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A harsh reality

Sca Hygiene Australasia
Monday, November 19, 2012

What is World Toilet Day? World Toilet Day is observed annually on November 19. This international day of action aims to break the taboo around toilets and draw attention to the global sanitation challenge.

Can you imagine not having a toilet? Can you imagine not having privacy when you need to relieve yourself? Although unthinkable for those living in wealthy parts of the world, this is a harsh reality for many—in fact, one in three people on this globe, does not have access to a toilet! Have you ever thought about the true meaning of dignity?

World Toilet Day was created to pose exactly these kind of questions and to raise global awareness of the daily struggle for proper sanitation that a staggering 2.5 billion people face. World Toilet Day brings together different groups, such as media, the private sector, development organisations and civil society in a global movement to advocate for safe toilets.

Did you know that one in three people do not have a safe, clean and private toilet? Most of those people live in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Yet the humble toilet can be a stepping stone to a healthy life, greater human dignity, freedom, equality between women, men, girls and boys, and finally, a catalyst to the development of communities and countries.

Illnesses that are a direct result of bad sanitation affect the quality of life of millions of people around the world, especially children. Diarrhoeal diseases are the second most common cause of death of young children in developing countries, killing more than HIV/AIDS, malaria and measles combined, and resulting in one death every 20 seconds.

There is a strong link between the absence of good sanitation and poverty. The economic growth in Europe and North America went hand in hand when the sanitary conditions improved markedly, resulting in individual health gains and increased labour productivity.

Toilets are a symbol of better health, higher income, more education, higher social status and a cleaner living environment.

Yet in many parts of the world, toilets are an unglamorous topic and talking about open defecation and its consequences is taboo. However, bringing clean toilets to those who are lacking them, is not a matter of breakthrough scientific technologies; it is foremost an issue of political leadership, plain speaking champions, raising awareness and hard work. It is up to everyone to turn the sanitation challenge around and make toilets sexy.

Did you know that 1.1 billion people around the world practice open defecation? The majority of them are living in rural areas. These people have no private place to defecate and urinate; they use fields and bushes, ditches or railway tracks, or simply a plastic bag. For them, sanitation is about dignity and ultimately human rights.

In 2010, the UN General Assembly recognised sanitation and water as a human right, essential to the full enjoyment of life and all other human rights. This breakthrough decision not only provides a major argument to all those sanitation advocates; it constitutes an important step towards turning these rights into a reality for everyone.

The human rights approach is particularly concerned with the people who do not have access to safe sanitation. It looks at the reasons, and tries to find ways to overcome those barriers. It seeks to address inequalities by targeting the most vulnerable, such as women, children, people with disabilities, the chronically ill or the poorest of the poor.

Governments that have recognised the right to sanitation have, by doing so, signed up to establishing a plan of action and agreed to take concrete steps to ensure that, over time, all people gain access to sanitation - this is known as "progressive realisation". If the world is really serious about turning this right into a reality, though, more, and concerted action is needed. Not only politicians, but also businesses, donors, development agencies, NGOs, media and communities will need to redouble their commitments and efforts.

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