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World Toilet Day 2021: Who cares about toilets?

World Toilet Day returns on 19 November to celebrate all things toilets and raise awareness of the 3.6 billion people living without access to safely managed sanitation. First established in 2001 by the World Toilet Organization, World Toilet Day has been a United Nations Observance since 2013. The day strives to inspire action to tackle the global sanitation crisis and achieve Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6) - which promises sanitation for all by 2030.

Coordinated by UN-Water in collaboration with governments and partners, the day shines a light on the fact that for billions of people around the world, sanitation systems are either non-existent or ineffective. This year’s theme is valuing toilets, drawing attention to the fact that toilets – and the sanitation systems that support them – are underfunded, poorly managed or neglected in many parts of the world. This has devastating consequences for health, economics and the environment, particularly in the poorest and most marginalised communities.

We should all care more about toilets. If you have one, thank it. Life without a toilet is dirty, dangerous and undignified. Vitally, public health depends on toilets, with safe sanitation at its very core. Access to sanitation is recognised by the United Nations as a human right that entitles everyone to have physical and affordable access to sanitation, in all spheres of life, that is safe, hygienic, secure, and socially and culturally acceptable and that provides privacy and ensures dignity. Toilets also drive improvements in gender equality, education, economics and the environment. There will be no sustainable future without toilets. 

Sadly nearly half the world’s population – 3.6 billion people – live without a safely managed sanitation service. This is defined as a toilet, not shared with other households, that either treats or disposes of human waste on site, stores it safely to be emptied and treated off-site, or connects to a functioning sewer.

When some people in a community do not have safe toilets, everyone’s health is threatened. Poor sanitation contaminates drinking-water sources, rivers, beaches and food crops, spreading deadly diseases among the wider population. Globally, at least 2 billion people use a drinking water source contaminated with faeces. Every day, over 700 children under five years old die from diarrhoea linked to unsafe water, sanitation and poor hygiene.

Having access to safe sanitation is essential for human rights. Toilets particularly drive improvements in gender equality, education, economics and the environment. For instance, every $1 invested in basic sanitation returns up to $5 in saved medical costs and increased productivity, and jobs are created along the entire service chain. For women and girls, toilets at home, school and at work help them fulfil their potential and play their full role in society, especially during menstruation and pregnancy.

Currently, the world is seriously off track to meet Sustainable Development Goal 6. The world urgently needs massive investment and innovation to quadruple progress all along the ‘sanitation chain’, from toilet to the transport, collection and treatment of human waste. As part of a human rights-based approach, World Toilet Day emphasises that governments must listen to the people who are being left behind without access to toilets, and allocate specific funding to include them in planning and decision-making processes. The public and private sectors must work with unserved communities to create sustainable sanitation systems that work for them.

World Toilet Day in the UK

Closer to home the issues may be different, but even first world countries have been experiencing toilet troubles associated with Covid-19. Not only have we been advised to flip down the toilet seat before we flush the toilet to stop toilet plume, (a potential spread of coronavirus) but it was increasingly hard to find publicly accessible toilets when away from home during the pandemic.

We’ve all now had a taste of what isolation at home feels like and for many of us it has been a challenging experience. Sadly, for vast swathes of the population - women, the elderly, the disabled and those with medical conditions, along with parents of babies and young children - leaving the house without access to clean, hygienic toilet facilities is a daunting task. Empathy with those who find themselves isolated or unable to leave their homes to undertake everyday tasks, simply down to a lack of public toilets, is surely so much easier to find. 

A lack of provision to enable safe toileting and frequent hand washing highlights a grave public health issue in the face of Covid-19. This is why closing public toilets down must not be considered a cheap and easy option. 

On the issue, Kevin Wellman, CEO of the CIPHE said, “Public toilets are a necessity and not a luxury, providing dignity, independence and safety to all. Simply following official public health advice means frequent hand washing is a high priority for keeping everyone safe from coronavirus. The argument for councils to provide much needed public lavatories rings clear.”  

To find out more on World Toilet Day visit https://www.worldtoiletday.info/

Find out more about the Love your local lav campaign.

Find out more about the flip ‘n’ flush campaign.