chapter  3
30 Pages

In Dignity and Health

During the 1970s, the international community began to pay much moreattention to issues of public health in the developing world, anddiseases of dirt and squalor inevitably came to the fore. In 1977, when the UN Conference on Water was held at Mar del Plata, Argentina, a determined core of sanitary reformers prevailed on the delegates to declare 1981-1990 the International Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation Decade (IDWSSD). They also managed to obtain international commitment to a Decade target – ‘water and sanitation for all’ – even though the key instigators privately knew that this was unattainable in the timeframe. At least, they felt, effort would be galvanized. The fact that, 30 years later, the world is still far from reaching the target is an indication less of failure than of how naïve many policymakers then were. In spite of its over-ambition, however, the Decade did manage to launch a new international crusade on behalf of public health engineering as a key to disease reduction. It led to a radical overhaul of precepts and strategies in both water and sanitation – an overhaul that, in the minds of those who worked behind the scenes at Mar del Plata, was badly overdue.