November 19th is World Toilet Day, which might seem a little strange to you if you’re living in a Western country. Why on earth would toilets need a day of their own? Yet the truth is that there are many areas of the world in which safe and hygienic toilet facilities simply aren’t available, and the United Nations has designated this day to bring awareness to what is a problem that should concern us all.
Why We Need this Day
There are approximately two and half billion people in the world who don’t have access to a clean toilet, that’s one in three of the world population, and the majority of these people live in sub-Saharan Africa and in Asia. Having a toilet isn’t just a question of convenience, or of Western standards of privacy for that matter. A toilet can literally be a life and death matter. Every twenty seconds someone dies from a disease associated with diarrhoea that could well have been prevented were there safe and clean toilet facilities available. Diarrhoea is the second leading cause of death in developing countries for small children, and kills more than the combined number of victims from HIV, measles and malaria.
Aside from questions of health and safety, appropriate sanitation facilities are also a question of simple human dignity. Over a billion people in the world are forced to practice open defecation due to lack of toilet facilities. In many countries it is considered normal practise to urinate or defecate on railway lines, in the street or in a plastic bag, because there are no other alternatives. For these people getting toilets is a question of human rights. We all have the right to clean and sanitary toilet facilities, as well as to privacy, yet a third of the world is denied this right.
It’s About Women’s Rights Too
There is also another aspect to this issue, which is concerned with women’s rights. On average a woman will menstruate for three thousand days in her life. Menstruation obviously requires a certain availability of clean and hygienic facilities. Very often in countries without these facilities girls are forced to skip school on days when they’re menstruating. Having a clean bathroom in a public school could mean the difference between a fourteen year old girl getting an education or not getting one.
There are health related concerns here too. Lack of appropriate sanitation whilst menstruating can lead girls to develop urinary tract infections, which in turn will lead to more missed school days. Basically, having a school toilet can keep girls in school, particularly in areas where female education is not prioritised or considered the norm.
Let’s Not Forget Economics
In today’s world, money talks, and toilets make money. Every dollar invested in sanitation brings a return of five dollars, making toilet and hygiene facilities one of the best investments that can be made. There are all kinds of ways in which toilets make money. Decreased risk of illness results in lower health care costs and less loss of productivity for companies whose workers need not call in sick. Tourists are more likely to visit safe and hygienic areas, leading to an increase in tourism revenue. And at a very basic level, making and installing sanitary facilities creates jobs. Toilet facilities need to be seen as what they are, an excellent investment for the future.
The Aim of World Toilet Day
Toilets and bodily functions are generally regarded as private matters, or the subject of humour, and are definitely not things that we consider nice to talk about in polite company. The problem with this is that this taboo makes it very difficult to discuss the problems associated with lack of sanitation facilities in developing countries. World Toilet Day aims to break those taboos, and to make it not only okay, but important to talk about toilets, defecation, urination and all the other words surrounding personal hygiene and sanitation.
There is also a question of awareness. In the West particularly, having a toilet is something so normal and so taken for granted that we find it hard to imagine people being without one. Yet there are millions of people in the world who do not have a simple toilet. World Toilet Day brings awareness to this problem in the hope that people will realise that there are others who aren’t as lucky as they are, and people who need our help.
World Toilet Day is celebrated in more than nineteen countries all over the world. Events are organised on the 19th of November by water and sanitation companies. The Big Squat campaign aims to bring together volunteers, the media and other business partners in an attempt to heighten awareness of the huge problem the world has due to lack of toilet and sanitation facilities. World Toilet Day has been in existence since 2001 and is slowly growing in popularity as awareness of this huge and potentially fatal issue increases.
Dignity is a difficult word to define. As humans we all deserve dignity, and part of that involves being able to look after our personal hygienic needs. Lack of toilet facilities isn’t just a matter of spreading disease, though that’s a huge issue, but it’s also a matter of giving dignity to other human beings. Can you imagine squatting on the pavement to relieve yourself? Or using a waterless hole full to the brim of other people’s excrement? If you’re a woman could you imagine dealing with your menstruation needs without the benefits of running water, unable to wash your hands or yourself? Imagine losing your child to a disease that is preventable by simply having basic sanitation. These are the issues that two and a half billion people worldwide are dealing with every day. And as strange as having a World Toilet Day may seem to you, this is what we need to stop happening. This is an issue that deserves a forum, and World Toilet Day provides the opportunity to discuss problems that otherwise, due to ignorance or embarrassment, might not be addressed.
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