Yesterday the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution to make access to sanitation for all a global development priority, designating 19 November as World Toilet Day.
The Assembly encouraged member states to implement policies to increase access to sanitation among the poor, and called for an end to people being forced to defecate in public, which it deemed “extremely harmful” to public health. In a statement, UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said:
“This new annual observance will go a long way toward raising awareness about the need for all human beings to have access to sanitation.”
Only 4.5 billion out of 7 billion people worldwide have access to toilets or latrines – meaning that 2.5 billion people, mostly in rural areas, do not have proper sanitation. In addition, 1.1 billion people still have to defecate in the open, and it is in the countries where this is the norm that child mortality is high and that there are high levels of malnutrition and poverty.
Lack of sanitation facilities therefore impacts many wider issues. In addition to the burden of disease and an assault on dignity, women and girls often risk rape or abuse when they have to use areas that are unsafe or unsheltered.
As part of our work in Ethiopia, Leprosy Mission staff have seen first-hand the impact that lack of access to sanitation facilities has on some of the world’s poorest people. Visiting Addis Ababa in 2012, we visited one slum with a population of 24,000 – with 500 people affected by disabilities including those caused by leprosy, where there was just one toilet for every 120 people. With no access to showers and waste disposal facilities, people living there are severely affected by disease and child mortality is high.
Our new Slum Development project there will build new toilet blocks and renovate old ones, build new shower blocks, provide waste disposal systems, renovate houses, and provide health and hygiene training. Some of this work will also provide livelihood opportunities for residents. With enthusiastic support from the community, it’s hoped that the project will have a major, lasting impact and transform many lives.
Between 1990 and 2011, over 240,000 people a day gained access to improved sanitation facilities worldwide. But with 2.5 billion people still lacking facilities that we take for granted, the resolution adopted by the UN yesterday is an important step forward and one that we’re pleased to be supporting through our work.