The story of two teenage girls raped and murdered in India this spring while looking for a discreet place to relieve themselves outdoors made headlines around the world. Sadly, their situation is far from unique. Half a billion women and girls - 15% of females worldwide - are forced to do this every day simply because they do not have access to a toilet. This crisis risks women's health, and threatens their safety. The new Indian government was moved to act following the tragedy of the two Dalit girls in Uttar Pradesh, pledging zero tolerance for acts of violence against women. Their statement is welcome. However, protecting women from harassment and attack will not happen overnight.
This month, you might see two young girls pictured on the side of London's buses, each hauling a jerry can of water that is more than half their weight. Some 748 million people around the world do not have access to safe water. That is one person in 10. It is nearly always up to girls and women to hike treacherous, winding paths to fetch water for their families, and carry that heavy burden home again.
You may be surprised to learn that over the past decade, a third of the money pledged by aid donors for water and sanitation has failed to be delivered. That's US$27.6 billion out of the US$81.2 billion committed since 2002. This is a staggering amount of money. It could have helped hundreds of millions of people gain access to water and sanitation.
As the 2015 end-date of the MDGS draws near, a puzzle remains: why has the target on clean water been surpassed, while progress on sanitation has been so poor? Surely water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) go together? This question goes to the heart of the MDG worldview, and the problem of measuring development generally.
This week, David Cameron sets off to Liberia's capital, Monrovia, for influential UN talks on what should replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) when they expire in 2015. The cynics would say this is another talking shop, an opportunity for the great and the good to come together and pontificate on poverty. I am not one of them.
Across the world, 1 in 3 women risk shame, disease, harassment and even attack because they have nowhere safe to go to the toilet. That's 1.25 billion women - daughters, sisters, mothers, grandmothers. Facing each day without access to this basic necessity is not just an inconvenience; it impacts on all aspects of life, and it is women and girls who suffer the most. Having nowhere safe to go to the toilet also means an increased risk of shame, harassment and even violence for women and girls when they are forced to go out in search of a private place to go to the toilet.