aturday, November 19, is ‘World Toilet Day’, a day set aside to raise consciousness on the global sanitation crisis. In 2013, the United Nations General Assembly officially designated November 19 as World Toilet Day. World Toilet Day is co-ordinated by UN-Water in collaboration with governments and partners.
Most of us in Sri Lanka, take toilets for granted, but the World Health Organisation (WHO) points out that while 2.1 billion people have gained access to better sanitation since 1990, another 2.4 billion people (around six million families) have seen no improvement. And these 2.4 billion, who do not have access to toilets, pollute water sources and endanger public health and safety of millions worldwide.
The UN defines an improved toilet or latrine as a facility that hygienically separates human waste from human contact; this could be through a mechanical or manual flush that sends the waste matter to a piped sewer system, septic tank or pit latrine. Composting toilets also qualify as improved toilets. One in ten people, according to WHO and UNICEF, have no choice but to defecate in the open.
In this context, our giant neighbour India, often portrayed as the power house of the South Asian bloc, lags far behind other nations in the region and in the world. India has by far the worst record of not being able to provide its people with one of the most basic necessities of life – a safe toilet. More than 774 million Indians defecate in the open.
The Indian Express reports around 60% of Indians do not have access to safe and private toilets. It adds, “If all 774 million people in India waiting for household toilets were made to stand in a line, the queue would stretch from earth to the moon and beyond.” Worse, a number of Indian households are ‘home’ to a form of insanitary toilets which employ human beings/people -- fellow Indians -- as ‘manual scavengers’ to clean out human faeces with their bare hands from rudimentary latrines… yuk! Though the Indian government in 2013 banned construction of this type of toilet, the practice still continues…
India’s census of 2012 reveals only 46.9% of its 246.6 million households had lavatories, while 49.8% defecated in the open. The remaining 3.2% used public toilets.
In contrast, the Guardian (UK) points out, in contrast, Nepal, one of the poorer countries in the region, despite slow economic growth, has shown “incredible progress” in bringing sanitation to its people through prioritising the issue politically and investing in public campaigns against open defecation.
In South Sudan, the world’s newest Nation State, 93% of the population lacks access to an adequate toilet and has fewer safe and hygienic latrines per person than any other country in the world. We, in Sri Lanka, like to boast of our ancient 2,500-year-old culture -- but we too need to bow our collective heads in shame for ‘we the people’ of this island nation according to the Dept. of Census and Statistics have taken away the dignity of almost 1,378,456 people or 1.7% of our population who have no access to what the UN has describe as safe and hygienic latrines.
This situation is worrying and poses problems both nationally and internationally. It’s not just about the environmental pollution open defecation causes, but that human excreta transmits many infectious diseases, including cholera, typhoid, hepatitis, polio, and diarrhoeal diseases among people in addition to taking away the basic humanity of these unfortunates and reducing them to the status of animals.
The worst affected are children, according to UNICEF, over 800 children die every day due to preventable diarrhoeal diseases caused by a lack of access to this basic need. The UNICEF estimates that more than 90% of deaths from diarrhoeal illnesses in young children can be attributed to unsafe or inadequate water, sanitation which according to reports results in a child dying every 20 seconds from diarrhoea, 88% of which is caused by poor sanitation.
Sadly little attention is being paid to this problem which can be easily alleviated with a small infusion of funds to meet the pressing needs. Unfortunately investments are made in a blind search for profits. Human needs… and basic human needs come a distant second despite pious claims otherwise.
Construction of a basic toilet meeting the UN standards is estimated to cost less than $30. In other words an investment of $30 multiplied by six hundred million would ensure everyone on planet earth has a toilet. Yet, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, in 2015 countries worldwide spent $ 1,676 billion on defence budgets.
In India, despite 774 million people having no access to toilets, spent $ 48 billion on its defence budget in 2015, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.