In many countries, people take toilets for granted, but for hundreds of millions, they’re still a luxury, and hundreds of thousands die every year of water-borne diseases. To raise awareness of the importance of sanitation systems, the United Nations has declared November 19th World Toilet Day. CGTN’s Liling Tan has details.
It’s hard to have a discussion about toilets without talking about poop, and this 30-foot giant poo emoji structure in downtown Portland, on display for World Toilet Day, helps start the conversation. It’s a reminder that safely managed toilets are still not accessible to everyone.
“We still have 673 million practicing open defecation, so that’s a huge problem in itself,” said Tom Slaymaker, Senior Statistics and Monitoring Specialist for UNICEF.
That’s 9% of the global population who still poo in the open, in bushes, rivers and beaches, according to a recent report by UNICEF and the World Health Organization, and mostly in sub-Saharan Africa
Very often, it’s the poorest and most marginalized populations who lack these services, and therefore they are facing the biggest risks,” said Slaymaker. “They are the ones who are exposed to unmanaged waste in their environment, and if they’re growing up in that environment, then it can have very serious impacts, especially on young children.”
The problem isn’t just open defecation. Basic toilets from which human waste isn’t safely collected, treated and disposed of remain out of reach for some 4.2 billion people — 55% of the global population — causing the spread of diseases that should already be eradicated.
Diarrhea kills children who are very poor, and who, when they get that little bit of nutritional deficit you get with an episode of diarrhea, never catch up nutritionally, and that makes them more vulnerable to the next episode with diarrhea or to the next infection with pneumonia or something else,” says Les Roberts, Professor of Population and Family Health at Columbia University.
“The main diarrheal killer is a non-deadly virus called rotavirus, and that was the case in 1980 and it’s the case today,” Roberts says. “The problems people are facing in those poor pockets that don’t have adequate sanitation in their community today, are these very same problems or pathogens that we encountered 10, 20, 50 years ago.”
The solution seems straightforward. Preventing the spread of some diseases requires a toilet, a flush that carries human waste to a collection site far away, and then to a sewage plant where it is treated. Why has it been so difficult to make sure everyone has access to safely managed sanitation systems like this? Inequity and the lack of education are among the key barriers.
“If you build a latrine, in four years it will be gone, and their lifestyle won’t be changed,” says Roberts. “It takes education and changing social values to make hygiene and toilets become the norm. When a community, especially a rural community doesn’t want to use toilets, it is very hard for outsiders to make them use toilets.”
The theme for World Toilet Day this year is, “leave no one behind,” but experts say, in order for everyone to have safe toilets by the UN’s target of 2030, the current rate of progress needs to be ramped up three-fold.
Zhao Ma on importance of sanitation on World Toilet Day
Zhao Ma, associate professor of Modern Chinese History and Culture at Washington University in St. Louis, talked with CGTN’s John Terrett on advent of high-tech toilets.