"Access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation facilities are not only central to health and sustainable development, they are central to eradication of poverty as well," India's Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Asoke Mukerji said on Wednesday at a panel discussion on 'Open Defecation and the Challenges for Women and Girls'.

The theme of this year's 'World Toilet Day' is 'Open Defecation and the Challenges for Women and Girls', drawing attention to the special problems they face.
    
On the occasion, he said despite commendable progress made under the MDGs, it is a matter of "serious concern" that the MDG target on sanitation remains the most off-track.
    
The MDGs were developed out of commitments set forth in the Millennium Declaration, signed in September 2000. There are eight goals with 21 targets with a deadline of 2015 and sanitation is among them.

Over two billion people still live without improved sanitation and over one billion practise open defecation. According to latest estimates by the UN, India has thehighest number of people practising open defecation at 597 million or 47 percent of the national population which is more than in any other country in the world.

Mukerji said access to sanitation has a significant impact on public health and in safeguarding income of the poor, ultimately contributing to the national economy.
    
"More importantly though, lack of access to sanitation disproportionately impacts women and girls. It affects not only their socio-economic up-liftment but even their physical safety and security," he said.

"We are conscious that India will have a special role to play in the achievement of these targets," the Ambassador said as he highlighted the mass movement on sanitation 'Clean India Mission' undertaken by the Modi government that envisages provision of toilets in every school in India within one year and focused effort for ending practise of open defecation.
    
"The objective of this massive exercise is to deliver a Clean India by 2019, which happens to be the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. This, we believe, would be a fitting tribute to the Mahatma," he said.

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