WORLD TOILET DAY: it’s not just about Sh*t
On Tuesday November 19th, people all over the world were asked to ‘give a sh*t’. This isn’t meant to be offensive. World Toilet Day is more than just debating the appropriateness of poo-puns and terms for fecal matter. I’m talking about the human right to accessible clean water and proper sanitation.
Sanitation means dignity. For those of us who have access to a proper toilet, one that we can use at our convenience, safely, comfortably and privately, our sanitary dignity is never in question. We need only to flush and forget about it until next time. However, for the rest of the population that is not so fortunate, having access to clean water and effective sanitation can be the difference of life or death. In lower income countries which lack sufficient sanitation, diarrhoea is the leading killer of children under-5. According to the WHO and UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation (JMP) 2.5 billion people lack access to improved sanitation, that’s nearly 40% of the population . Perhaps now it doesn’t sound so ridiculous to have an entire a day in praise of the toilet. Perhaps now it doesn’t seem so unpleasant to talk about sh*t, sanitation, clean water and sewage disposal.
From Diarrhoeal Disease to Sanitary Solutions
IFGH Student Outreach Group members from Dublin City University, University College Cork, Queen’s University Belfast and Trinity College Dublin all organised events around their respective campus for World Toilet Day. Orchestrated by Student Outreach Group representatives Brynne Gilmore and Frederique Vallieres, and IFGH member Niall Roche, the whole day’s activities were sponsored by Concern Ireland and the Environmental Association of Ireland.
On the part of the Student Outreach Group, much of the effort leading up and to World Toilet Day focused on media, advocacy and communication—raising awareness to get people talking about world water and sanitation issues. Whether it was passing out posters, tweeting photos, video blogging, signing action statements or just talking sh*t, the importance of these acts can be seen in the motivation of the next generation of voices inspired to get involved with Global Health and Development. There was also an evening event hosted by SOG members from Trinity College Dublin, which was chaired by Dr. David Hickey, Director of Transplantation in Ireland and three-time All-Ireland Senior Football Champion. WaSH expert Niall Roche of the IFGH, and Sanitation Engineer Colm Cahill, WaSH Engineering Advisor for Concern Ireland, spoke at the event. Discussions ranged from the devastation of diarrhoeal disease to practical implementations of sanitary solutions.
As Mr. Roche powerfully pointed out, Muhatma Ghandi once said “Sanitation is more important than independence.” While India is making dramatic inroads on improved access to water and sanitation, 66 years following their independence, 830 million living in India still don’t have access to improved sanitation (JMP). Mr. Roche discussed the massive disparities in the way that water and sanitation services are being distributed. Most interventions which improve access to water and sanitation do not focus on providing tailored services that will meet the needs of those with disabilities, the elderly, women and children. Within lower income countries, the poorer rural regions receive less attention when it comes to implementing water and sanitation relief.
Colm Cahill spoke of his own field experience working in Lebanon with the Syrian refugee crisis, trying to answer the big question of how to implement sustainable interventions. How do you set up a latrine that needs to serve 50 people, in a remote area prone to flooding, when there is no sign of any system for waste disposal in place? As is the case of Informal Tented Settlements and Refugee Camps, offering a sanitary solution that will satisfy hundreds of people across an array of social circumstances that have been uprooted and forced together? There is no simple solution. Even once improved sanitation facilities have been put in place, ensuing that they will be utilized and maintained requires more than just pouring the concrete. Changing behaviours and habits needs to start at the level of education.
Solutions we can work towards
This is not to take the piss out of any of the progress that has been made. From 1990 to 2010, it was reported that over 2 billion people gained access to improved water sources, and 1.8 billion people gained access to improved sanitation. While the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation is busy generating rather elaborate answers to the problem ($1,000 solar powered toilet which chemically breaks down feces into energy for cooking), others like the ‘Peepoo’ biodegradable single use toilets, offers more affordable sanitary solutions. Meanwhile, the Kigali Institute of Science, Technology and Management, have been hard at work implementing an innovative and energy efficient way of approaching sanitation into the Rwandan prison system, converting human waste into usable ‘biogas’.
Discouragingly, sanitation is still one of the most under-funded public health interventions, with bilateral aid assistance from higher income countries like Ireland, falling under 1%—grossly underfunded compared to the burden of disease. Comparing these figures and the volume of need, the MDG targets for sanitation, which call for halving the proportion of people without improved sanitation by the year 2015, are unlikely to be met. Even though World Toilet Day has come and gone, it is imperative that we continue the discussion so that we can change these disparaging statistics.
@ifglobalhealth #IGIVEASHIT or #WorldToiletDay
Bianca van Bavel
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