Today, 19 November, we celebrate World Toilet Day. Together with Global Handwashing Day, that I wrote about some time ago, these two days represent the main ‘personal hygiene for health’ days celebrated annually.
Sadly, despite its importance from a health point of view, the day is also one of the most ridiculed annual observances (toilet humour rules, I guess), to such an extent that the United Nations Regional Information Centre (UNRIC) has even published an ‘International stop-making-fun-of-world-toilet day!’ page.
Considering the huge health impact that basic sanitaton can make to preserving human health, this is indeed no laughing matter. According to UN figures, about 4000 children die every day as a result of a disease directly related to poor sanitation. That equates to a death almost every 20 seconds – more than the combined deaths caused by HIV AIDS, malaria and measles.
Given the above, global provision of basic sanitation is a key target underlying the UN’s Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of ‘Reducing by two thirds, between 1990 and 2015, the under-five mortality rate’. It is, unfortunately, also the area where the least progress has been made, mainly because the sanitation sector is desperately under-funded (probably as a result of it being a much less ‘glamorous’ cause than HIV AIDS etc).
According to Catarina de Albuquerque, UN Human Rights Rapporteur on Water and Sanitation, it was estimated in 2006 that almost $15 billion will be required annually to provide universal access to sanitation by 2015. By now, with the target date being so much closer, I am sure that number is much higher. Currently, 2.5 billion people still do not have access to a private toilet, and 1.1 billion people defacate in the open, with no sanitation system in place to address this pollution. That means one in three people do not have access to a private toilet, and one in seven have no access to a toilet at all. It is a humanitarian crisis touching the basic dignity of billions worldwide.
Unlike complex diseases, sanitation is a ‘simple’ problem – it is easy to solve if only enough money is made available. As such, it is one of those areas where widespread public awareness campaigning can actually make a difference, to force governments into addressing and funding the problem. To this end, a punchy awareness campagin has been launched under the theme of ‘I give a shit, do you?’, and tweets around the topic can be tagged with the hashtag #IGiveAShit to extend its reach and potential impact.
So, show that you give a shit, and start talking about sanitation. It may be a crappy subject, but as long as it is not addressed, millions of people will continue to die unnecessary deaths, deaths that can so easily be avoided. For suggestions about how to get involved, visit the World Toilet Day action page.
To get you started, here’s a neat little YouTube video about World Toilet Day – please have a look, and share widely: