World Toilet Day: Has a human right become a privilege?
A trip to the toilet is a basic act for most of us: we sit or stand, we do our business, we flush, we wash our hands and we go about our day without a second thought. But this mundane routine is unfamiliar to many people across the globe.
On 19 November the UN will be celebrating World Toilet Day. It is a day that marks the importance of effective sanitation; something that many people in many countries do not have. The World Health Organisation reports that 60% of the global population has either limited or no access to a safe toilet. Going to the toilet is one of the most private human acts, yet 673 million people currently practice open defecation – that is, defecating in an open space with no containment, regulation or sanitation of human waste. These sorts of practices mean that deadly bacteria spread and water sources become infected, spreading killer diseases such as cholera, typhoid, and dysentery. It’s an ongoing crisis that is taking the lives of thousands.
World Toilet Day was established in 2001 by the World Toilet Organisation in an effort to address government neglect of the crisis and to tackle the taboos of discussing sanitation care. It became a UN-recognised day in 2013 and aligns with the UN’s sixth Sustainable Development Goal – for everyone to have clean water and sanitation by the year 2030. This crucial mission will help the reported 1.8 billion people currently drinking unsanitary water, an action that contributes to the deaths of 280,000 people a year; 280,000 too many.
It is difficult to imagine living without access to a clean and safe toilet, yet this is the reality for millions. And it doesn’t just affect people’s health, but also their education. Many young girls will miss school during their period due to lacking facilities. What we regard as essential becomes a privilege in consideration of the many people who go without it. The UN reports that more people have access to a mobile phone than a clean, safe toilet. Many of us love to use our mobile phone during our longer-than-usual toilet trips – yet given the choice, we could sacrifice our phone for a time to use a safe, clean and private toilet. While we can exercise these freedoms, many others have no choice.
As it stands today, only 40 out of 152 countries are on track to meet the UN’s sanitation goal by 2030, and it was only in 2010 that human sanitation and access to clean water was recognised as a human right. It is unquestionable that every human being is entitled to sanitation and privacy, yet so many are deprived of it. The journey of providing sanitary management for all will ensure people enjoy both healthy and dignified lives.
If you wish to get involved, visit the World Toilet Day website which is full of information, resources and events that you can get involved in.
– Rachael Willetts