It’s that time of year where many of us will start looking towards 2018 and thinking about what we want to achieve in the future. Perhaps adopting new ways of living, thinking and being that will enhance our lives going forward.
Next year, as with every year of WaterAid’s 36 year history, we will be looking to help bring about a world where no child dies unnecessarily of waterborne disease, no one’s future is blighted by malnutrition caused by chronic diarrhoea and communities are able to escape the poverty trap.
This is a world where it’s normal for everyone to have clean water and a toilet. A decent, private toilet wherever they happen to be – at home, at work, at school, or out and about in their community.
2.3 billion still lack a decent toilet
It is a world to which one third of the world’s population is still waiting to be admitted. That is 2.3 billion people waiting for a toilet that will protect their drinking water from contamination, keep them safer from harassment or attack and help preserve their dignity.
Those people have already waited too long, suffering the consequences of poor sanitation as political and funding priorities fail to step up to the challenge.
So next year must be different. The international community has promised it will come to pass by 2030, under the Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs. Whilst change is happening, it is not fast enough.
A radical change is needed
The current rate of progress on providing toilets and sanitation systems means that the 2030 promise will be broken by a couple of generations. We need a radical change in approach – one in which everyone plays their part in keeping the promise of ensuring that the human right to decent sanitation is truly universal. Otherwise we will fail those future generations.
Many of our new year’s resolutions are made knowing that by making changes ourselves, we will also benefit others. For example, adopting a new healthy lifestyle will not only make us feel better but also help ensure that our loved ones have one less thing to worry about. Striving for a better work life balance will make us happier but also give us the chance to be better parents, friends and partners.
Decent toilets make sense
And so it is for the many companies, foundations and trusts who are joining WaterAid in the fight to bring toilets to everyone. Whether that is our water industry supporters helping to train utility workers in developing countries or international companies working on making sure that the communities surrounding their supply chain businesses have decent sanitation. Our partners realise that having a decent toilet brings benefits beyond the personal and underpins sustainable economic growth.
For example, Parboti lives with her husband and two sons in a poor district of Bangladesh in a tiny house that does not even have a bed. The family has to use a disgustingly dirty public toilet along with around 200 others because there is no other option. But the so-called toilet fails in its most basic function – that of protecting the community from human waste. It is little more than a cesspit that regularly floods the surrounding streets.
The boys are often absent from school with diarrhoeal disease and Parboti says that she spends all her spare money on medicine meaning that the family has to exist on lentils and rice.
WaterAid is working in partnership with Andrex to give the community toilets a complete overhaul. Whilst WaterAid’s long-term goal is to make sure that every household has its own safe toilet, there is simply not enough space in Parboti’s community for that to be a realistic option in the short-term. Once the work is complete, the community will be protected by toilets that do not flood, offer a hygienic private space for everyone no matter how old or physically able to do their business and with proper systems to make sure that the waste is disposed of hygienically.
And the community’s future prospects will lift. Parboti and her neighbours will spend less time sick or caring for sick children and may be able to use that time instead to earn a better living and will be freer to spend that hard earned income on items other than medicine.
Her sons will spend more time in school and so will have a greater chance of a better future able to support themselves and their families while boosting the community economy. Studies by the World Health Organisation estimate that for every £1 invested in sanitation, there is a £5.50 economic return in productivity.
Creating thriving communities globally
A more prosperous economy can benefit everyone – individuals are able to live more fulfilled and fruitful lives, businesses benefit from having a healthier, better educated workforce and wealthier consumers, and governments are able to increase the tax base and invest in better public services.
As this year draws to a close we are thinking about commitments to ourselves and others. It’s a good time to think about how we can all work together in 2018 to help create a world where clean water and decent toilets are a normal part of daily life for everyone, everywhere.