With nearly a billion people in South Asia still lacking basic sanitation, children should be placed first in the debate on improving hygiene standards in the region, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Addressing delegates from government ministries from Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives and Myanmar at a meeting in Islamabad last week, UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia Cecilia Lotse said the region had high numbers of children who were malnourished and at risk from diseases caused by bad hygiene and, in particular, from lack of regular hand washing with soap and clean water. Calling on participants at the second Conference on Sanitation (SACOSAN) to put children first, Ms. Lotse emphasised the double dividends that occur when efforts are concentrated on sanitation. “Women and girls are safer when they do not have to go out of the house to use night soil sites,” she said.“Since the first SACOSAN in 2003, around 100 million additional people now have toilets, but that still leaves more than nine hundred and twenty million without,” she noted. “We also know that more girls will go to schools that provide separate and private facilities.” On Thursday UNICEF will be launching “Progress for Children: a Report Card on Water and Sanitation,” detailing the impressive progress made to date in expanding access to safe water and basic sanitation, but also making clear that there is still a long way to go.