WARNING: This is to be read in between meals.

In its newly released "Progress on Sanitation and Drinking Water 2010 Update" by the World Health Organization and the Unicef, it noted that worldwide, "2.6 billion people – 72 percent of whom live in Asia -- do not use improved sanitation facilities."

"The proportion of the world population that practices open defecation declined by almost one third from 25 percent in 1990 to 17 percent in 2008. A decline in open defecation rates was recorded in all regions," the report noted. The decline was most noticeable in the rural areas, from 1.17-billion worldwide in 1990 to 979-million in 2008.

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"However, partly because of rapid increases in the urban population, a growing number of people in urban areas defecate in the open," the report said, from 140-million to 169-million.

In an in-depth report Sun.Star Davao published in January 28, 2007 it confirmed the big number of households without toilets in the urban area. The observation was first made by the Department of Social Welfare and Development in its State of the Region's Children in that year, where it acknowledged that a big number of households without own sanitary facilities are in the urban areas.

A check in the communities confirmed that as high as 80 percent do not have toilets in Isla Verde, and around 20 percent of the residents along Times Beach and Bolton Isla. (Because of limited resources and time, the report only covered Isla Verde, Bolton Isla, and the Times Beach portion of Bucana). In Isla Verde and Times Beach alone, in 2007, there could have been as many as 20,000 people defecating directly into the Davao Gulf.

The more revealing finding in that report was that the lack or absence of sanitation facilities in these blighted areas of Davao City was not simply because people cannot afford to put up their own sanitary toilet facilities, although that is one of the factors, but moreso because a substantial number doesn't find the need for one.

The problem then is not just economic but also basic awareness.

There has not been any update on this in the regional level since then, and the confirmation by the 2010 update worldwide indicates that indeed, urban sanitation is a growing problem despite considerable improvements through the years.

Greater improvement has been achieved in the people's access to potable water. That is not a problem. But when urban sanitation fails to gather the same momentum as the interest and concern for safe drinking water, all the gains can easily be wiped out.

With health services remaining in dire states and beyond the reach of the poor majority, the best investments on health remain with prevention; and the time-tested starting point in sanitation.

We only need to sniff the air wafting from the shores at Magsaysay Park to get an idea of how big the problem is. You only need to realize that the stench that greets you as you approach Sta. Ana Pier from some boat trip around the Island Garden City of Samal is the stench of the sewage.

For as long as the stench lingers on, Davao City should know we have a big problem and that problem can grow as fast as the population of our blighted areas.