IMPORTANT UPDATE ACTION NEEDED NOW: US Senator Coburn is blocking millions of people from accessing water and sanitation by stopping the crucial Water for the World Act. We can stop him. But we only have 48 hours.
As you may already know, today is World Toilet Day, a day recognised by the United Nations, and designed to highlight how important it is for people to have access to a safe toilet. Today, there are 2.5 billion people without access to a safe toilet. In short, toilets reduce disease, save lives, reduce the number of kids dropping out of school, and reduce violent attacks on women and girls. Very, very good reasons.
But as I read through all of the big statistics, I started wondering “so who ARE these 2.5 billion people?”
Well, unsurprisingly, most of them live in countries with low incomes and bad infrastructure. What surprised me, though, is that the majority of them aren’t in Africa – they’re in South Asia. This pie chart can explain. Mmm, pie.
So India has more people without toilets than all of Africa… a lot more. Why?
In addition to poverty and infrastructure issues, there’s a lingering perception amongst some people in India (and elsewhere, but it's a big issue in India) that heading out into fields for a squat down is healthier than using a toilet. There’s a steaming pile of evidence that this is not the case, so in addition to improving the quality of the facilities in these communities, there also needs to be some community education to equip people with the information that they need to improve their own health.
Fortunately, the new Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi knows how important this issue is, and is determined to break the taboo. His mantra of “toilets before temples” reflects his priority here, and he is determined to work towards all Indians having access to a toilet by 2019.
So on World Toilet day, I’ve gained a greater understanding of where the 2.5 billion people are, and what the obstacles to addressing the problem are. Often, development isn’t just spending money on infrastructure, it’s also about working with local communities to give them the know-how to maximise the impact of the money spent.
With 1,000 children still dying each day from diarrhoea caused by inadequate sanitation, the importance of investment, education, and political urgency around toilets is high. Everyone should be able to celebrate World Toilet Day by giving their trusty throne an affectionate pat.