Why World Toilet Day Is No Joke

TO date, 4.5 billion people live without safely managed sanitation and 892 million people still practise open defecation.


By Michael Gwarisa

Every year, on November 19, the world celebrates World Toilet Day and this year, the day is running under the theme “When nature calls, we have to listen and act.”

Twice or thrice a day, nature calls and the need to relieve oneself becomes inevitable making the toilet a basic human right and need. Sanitation has been declared a human right by the United Nations. The United Nations post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals, 3 and 6 targets, are aimed at ensuring universal access to safe and affordable drinking water, respectively, by 2030.

Some 3 in 10 people worldwide, or 2.1 billion, lack access to safe, readily available water at home, and 6 in 10, or 4.5 billion, lack safely managed sanitation, according to a new report by WHO and UNICEF.

However, most governments fail to prioritise the need for proper ablution facilities for their citizens, resulting in increased cases of open defecation leading to spread of bacterial and diarrhoeal diseases such as cholera, typhoid among others.

Open defecation is the practice of defecating in the fields, bushes, and bodies of water or other open spaces.

According to the SDGs Synthesis Report of 2018 released by UNWATER, the proportion of the global population using at least a basic sanitation service increased from 59 per cent in 2000 to 68 per cent between 2000 and 2015.

“However, 2.3 billion people still lacked basic services, 70 per cent were in rural areas, and just 1 in 10 countries below 95 per cent coverage is on track to achieve universal coverage by 2030.

“Furthermore, 4.5 billion people worldwide lacked a safely managed sanitation service in 2015, where excreta were safely disposed of in situ or treated off-site. Target 6.2 also highlights the importance of hygiene and calls for special attention to the needs of women and girls,” said the report.

Handwashing with soap and water is widely recognized as a top priority for reducing disease transmission. The global status is not yet known, but least developed countries (LDCs) had the lowest coverage: only 27 per cent had basic handwashing facilities, although coverage was higher in urban areas at 39 per cent.

“Some 892 million people still practise open defecation. Between 2000 and 2015, the total fell from just over 1.2 billion. Of those who still practise open defecation,  90 per cent lived in rural areas, and the majority lived in just two regions with 558 million in Central Asia and Southern Asia and 220 million in sub-Saharan Africa. A substantial effort will be needed to end this practice by 2030.

“Substantial investment will be required, particularly in rapidly growing urban areas, although solutions will vary depending on the relative importance of sewerage networks and on-site sanitation systems.”

Strengthening the capacity of local and national authorities to manage and regulate sanitation systems will be a high priority, including the development of information management systems, especially in low- and middle-income countries.

According to World Health Organisation (WHO) open defecation rankings of 2015, India topped the list with a total of 626 million open defecators, followed by Indonesia (63 million), Pakistan (40 million), Ethiopia (38 million), Nigeria (34 million), Sudan (19 million), Nepal (15 million),   China (14 million), Niger (12 million),   Burkina Faso (9.7 million), Mozambique (9.5 million) and Cambodia (8.6 million).

The post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals for sanitation call for universal access to adequate and equitable sanitation and an end to open defecation by 2030.  Even though billions of people have gained access to basic drinking water and sanitation services since 2000, these services do not necessarily provide safe water and sanitation.

Many homes, healthcare facilities and schools also still lack soap and water for handwashing. This puts the health of all people – but especially young children – at risk for diseases, such as diarrhoea.

As a result, every year, 361 000 children under 5 years of age die due to diarrhoea. Poor sanitation and contaminated water are also linked to transmission of diseases such as cholera, dysentery, hepatitis A, and typhoid.

In Zimbabwe, open defecation was at 40 percent  in rural areas, however, owing to inconsistent supply of tap water by city fathers in most cities and towns, cases of open defecation have also been on the rise in urban areas.

The recent cholera epidemic which claimed at least 50 lives according to the Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC) was mainly caused by human waste which had found its way into drinking water.

MoHCC deputy ministry, Dr John Mangwiro said the only explanation to a cholera infection was that one would have “Literally eaten human feaces.”

The impact of exposure to human faeces on this scale has a devastating impact upon public health, living conditions, nutrition, education and economic productivity across the world.

In high density areas in Harare, even though houses have modern day ablution system installed, the absence of water has a negative impact on toilet use. Residents end up using nearby fields and bushes as toilets.

Eliminating open defecation is increasingly seen as a key health outcome. Zimbabwe is working on driving the Open Defecation free zones drive in most of its urban and rural setups as a way of minimising the spread of diseases associated with human faecal matter.

An area is generally ‘open defecation free’ (ODF) when there is the absence of the practice of open defecation in such a location. This however can only be achieved provided community members have access to proper toilets.

Through funding from organisations such as the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), Zimbabwe managed to certify some areas in Mashonaland Central in Mudzi ODFs.

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