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Wednesday, February 24, 2021

If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve won the geography lottery…

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If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve won the geography lottery. You have clean water on tap and a bathroom or two in your house. But imagine if your bathroom break meant squatting in a ditch or field where those around could see you – and if you’re a woman, being subjected to verbal or sexual abuse. And even if you find a safe place, what if you had no water or no sink in which to wash your hands afterwards? 

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World Toilet Day reminds us that open defecation is the reality for 1.2 billion people across the world and human waste frequently ends up in drinking water.  Not surprisingly, poor sanitation affects health: it accounts for almost ten per cent of global disease.  So Global Handwashing Day serves to promote washing with soap in 100 countries as an effective “do-it-yourself” remedy against contracting fecal-related diseases such as typhoid and cholera. 

 

Since we know poor water quality in developing countries contributes to disease, it makes sense to come up with sustainable approaches to manage wastewater that would otherwise be released untreated. A recent study in Uganda showed that by marketing biogas as well as fertiliser made from wastewater products, it would be possible to run a cost recovery sanitation system for 400,000 people living in Kampala’s urban slums.   This research led to a Grand Challenges Canada funded pilot project called “Waste to Wealth”. It partners with the Ugandan government, which – though short on resources – is mandated to handle the country’s industrial and domestic wastewater.  The pilot brings together slum residents, rural fishing villages, a private sludge transport company, NGOs and a local university to find ways to use human waste to produce energy and crop nutrients.

 

World Toilet Day is a day to take action. It is a day to raise awareness about all people who do not have access to a toilet – despite the human right to water and sanitation.   It is a day to do something about it.  

 

Of the world’s seven billion people, 2.5 billion people do not have improved sanitation. 1.2 billion people still defecate in the open. Women and girls risk rape and abuse because they have no toilet that offers privacy.  

 

We cannot accept this situation. Sanitation is a global development priority. This is why the United Nations General Assembly in 2013 designated 19 November as World Toilet Day. This day had previously been marked by international and civil society organisations all over the world but was not formally recognised as an official UN day until 2013.   

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