sanitation and growing potatoes are simple and sustainable solutions to solve two major global problems and help meet the MDGs. The challenge for 2009 will be to build upon the political awareness gained as a result of the IYS and the IYP, to keep the treasures of sanitation and potatoes in the spotlight and to speed up efforts in reaching the 2015 goals.
Let’s go for it!

Susanne Herbst




  • Water, Sanitation & Hygiene, “WASH” Reduces Child Mortality

  • Behaviour Change Communication against Diarrhoeal Diseases in Rwanda: A Study on Knowledge, Attitudes and Practices

  • Water and Malaria Transmission in South Western Kenya

  • 13th International Congress on Infectious Diseases 19 - 22 June 2008, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

  • The View of a Young Water Professional at the 6th IWA Exhibition and Conference, 7 - 12 September 2008, Vienna, Austria

  • 2nd Annual Meeting of the Society of Hygiene, Environmental and Public Health Sciences, 1 - 4 October 2008, Graz, Austria

  • “We are fighting the same battle” – Report from the International Symposium: “Coupling Sustainable Sanitation and Groundwater Protection”, 14 - 17 October 2008, Hanover, Germany




WHO CC Newsletter No. 14: high (pdf, 14 MB) / low (pdf, 1.4 MB)