A woman fetches water

Why a toilet is a lifesaver

Over half of the global population or 4.2 billion people lack safe sanitation and around 297,000 children under five – more than 800 every day – die annually from diarrhoeal diseases due to poor hygiene, poor sanitation or unsafe drinking water.

Without safely managed, sustainable sanitation, people often have no choice but to use unreliable, inadequate toilets or practise open defecation. Even where toilets exist, overflows and leaks from pipes and septic systems, and dumping or improper treatment, can mean untreated human waste gets out into the environment and spreads deadly and chronic diseases such as cholera and intestinal worms.

In a bid to help break taboos around toilets and make sanitation for all a global development priority, the United Nations designated 19 November as World Toilet Day.

The resolution declaring the Day titled "Sanitation for All" (A/RES/67/291) was adopted on 24 July, 2013, and urged UN Member States and relevant stakeholders to encourage behavioural change and the implementation of policies to increase access to sanitation among the poor, along with a call to end the practice of open-air defecation, which it deemed extremely harmful to public health. Sanitation is also a question of basic dignity and women safety, who should not risk being victims of rape and abuse because of lack of access to a toilet that offers privacy.

The resolution also recognizes the role that civil society and non-governmental organizations play in raising awareness of this issue. It also calls on countries to approach sanitation in a much broader context that includes hygiene promotion, the provision of basic sanitation services, and sewerage and wastewater treatment and reuse in the context of integrated water management.

An important milestone in this aspect is the current Water Action Decade (2018-2028) that will accelerate efforts towards meeting water-related challenges, including limited access to safe water and sanitation, increasing pressure on water resources and ecosystems, and an exacerbated risk of droughts and floods.