United Nations officials admit that many will greet the first ever World Toilet Day with a snigger, but say it is a chance to draw attention to the plight of more than a third of the planet’s population that has no access to hygienic bathroom facilities.
“We must break the taboos and make sanitation for all a global development priority,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon declared.
The UN estimates that 1.1 billion people – including around half of India’s population – defecate in the open, which is both a symptom and a cause of unsanitary conditions. More than 800,000 children under five die from diarrhoeal diseases that could be easily prevented each year.
The problem, already prevalent in some of the world’s poorest countries, has a cruelly disproportionate impact on the most impoverished. In total, inadequate sanitation robs the world’s economy of $260 billion worth of productivity annually.
A lack of private toilets also particularly affects women, who generally suffer more infections, spend more time looking for available spots, and leave themselves more open to assault when they do find them.
The challenges are not just a lack of resources and infrastructure, but attitudes and a lack of awareness, hence the designated annual day on November 19, proposed by Singapore last year.
“By working together — and by having a frank and open discussion on the importance of toilets and sanitation — we can improve the health and well-being of one-third of the human family,” said Ban.
Ban said that open defecation should be eradicated as a standard practice by 2025.
The UN drive is officially backed by independent charities such
as WaterAid, and corporations like Unilever, which have been
benefitting from a boom in sanitation products in developing