World Toilet Day: No laughing matter for 60% of the world's population
Posted by: Brian Dennehy
World Toilet Day on 19th November is no laughing matter for the 60% of the people on this planet who live either without a household toilet at all or one that safely disposes of their waste. 1,000 children die each day due to poor sanitation. This is a key focus for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and a convenient way in which his success will be measured.
The world sanitation problem is one that we will, undoubtedly, find difficult to visualise, but the numbers are stark:
862 million people worldwide still practice open defecation
1.8 billion people use untreated drinking water
80% of wastewater generated by society flows back into the ecosystem without being treated
Improved sanitation, along with good hygiene, could prevent 842,000 deaths each year.
World Toilet Day is dominated by the problem in India. The inconvenient truth is that:
More people in India own a mobile phone than have access to a toilet
53% of families don’t have a toilet
Almost 70% of rural households don’t have access to proper toilets
550 million people defecate in the open
In 1925 Mahatma Gandhi said:
“Sanitation is more important than independence”
Yet despite the efforts of Prime Minister Modi, they are still a long way off his 2014 promise that every home would have an indoor toilet within five years.
Unfortunately, everybody is pushing for quantity over quality. New toilets are often not plumbed in or simply not used. According to one report in 2016, latrine usage is dismal with around 70% of them non-functional; and many have been converted into warehouses, kitchens or play areas for children.
Building working toilets is just part of the problem – the government also has to get people to use them properly. For example, 40% of homes with working toilets still showed evidence of open defecation.
Much is being done to change this attitude, some conventional some less so.
One council was trying to encourage better habits amongst children by “paying them to poo”
Prospective brides have been urged to shun potential grooms whose villages do not have toilets
This year has even seen a blockbuster film in India, “Toilet, a Love Story”, or “ode to the commode” as The New York Times put it.
It tells the story of a young bride in an arranged marriage who only found out after her wedding that the house had no toilet. Based on a true story, she refused to go home until one was built – without wanting to spoil the ending, it was a happy one. One women was recently granted a divorce on the grounds that her husband failed to provide her with a toilet.
There are appalling conditions for many women, particularly rural, who as well as the insanitary conditions, have to endure taunts and even sexual assault when they venture out. Often they will go out in small groups before dawn for safety.
There are other very positive side benefits as the culture changes. For example, there is a serious problem with young girls attending school and illiteracy. With segregated school toilets now commonplace, Avinash Vazirani (manager of Jupiter India) tells us that in 2016 there was been a marked increase in girls attending school.
This boom in toilet building and sanitary propaganda has some years to go. Like the potential in India generally, it will not happen overnight, but the potential benefits, both to ordinary Indians and to investors, are huge.
That’s the serious stuff, and it is serious for far too many. Nonetheless, research on this did throw up some other interesting facts:
Compared to your toilet seat your kitchen sponge has 200,000 times more germs, and your desk has 400 times more germs (you know who you are!).
You will spend 3 years of your life on the toilet
The average person uses 57 sheets of toilet paper per day (really???)
The first cubicle is always the cleanest and least used (top tip for the airport tomorrow)
China has the world’s biggest toilet (1,000 “facilities”)