Safe drinking water and working sanitation systems on World Plumbing Day

Today, 11 March, is World Plumbing Day. The day, initiated by the World Plumbing Council, is aimed at promoting and celebrating the “the important role plumbing plays in the health and safety of modern society”.

Plumbing plays a key role in the provision of safe, clean water for sanitation.(© All Rights Reserved)
Plumbing plays a key role in the provision of safe, clean water for sanitation.
(© All Rights Reserved)

Numerous natural disasters – earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes – striking around the world over the last decade have again shown how quickly things we take for granted – safe drinking water, working sanitation systems – can disappear.

Drinking water is critical for any population, and efficient plumbing systems play an important role in ensuring a continued clean, safe water supply. During and after disasters, trained and qualified plumbers are key to re-establishing the required plumbing infrastructure in a region.

In support of World Plumbing Day, the World Plumbing council have released a set of fact sheets that make for some interesting reading regarding the role of plumbing in society.

About Thomas Crapper, the toilet guy

It’s January 27 today, which means we’re celebrating the one and only Thomas Crapper Day, commemorating the death (in 1910) of Thomas Crapper, founder of Thomas Crapper and Co, and the man largely responsible for popularising the ‘porcelain throne’. Hmmm, not the first time I’ve written about toilets

Many sources credit Crapper as the inventor of the flush toilet, but that is not the case – it was invented long before, in 1596 already, by John Harrington. Crapper was, however, a shrewd and relentless businessman who, in a time when talking publicly about toilets was considered a bit on the rude side, widely promoted toilets and sanitation, and even introduced the concept of public showrooms for bathroom & toilet fittings.

If Thomas Crapper turned the toilet into an everyday item, Austrian artist Frederick Hundertwasser turned it into a work of art. This is a public toilet in Kawakawa in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand, created by Hundertwasser, which is quite a sight to behold. Apparently he considered the the toilet a special place, because it is somewhere you have time to meditate in peace. Hence his dedication to elevating its aesthetic appeal. (© All Rights Reserved)
If Thomas Crapper turned the toilet into an everyday item, Austrian artist Frederick Hundertwasser turned it into a work of art. This is a public toilet in Kawakawa in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand, created by Hundertwasser, which is quite a sight to behold. Apparently he considered the toilet a special place, somewhere you have time to meditate in peace. Hence his dedication to elevating its aesthetic appeal.
(© All Rights Reserved)

So synonymous did Thomas Crapper become with toilets in 19th century London, that a visit to the loo started being referred to as ‘going to the Crapper’, and it has been said that this is where the slang term ‘crap’ originated. This does, however, not appear to be the true origin of ‘crap’. For an amusingly detailed account of the origin of the word, have a look at the World Wide Words website.

Still, it’s just such an amusing story that the guy responsible for popularising the toilet would be named Crapper, and it does turn “going to the crapper” into quite a legitimate phrase, doesn’t it? No wonder manhole covers in the Westminster Abbey bearing the name “Thomas Crapper and Co” have become a premier tourist site in the area!

Show that you give a shit on World Toilet Day

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.

Millions of children, mainly in the developing world, rely of primitive, shared toilets for their basic sanitation requirements. And these are the ‘lucky ones’, given that millions more have no access to a toilet at all.
(© All Rights Reserved)

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.

Many public, shared toilet facilities do little to facilitate basic human dignity, often being open, shared spaces with little or no privacy.
(© All Rights Reserved)

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: