Marking World Toilet Day, UN urges ‘open, frank’ discussion on importance of hygiene and sanitation

Children are using toilet facilities at a shelter in Hakha city, Myanmar, constructed with support from UNICEF. Photo: UNICEF/Kap Za Lyan

19 November 2015 – On World Toilet Day, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is urging broad action to renew efforts in providing access to adequate sanitation for all and work to comprehensively address the “vicious cycle” connecting poor sanitation and malnutrition, the theme of this year's observance of the Day.

“Sanitation is central to human and environmental health as well as to individual opportunity, development and dignity. Yet today, worldwide, one in every three people lacks improved sanitation, and one in every eight practices open defecation,” said Mr. Ban Ki-moon in his message on the Day.

The recently adopted 2030 Agenda recognizes the central role sanitation plays in sustainable development, the Secretary-General said, explaining that the integrated nature of the new agenda means the world needs to better understand the connections between the building blocks of development.

“In that spirit, this year’s observance of World Toilet Day focuses on the vicious cycle connecting poor sanitation and malnutrition,” he stressed.

Poor sanitation and hygiene are at the heart of disease and malnutrition. Every year too many children under the age of five have their lives cut short or altered forever as a result of poor sanitation: more than 800,000 children worldwide – or one every two minutes – die from diarrhoea, and almost half of all deaths of children under five are due to undernutrition.

The UN chief went on to say that a quarter of all children under five were stunted, and countless other children, as well as adults, are falling seriously ill, often suffering long-term, even lifelong, health and developmental consequences, due to poor sanitation and hygiene.

“Parents and guardians carry the cost of these consequences. Women in particular women bear the direct brunt,” Mr. Ban said.

Despite the compelling moral and economic case for action on sanitation, he noted that “progress is too little and too slow.”

“By many accounts, sanitation is the most-missed target of the Millennium Development Goals,” the Secretary-General said: “This is why the Call to Action on Sanitation was launched in 2013, and why we aim to end open defecation by 2025.”

“The 2030 Agenda calls on us to renew our efforts in providing access to adequate sanitation worldwide,” Mr. Ban underscored, adding: “We must continue to educate and protect communities at risk, and to change cultural perceptions and long-standing practices that hinder the quest for dignity.”

The Secretary-General urged the world to work together and have an open frank discussion on the importance of toilets and sanitation, so that “we can improve the health and well-being of one-third of the human family.”

Echoing some of those sentiments, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) pointed out that lack of access to toilets is endangering millions of the world’s poorest children.

A new report, Improving Nutrition Outcomes with Better Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, produced by UNICEF, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the World Health Organization (WHO), for the first time brings together years of research and case studies which demonstrate the link between sanitation and malnutrition. More importantly, it provides guidance for action.

“We need to bring concrete and innovative solutions to the problem of where people go to the toilet, otherwise we are failing millions of our poorest and most vulnerable children,” said Sanjay Wijesekera, head of UNICEF's global water, sanitation and hygiene programmes.

“The proven link with malnutrition is one more thread that reinforces how interconnected our responses to sanitation have to be if we are to succeed,” he added.

According to UNICEF, some countries, including Pakistan, Ethiopia, Mali, and Democratic Republic of the Congo have made significant progress in addressing both access to sanitation and the nutritional status of their children. Many have successfully used the agency’s Community-led Total Sanitation approach, in which affected populations themselves devise local solutions to the problem of open defecation.

“There are no excuses not to act on access to toilets, even in the poorest communities, or during emergencies,” said Mr. Wijesekera. “On the other hand, there are millions of reasons – each one a child who is stunted or wasted, or worse, who sickens and dies – to treat this with the urgency it deserves.”

The UN General Assembly, in a 2013 resolution on “Sanitation for All” designated 19 November as World Toilet Day The Day is coordinated by UN-Water in collaboration with Governments and relevant stakeholders.


News Tracker: past stories on this issue

On Handwashing Day, UNICEF warns inadequate hygiene endangers key development goal

Related Stories







In-depth Interviews