Today is the 19th of November. It’s less than a month until Christmas; it’s also the time when you might be hailing ‘Movember’ and attempting to grow a moustache for charity! Whatever you’re doing, the chances are you’re probably not thinking a lot about your lavatory. Like normal, you might say?
Well, here at Just a Drop we’ve got some news for you: today is World Toilet Day, and there are several reasons that you should be talking toilets.
It might sound like a joke, but World Toilet Day has been a UN recognised event since 2001, carrying out vital work to break the taboo around toilets. It’s something that we take for granted in the developed world, but just take a moment to consider the indignity of not having a toilet. Imagine having to share a communal area that is never cleaned with hundreds of other people; imagine the smell, and the fact that you don’t have a place to wash your hands.
This is something that 2.5 billion people face daily – that is a third of the world’s population who have no access to proper sanitation. Of these people, 1.2 billion have no access to a toilet at all, and are forced into open defecation in fields, gutters, on the street and behind houses. This is a particularly dangerous activity for women, who often wait until nightfall to find a secluded spot and are left vulnerable to attacks by strangers or animals.
On top of this, the health impacts of not having access to a toilet are phenomenal. Appallingly, the lives of two million children are lost through poor sanitation each year, which is many more than through malaria and HIV/AIDS combined. These diseases are not only deadly but also hugely debilitating, keeping children out of school for an estimated 400 million days each year – a figure that speaks volumes for education activists.
The basic improvements in health that proper sanitation and infrastructure can bring can be seen throughout history. It was 155 years ago that, as raw sewage flowed freely in the Thames, The Great Stink swept across London, forcing Parliament to close due to the smell. This, combined with an unprecedented outbreak of cholera across the city, called for an improved sewage system to be implemented across London. It is hard to imagine any other single intervention in Britain’s history that slashed child mortality rates and improved health records so much.
The diseases related to poor sanitation can be not only deadly but also hugely debilitating. Menstruating for example, without access to a toilet can keep a girl out of school for 20% of school days, often leading to a societal pressure simply to stay home and get married. This is not only terribly sad, but reinforces social barriers and has a huge impact on the empowerment of women worldwide. If a girl is not educated, there is no place for her in the workforce. In effect, without a toilet, she often has no voice and no prospects.
This is why World Toilet Day is such an important event. By bringing global sanitation to the attention of governments around the world we can drastically improve the lives of those who are worst affected by not having a toilet. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Sanitation is more important than independence.” And isn’t it?