5 facts to flush out your misconceptions about the toilet

World Today

COLORFUL TOILETSPhoto courtesy of Hank Mitchell via Flickr

Nov. 19 is World Toilet Day, so let’s talk about “the toilet.” Around the world, the word ‘toilet’ is known by many names: the loo, the WC, the outhouse, and the porcelain throne just to name a few. However, no matter what you call it, the  toilet ultimately means the same thing: a sigh of relief. 

Despite this, the truth remains that the ability to go to an actual toilet is seen as a privilege globally. This is what the United Nations General Assembly sought to remedy by officially designating Nov. 19 as World Toilet Day, in effect launching a call to action on sanitation and the global health crisis of open defection. The goal: make the use of the toilet less of a privilege and more of a right.

Actor Matt Damon is one of the leading advocates for solving the global water and sanitation crisis. He and environmentalist Gary White founded Water.org to help provide access to safe water and sanitation. Damon and White talked with CCTV America’s Shraysi Tandon about the issue.

Even so, real change only comes along when it is followed by a change in mindset and awareness. That’s why CCTV America is giving you these five fast facts to plunge out everything you thought you knew about what it means to use the toilet.

“Today, the degradation of the inner life is symbolized by the fact that the only place sacred from interruption is the private toilet.” -Lewis Mumford, Historian and Sociologist

Fact No. 1: One billion people in the world still defecate out in the open

Sure, we’d all like to think that everyone has the privacy that comes with the luxury of the bathroom, but the fact remains that out of the close to seven billion people in the world, two and half billion of those individuals do not have what we deem as improved sanitation, which is defined as “a facility that ensures hygienic separation of human excreta from human contact.” This includes access to a proper toilet.

Keep in mind: That’s not even a ‘proper toilet’ by our Western standards, but a toilet simply understood as a fixed place for a person to relieve oneself without constant exposure to the results of that relief. Open defecation resulting from a lack of access to a toilet has been found to cause such illnesses as cholera, hepatitis, worm infestations, and diarrhea, and can also contribute to undernutrition and impaired cognitive function.

“The flush toilet, more than any single invention, has ‘civilized’ us in a way that religion and law could never accomplish.” — Thomas Lynch, author and poet

Fact No. 2: One in every three women risks harassment because she has no access to a toilet

One in every three: that’s over one billion women put at risk of rape and abuse due to lack of access to a toilet. Doesn’t sound very ‘civilized’, does it?
Interestingly enough, the risk of a woman being assaulted because of this in India became so bad that the government implemented the ‘No Toilet, No Bride’ campaign. Under this campaign, Indian women were encouraged not to marry into families that did not have their own toilet. 

“Rules governing defecation, hygiene, and pollution exist in every culture at every period in history. It may in fact be the foundation of civilization: What is toilet training if not the first attempt to turn a child into an acceptable member of society?” — Rose George, journalist

Fact No. 3:  A child dies every two and a half minutes by water contamination via open defection

That’s the equivalent to the rate of a jumbo jet crashing every four hours.
In India, about 28 million children cannot access the toilet at school, resulting in open defecation. Research has shown that water contamination by open defecation also stunts children’s growth

“No innovation in the past 200 years has done more to save lives and improve health than the sanitation revolution triggered by the invention of the toilet. But it did not go far enough. It only reached one-third of the world.” — Sylvia Mathews Burwell, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services

Fact No. 4: Inadequate sanitation costs the world’s poorest countries $260 billion

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Infographic provided by the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program

The costs to implement necessary sanitation processes also varies worldwide, ranging from $4.88 per person in Africa for a small latrine, to $13.38 per person in Latin America and the Caribbean for a household sewer connection.

“When you’ve finished your own toilet in the morning, then it is time to attend to the toilet of your planet, just so, with the greatest care.” — Antoine de Saint-Exupery, wrote “The Little Prince”

Fact No. 5: The world aims to end open defecation by 2025

The U.N. campaign’s hope is that by this time,  everyone will have access to proper sanitation facilities, and with that, a proper toilet. How will this be possible? Ultimately, the U.N. plans to achieve this with the support of a large number of international actors, from world leaders, every day citizens, and even movie stars. 

Watch CCTV America’s interview with Matt Damon to learn more about his water project with Water.org.

So no matter where the call of nature may lead you, lets hope that ultimately, it leads everyone around the world to the sweet relief that comes with a toilet.

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Information for this report provided by the U.N. Millennium Campaign, the WSSCC, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, and Water.org.