Editorial: Fatal neglect
Paper Edition | Page: 6
Thousands of Indonesian infants die before their fifth birthday and many of these deaths are preventable, such as those caused by diarrhea and pneumonia. Meanwhile, awareness about bad hygiene habits, a main contributor to diarrhea, still being raised to young and elderly Indonesians who are not accustomed to washing their hands with soap before eating — even in up market restaurants.
A conference in Bali this week aims to raise the awareness and commitment of national and local administrations regarding sanitation services and, in turn, increase the budgets for sanitation facilities in Indonesia and across East Asia.
Health Minister Nafsiah Mboi opened the third East Asia Ministerial Conference on Sanitation and Hygiene on Monday, saying that the lack of sanitation facilities contributed greatly to fatal diseases among the young; a lack of proper toilets leading children to copy adults and defacate anywhere possible.
For the dignitaries from the 14 participating countries, the host country is a good example of cause and effect of sheer neglect — given our often-praised high economic growth.
Barely two years away from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), to which Indonesia is among the United Nations (UN) signatories, almost 30 percent of urban residents still lack access to basic sanitation facilities, compared to neighboring Malaysia, which almost has 100 percent access for urbanites to such facilities.
In rural areas, only 38.5 percent of households have access to latrines, septic tanks and other facilities. Insufficient regional budget allocations, ranging from between 4 and 10 percent, are part of the problem, according to the Public Works Ministry, compared to other infrastructure like roads, which is deemed vital to local economies.
Awareness, therefore, is still low about the direct impact on health and productivity when residents lack access to safe drinking water and disposing of waste. Consider a study by the World Bank (WB), which cites an estimated loss of US$9 million a year to Southeast Asian economies due to ill health among its population and poor sanitation.
Minister Nafsiah reminded ministerial conference that over 100 million people across the country still lack access to clean water and sanitation services. Some 40 million still defacate in the open, including youngsters in urban slums, contributing to the rate of infant deaths. True, small improvements in increasing the reach of immunization programs have led to fewer deaths of children under five — a good achievement for Indonesia’s MDGs, to cut by two-thirds the infant mortality rate by 2015 compared to the figures in 1990.
However, the overall lack of basic sanitation services still contribute to the high incidence of infant deaths in at least 10 of the country’s 33 provinces.
The minister stressed the urgency of coordination among the health, national development planning, public works, environment and home ministries, to improve the development of sanitation services and also to improve habits.
Coordination is not a strong area in government these days. But the campaign to improve health and hygiene has no choice but to be two-pronged, to improve both the facilities and the related hygiene habits of adults and children.
Internationally, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was presented with the responsibility at the recent Rio+20 Summit in Rio de Janeiro to prepare recommendations on a future international development agenda to replace the MDGs in 2015. One question is whether the recommendations will impact the betterment of the people and systems in Indonesia.
Indonesia has nothing to be proud of, even among its neighboring countries, regarding its sanitation facilities. Government priority was now high with regards to investing in sanitation, reaching Rp 3 trillion (US$315.5 million) per year, said Public Works Minister Djoko Kirmanto; but this will mean nothing if people simply neglect to wash their hands.