THE BLOG

It's No Joke: The State of the World's Toilets

18/11/2015 17:49 GMT | Updated 18/11/2016 10:12 GMT

You've no doubt come across some grim toilets in your time. But imagine if there were no usable toilets close to your home or work place at all?

This World Toilet Day, WaterAid has released a new report It's No Joke: The State of the World's Toilets 2015 showing where in the world it's most difficult to find a toilet - where the lack of sanitation is a daily reality, leading to an unclean environment, serious health risks and the indignity and shame associated of having to find a secure place to go.

It's staggering to think that one in three people in the world have no access to a toilet. As is always the way, it's the world's poorest countries - South Sudan, Niger, Togo and Madagascar - where people face the greatest struggle. All for something we take for granted - a simple toilet.

It's almost impossible for us to imagine. Going to the loo was probably the very first thing you did this morning, and it will be the last thing before bed tonight. We don't have to think too long about finding a toilet, whether we're at home, in the office, at the shops or enjoying a night out. There are in excess of 60million people of us living here in the UK and it's not hard to picture the chaos, disease, stench and illness that would happen if one in three of us had no access to sanitation.

In some of the poorest communities of the world, the proportion of those without a toilet rises to over 9 out of 10, and in such a polluted environment, disease spread swiftly. Sadly we see this situation all too often and that's why we are doing all we can to highlight the need for urgent change.

In the slums of cities such as Lusaka in Zambia, I have seen children play in the contaminated streams and on the wastelands which also serve as their toilets. Playing and defecating in the same area, not washing their hands and running around barefoot, soon spells sickness. Whilst the kids are killing time, their environment is killing them. Diarrhoeal diseases such as typhoid, dysentery and cholera are rife.

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A child plays in the Lusaka slums, WaterAid/Lisa Martin

Today, an estimated 900 children under five will die of a diarrhoeal illness, which could have been prevented with safe water, good sanitation and good hygiene. That's one child every two minutes, dying just because of a lack of life's essentials - clean water and a safe toilet.

These statistics hide the family tragedies behind each death and the loss of potential to their communities and countries. And there are wider implications too. Without a safe toilet, girls in particular are in fear of having to go in the open, where they may be bitten by snakes, face harassment or even attack.

What if this was your little girl? It's unthinkable, isn't it? But things are changing. In many places, there is now political and social action to change this - from urban areas to some of the most remote villages.

In the Luapula province of northern Zambia, the Chieftainess Mwenda of Bunda Chunsu community realised that girls not only drop out of school when they reach puberty, but they often end up leaving education entirely, and getting married too young as a result. It's all because there are no toilets or washing facilities for them whilst menstruating. Mwenda told us: "The doctors explained that there are numerous complications when a girl gets pregnant at a young age, so arising from that I got involved. No one should allow a school-aged child [to marry]."

WaterAid and the Bunda Chunsu school community have built simple, clean, secure toilets in the school grounds, which have transformed lives for both the children and teachers too - so much so, that the school's status has risen considerably.

The Chieftainess has introduced a fine for families if their children drop out from school, and with the toilets and washing facilities in place, girls are now attending class. With her watchful eye and the help of better facilities, girls stay at school, eager to learn.

These youngsters need a chance to survive and thrive, and to do that, they need access to life's basics - water and sanitation - these are their human rights. That's why WaterAid advocated vehemently for the new UN Global Goal 6 on Sustainable Development to deliver water, sanitation and hygiene to all. Goal 6 has been agreed and is central to ending poverty, hunger and ensuring healthy lives, prosperity and gender equality.

We know that swift progress is possible. It's true that where there's a will, there's a way. Impressive advances in sanitation have been achieved in nations like Rwanda and Vietnam. It needs the political will and the right investments to drive the change. No matter where we are in the world, everyone has a right to a safe, private place to relieve themselves, and to live healthy, dignified and productive lives.

On this World Toilet Day, it's time for the world to make good on our promises - and while we all love a bit of toilet humour, the state of the world's sanitation really is no joke.