Most people in the developed world take for granted the joy of a clean, easily accessible toilet and indeed, might barely stop to consider that dignity, improved health and quality of life are just a few of the benefits of the humble loo.
BBC Radio 4’s ‘Costing the Earth’ programme, ‘A Toilet for the 21st Century‘, highlighted that whilst every person in the UK flushes 50 litres of drinking water down the toilet every day, in the rest of the world, 2.5 billion people are left without any access to sanitation at all. In fact, this stark reality explains why diarrhoea is the second leading cause of mortality in under-fives.
What’s more, self-respect is at stake. In a village in Uganda where Just a Drop has carried out a clean water and sanitation project, an elderly man gave an account of how he was bitten by a snake as he went to the toilet outside and he had to be rescued by other villagers with his trousers round his ankles.
Furthermore, and with even more serious consequences, many women and girls seeking privacy, step out of their homes to relieve themselves late at night – a practice which is leading to a disturbing increase in the number of rape attacks.
Whilst the world has met the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of halving the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water, the goal to halve by 2015 the proportion of people without sustainable access to basic sanitation remains off-track. (The new goal has been set for 2025). However, these goals hide the startling reality that having access to toilets does not always mean they are being used. Just a Drop has often come across villages where children are not allowed to use the latrines, or finds that they are being used to store grain and other crops.
Consequently, we believe it is essential to work closely with our local partners to ensure communities have the right hygiene training and are closely involved with their projects to ensure that toilets are used properly.
Elizabeth who is 80 years old and lives in Bibbo village in Uganda looks after a young boy called Simon. She says, “I had no latrine at all. When I was alone, I used to go in the bush near my house, I did not mind. But when Simon arrived, he would ease himself around our house.
Simon would get diarrhoea almost every day; I did not know what the problem was. I would also suffer from diarrhoea and stomach aches. We would get help for treatment from our neighbours but they did not want to come intto my home because it was smelly and unhygienic.
Last year, I was selected by my village leaders to benefit from a Just a Drop project that supported elderly persons by providing them with water jars and improved latrines. This came like a dream to me and it saved both our lives. With a new latrine at home, Simon and I are much healthier – we no longer have diarrhoea; we have water all day and I can even wash our clothes twice a week. I have a new life. Now I know I can live more years than I expected to live.”
Read more about the project here.
Elizabeth’s story is encouraging, but as Dr Sarah Bell at UCL commented during the show, perhaps we all need to embrace a new type of toilet. As water shortages and drought become more common, perhaps it is time to rethink our reliance on water-based sanitation? A year ago, the Gates Foundation issued a challenge to universities to design “next generation” toilets that can capture and process human waste without piped water, sewer or electrical connections, and transform human waste into useful resources, such as energy and water, at an affordable price. The response was tremendous. Other, futuristic ‘eco-loos’ are also coming to the forefront and are being trialled in countries including Kenya, Madagascar and Uganda – the Loowatt, eco-san toilets, Pee-Poo bags and Tiger Toilets are just a few examples.
At Just a Drop, we want everyone to have access to safe water and sanitation and we believe the world can do this, but maybe – as the programme concluded – the moment has come where we must end our love affair with the white porcelain toilet and accept some of these ecological alternatives for our own use so that they become desirable options the world over. Is it time for us to ‘hush the flush’?