Why World Toilet Day Is Not a Laughing Matter

Toilets and access to proper sanitation save lives.

Imagine a room full of diplomats from around the world sitting in a conference room at the UN debating on what World Toilet Day would mean – both literally and figuratively.

Toilets, outhouses, latrines, water closets, chamber pots, whatever you would call it and whatever form it has, much like a rose, would by any other name still smell – well maybe not like a rose.

Toilets do, however, cut across every one of the 17 Global Goals, and the point of this international day is not about what is it you’re using, but how that system works. Sanitation is crucial to sustainable development and access to it has huge impacts, across child mortality, violence against women and girls, access to education, and economic growth. They are a small way to achieve big results.

A giant inflatable toilet has adorned the United Nations lawn to commemorate World Toilet Day over the last several years, serving as a magnet for selfie-taking tourists and diplomats alike. Unavoidable in its sheer size, this temporary landmark serves as a reminder for all the things toilets can accomplish, and that toilets save lives. Over 2.4 billion around the globe do not have access to proper sanitation, many of these people have to defecate in the open. Without the necessary infrastructure to dispose of human waste, deadly diseases can spread such as diarrhea and cholera. The devastating consequences of the spread of cholera in Haiti killed over 10,000 people and infected thousands of others. The disease can, in fact, be traced back to the poor sanitation conditions at the UN peacekeeping camp that allowed sewage to get into local water supplies.

The issue of sanitation is linked to every goal but can be highlighted by looking at the life of a child. Diarrhea is the second-largest killer of children globally, accounting for 1 in 9 deaths in children under the age of five. According to the Center for Disease Control 88% of these deaths can be attributed to unsafe water, and inadequate sanitation and hygiene. If a child without access to proper sanitation survives beyond five years old the next question becomes does their school have toilets? If the child is a girl and does not have access to a private toilet at school they are more likely to miss school during menstruation, without a private bathroom the threat of violence against women and girls also increases. If that girl or woman lives in a conflict zone or is a refugee her access to sanitation and toilets is even more limited. It has been reported that Syrian women, without access to proper sanitation and hygiene products are experiencing a huge increase in a number of gynecological infections.

With billions of people worldwide without access to proper sanitation, the fact that access to a safe toilet can save lives perfectly demonstrates that a small achievement can be scaled up and change the world. Correspondingly it is equal parts surprising and concerning to think that in some countries, simply providing access to a portaloo could save lives.

World Toilet Day was proposed by Singapore, done in an effort to bring attention to the issues around sanitation and to the campaign Sanitation for All. Singapore may not be associated with sanitation challenges – but they do know about being small and having a big impact. When the UN adopted November 19th as World Toilet Day, Singapore said the following:

Small states like Singapore know that if you want to change the world today, instead of many years or decades later, you have to start small. You have to find a pivotal issue, like toilets, which by focusing all your attention and efforts on you can achieve many disproportionate and positive outcomes in terms of health, gender equality, economic prosperity, and the personal dignity of millions of the poorest people. In this regard, we see toilets as the gateway to the broader challenge of sanitation in all its upstream and downstream aspects.

World Toilet Day may grab your attention and your humor, but it will also educate you. Toilets and access to proper sanitation save lives. There are many organizations around the world that work to provide sanitation to the 2.4 billion individuals around the globe who lack such access. It’s so important for all workplaces and organizations to have access to these products. Without them, problems can arise and people’s lives can be at risk. That’s why it’s so important that companies like phs Direct offer a range of commercial toilet rolls for your organisations workplace. This makes it easier for organizations to gain access to these products, ensuring that their employees can stay clean and hygienic. The shortage of these products is seen all around the world, so it’s important that countries do bring attention to these issues. Getting involved with any organization and provided proper sanitation, and a toilet to an individual or a community is a small tangible way to have a big impact.

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