Don’t give a shit about toilets? Maybe you should. World Toilet Day calls our attention to the fact that while in the first world we may take toilets for granted and don’t really like to talk about them, much of the developing world still struggles with proper access to toilets. In fact, as many as one in three people around the world do not have access to a toilet. World Toilet Day was started in 2001 as a platform to advocate for and raise awareness of the sanitation challenges that face over 2.5 billion people in the world. Its aim is to get us talking about something we usually don’t like to discuss – clean and hygienic ways “to do our business,” and how these are severely lacking for people in some 57 countries.
Did you know that 7,500 people die daily due to lack of sanitation, and 5,000 of those are children under the age of five? Annually, 272 million school days are missed due to water-borne or sanitation-related diseases. Even today, 1.1 billion people defecate in the open. And according to the World Health Organization, diarrheal diseases alone are responsible for the deaths of 2 million people every year and it’s estimated that 88% of those deaths are caused by unsafe water supply, sanitation and hygiene.
But not having access to a toilet has wider societal implications than the obvious health risks, according to Catarina de Albuquerque, a UN Special Rapporteur from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. “This is not only about ensuring the right to sanitation, it is also critical for the enjoyment of numerous other rights, such as the right to health, the right to education, the right to work and the right to lead a life in dignity,” says de Albuquerque. She points out that the insecurity and indignity of not having access to a private toilet is especially acute for women in poor areas.
In 2000, all the world’s countries and leading development institutions set eight overall development goals – the Millenium Development Goals – to be met by 2015. One of the goals was to halve the proportion of the population “without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.” Unfortunately, with very little progress on this front, there is no way this goal will be met by 2015, according to de Albuquerque. So her report to the UN General Assembly calls for a post-2015 development agenda that incorporates a stand-alone goal on water, sanitation and hygiene, to ensure that universal access to these services will be treated as a vital feature of social and economic development, on equal footing with health or education.
Via The Guardian