(Reuters) - India aims to eradicate open-air defecation by 2012 by building toilets for hundreds of millions of its poor and homeless, well ahead of a global deadline to do so, a government minister said.
An estimated 2.6 billion people, or about one-third of global population, do not have access to a proper toilet, according to the WHO.
More than half that number live in India or China, with India accounting for about 700 million people, experts say.
Defecating in the open can contaminate water supplies and spread diseases such as diarrhea, which kill thousands of people every year and the UN is aiming to provide clean sanitation to all by 2015.
"By 2012, India will be free of defecation in the open and will meet international commitments in this regard," a statement quoted Rural Development Minister Raghuvansh Prasad as saying at the World Toilet summit late on Wednesday.
Health and sanitation experts from 40 countries are attending the conference to find ways to provide toilets for everyone and discuss other clean sanitation issues.
Prasad said India had earmarked about 10 billion rupees ($255 million) on rural sanitation projects this year, a 43 percent increase on the previous year.
About half-a-million people in India are engaged in manual scavenging -- cleaning toilets and carrying human excreta on their heads or carting it from toilets without a sewage system and dumping it in garbage yards, experts say.
The practice is banned but prevalent because of a lack of other employment opportunities and proper sewage systems.