NEW YORK, June 21 (UPI) -- The United Nations has initiated a major drive to help an estimated 2.6 billion people around the world who currently have no access to basic sanitation.
The program, announced Tuesday, would seek to cut that number in half by 2015. The U.N. General Assembly has recognized clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right essential to the full enjoyment of life.
Among the recommendations, the resolution establishing the "Sustainable Sanitation: The Five-Year-Drive to 2015," calls for an end to open defecation, which, though the most dangerous public health issue, remains common among over 1.1 billion people who have no access to facilities.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said sanitation may be a sensitive issue and an unpopular subject but that must change.
The resolution said children under 5 are most vulnerable to poor hygiene and inadequate sanitation, among the major causes of diarrhea, which the U.N. Children's Fund says kills at least 1.2 million children under 5each year.
"We can reduce cases of diarrhea in children under 5 by a third -- and save an untold number of young lives -- simply by expanding the access of communities to sanitation," Fund Executive Director Anthony Lake said.
Prince Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, who chairs the Secretary-General's Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation, said the message of the new drive is that sanitation is vital for health, brings dignity, equality and safety, represents a good economic investment and sustains clean environments.