Nature calls a few times a day, and something most of us take for granted, the option of being able to use a toilet when we need to, is a luxury or not even a possibility for most of the global population.
An incredible four and a half billion people around the world live without a household toilet that safely disposes of their waste.
Sanitation is also a central issue to extreme poverty and one that causes illness and death. Germs found in open sewers cause diarrhoea and this kills a whopping 75,000 children under the age of five every year. If we can fix sanitation issues globally we can drastically improve conditions for those living in extreme poverty.
The Hidden Dangers of Living Without Toilets
With this aim in mind, in 2013, the United Nations General Assembly officially designated November 19 as World Toilet Day, a day of inspiring action to tackle the global sanitation crisis. It is a day that strives to engage and educate people and their communities worldwide to encourage support for sanitation-related issues.
In 2015, a target was set to ensure all people have access to a safely-managed household toilet by 2030. For that to be achieved, we need everyone’s poo to be contained, transported, treated and disposed of in a safe and sustainable way. Today, for billions of people around the world, sanitation systems are either non-existent or ineffective and, consequently, progress in health and child survival is seriously undermined.
There is significant illness and death associated with the unregulated disposal of faecal sludge. And governments and NGOs are working towards discovering how best to dry it out using low-cost, low-energy solutions. Open defecation and lack of access to clean drinking water are the top reasons for child mortality in the world.
There is also the issue of sexual assault against girls and women who are having to go to the bathroom outdoors in the open and are then vulnerable to attack. In India a lack of toilets is a leading cause of rape for women, who looking for a private place to relieve themselves, then go out into the fields alone early in the morning or at night and are attacked. A lack of clean water and toilets keeps girls out of school, stops women from working, and traps people in poverty.
Open defecation and the lack of access to clean drinking water is the reality of life for many poor communities across the globe. Most villages receive their water from wells, rivers or lakes, most of which are contaminated through open defecation.
There are a variety of creative initiatives around the world all working to tackle this serious problem.
Can Fake Faeces Save Lives?
Scientists at Bath University are studying fake poo with the aim of tackling waste issues in poor countries. The poo is made from a concoction of ingredients including yeast, hemp fibre, shredded tissue, peanut oil, calcium phosphate and water. The lab-created sludge is designed to replicate the chemical and physical properties of faeces as closely as possible. While not the most pleasant research task, the scientists are examining what happens to the sludge when it is exposed to natural sunlight or heat and are working on solutions. Safely processed poo can become a valuable and sustainable source of nutrients, energy and water. Sanitation systems generate jobs, investment opportunities, and valuable products such as fertiliser.
WaterAid works with local partners to deliver clean water and toilets, as well as promoting good hygiene, and has reached 24 million people worldwide with safe water. One of the people they helped is Chisomo Kaunda, a student in Malawi who now has clean toilets at her school. She says before the toilets, she had to go outside to the toilet in the bush. Now she knows the importance of clean water and good hygiene. WaterAid provides access to toilets in some of the world’s poorest and most marginalised communities. Throughout November, WaterAid is encouraging people to Learn on the Loo to help people access decent toilets, good hygiene and clean water.
One in three of the world’s population don’t have access to a decent toilet. It’s a topic that can be hard to discuss, so this November WaterAid wants to get everyone talking about toilets. – Ms Rosie Wheen, WaterAid Australia Chief Executive.
The Clean India Mission
More than eighty years after Mahatma Gandhi wrote of an India he envisioned with ‘perfect sanitation,’ the Government of India has declared war on open defecation. The aim is to eliminate open defecation by 2019 through the construction of a staggering 100 million toilets across the nation. As of now, five states and nearly 250,000 villages in 200 districts have been declared open defecation-free, with more soon to follow. The Government of India also reports that latrine coverage has gone from 39 per cent to over 69 per cent. Every hour, an estimated 3300 toilets are being built in India–that’s nearly one toilet every second!
In an ideal world we need everyone’s poo to take a 4-step journey of containment, by being deposited into a hygienic toilet, sealed pit or tank, separated from human contact, then transported to a treatment stage so it can be treated, processed into waste products that can be safely returned to the environment. This is becoming especially important with the increase in natural disasters around the world.
Something so simple as a flushing toilet is a life saver for many people around the world. It’s time we all had the same access to clean water and sanitation, and that those of us who are more fortunate step up to help people who are in need. Find out more about World Toilet Day and how you can be involved here.