In 2011, more than 2.5 billion people worldwide did not have access to sanitary living conditions. Put bluntly, two-fifths of the world’s population did not have a clean, hygienic toilet. Questions of privacy and comfort aside, this shortcoming contributed to increased disease by directly exposing people to polluted water supplies. It reduced ecosystem function by increasing bacterial load in water. And it was one among many conditions that mired the global poor in relatively bad health. Political intransigence, stubborn cultural norms and taboos, and lack of investment all stymied the distribution and use of toilets worldwide.
So when the UN made increasing safe water and sanitation one of its Millennium Development Goals, toilets—once kept out of the international spotlight— took center stage.
In 2013, 48 years after joining the United Nations, Singapore proposed its first UN resolution, “Sanitation for All,” which established an annual UN World Toilet Day recognized every November 19. World Toilet Day calls for collective action to solve the global sanitation crisis by drawing attention to the problem. Part of raising awareness of the need for sanitation is working to break cultural taboos around toilets and sanitation by making the issue public and the unmentionable mentionable. If policymakers did not shy away from talk about toilets and were able to close the sanitation gap it could prevent the death of close to 2,000 children each day and prevent annual economic losses of roughly $260 billion in developing countries.
World Toilet Day brings together the private sector, the media, and international organizations to raise awareness of the sanitation issue. Using humor, such as its “Big Squat” campaign, World Toilet Day also stimulates serious dialog by highlighting the world’s dire sanitation statistics. By talking about toilets every day, and putting them in the spotlight once a year, World Toilet Day will help to save lives and improve economies.
More information about World Toilet Day can be found at http://worldtoiletday.org/.