It’s World Toilet Day–Yes, That’s Right

bigsquat_100x100.gifChances are you have a toilet that is easily accessible and fully functional. Thank your lucky stars, because 2.5 billion people around the globe don’t, according to experts on such things.

November 19 was designated World Toilet Day by the World Toilet Organization (WTO) to bring awareness to a lack of sanitation service, and its associated disease and death. According to WTO, poor sanitation kills 1.8 million people a year–mostly children and primarily through diarrheal diseases.

While the issue may not directly affect you, some of your tax dollars do go to mend global problems with access to water, sanitation, and hygiene. In 2005 President George W. Bush signed into law the Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act, which makes water, sanitation, and hygiene a strategic focus for U.S. foreign aid. In fiscal year 2008-2009, Congress earmarked $300 million to support these projects.

In general Americans seem to support this use of funds, with 61 percent of a recent survey group putting improved access to safe drinking water at the top of a list of issues we believe should be global health priorities for the U.S., according to a Center for Strategic & International Studies September 2009 report on “Enhancing U.S. Leadership on Drinking Water and Sanitation.”

What do you do if you don’t have a toilet? Many people have no choice but to use the great outdoors, or a nearby ditch or alley.

In October, potty and public health guru Rose George blogged for Huffington Post on “How to Save the World With Sanitation,” describing the situation in Mozambique, where nearly 80 percent of villages resort to open defecation. It is a similar situation in many other developing countries.

George, interviewed by National Geographic in March, said the situation is undignified and dangerous, especially for women, who risk rape and snakebite. The resulting water pollution and fecal contamination also carry an enormous health risk, particularly for children, George added.

Watch National Geographic’s video interview with Rose George.

Experts, such as George, say the solution may sit with programs such as Community-Led Total Sanitation, which aims to reform perception and behavior in an entire village. “There’s little point in 90 percent of villagers having a latrine when the other ten percent are still tramping shit back into the living environment,” George writes for the Huffington Post. Other nonprofits, development organizations, and entrepreneurs have had success marketing toilet use as sexy and financially lucrative.

–Tasha Eichenseher blog-headshot.jpg

Human Journey

Meet the Author
Tasha Eichenseher is the Environment Producer and Editor for National Geographic Digital Media. She has covered water issues for a wide range of media outlets, including E/The Environment Magazine, Environmental Science & Technology online news, Greenwire, Green Guide, and National Geographic News.