When people are motivated and driven, progress can be made at lightning speed. Forty-three years ago, Martin Cooper made the first mobile phone call - today, six billion of the world's 7.6 billion population own a mobile. That's pretty impressive. However, the same scale of progress cannot be said for one of the most basic things we often take for a granted - having a decent toilet. 2.3 billion people still don't have one, and this shouldn't be normal.
Two years ago, world leaders made global promises to address this and many other issues with the aim of creating a healthier, safer and more prosperous world for the next generation. These are known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and will only be achieved via coordinated action by civil society organisations like WaterAid, the private sector, national governments and citizens around the world.
As World Toilet Day approaches (19 November), I want to take a moment to reflect on the journey we've had so far and the progress WaterAid has made with exactly that collaborative approach - working in partnership with organisations across a wide range of sectors including the private sector:
1. Since 1981 WaterAid has reached 25.8 million people with clean water and 25.1 million with decent toilets
Shilpi De (35), Chittagong, Bangladesh. (Image credit: Andrex®/WaterAid/GMB Akash/Panos)
2. The number of children dying from diarrhoea decreased dramatically between 2000 and 2015 - from 1.2 million to half a million a year. Over half of those deaths (58%) are caused by dirty water, poor sanitation and hygiene.
3. Working with partners has enabled us to create innovative and sustainable solutions. An example of this is our partnership with Andrex which creates local employment for those operating newly renovated public toilets in central Dhaka. Here in the UK, money is also being raised via a donation on selected packs of Andrex Gentle Clean. In addition to this, we have created an immersive 360 video experience that transports you to the bustling streets of Dhaka so that people can truly understand the impact of the sanitation crisis, (click here to watch).
However, with only 13 years left until the SDG deadline of 2030, there's no time to waste. One in three people still live without a decent toilet and one in nine don't have clean water close to home. In Bangladesh, more than half (53%) the population don't have a decent toilet, that's more than 85 million people.The recent floods and the Rohingya refugee crisis have only added to the country's already strained infrastructure. We're working in close partnership with Andrex to construct much needed public facilities in two of the biggest cities - Dhaka and Chittagong.
Shilbu Dev, 13, from Chittagong, is just one of the people affected by the lack of decent toilets nearby. Shilbu fell into one of the public toilets during last year's monsoon season and has suffered from a skin condition ever since. Every year, school children lose vital school days because of water and sanitation-related diseases and a lack of adequate facilities at school.
Shilbu Dev, 13, Chittagong, Bangladesh. (Image credit: Andrex®/WaterAid/ GMB Akash Panos)
A lack of adequate toilets also puts women at risk of disease, harassment and attack. Seventy-five-year-old grandmother Potemma lives in Telego City, Dhaka. Every day she fears for her daughters' and granddaughters' safety.
Potemma (75), Dhaka, Bangladesh (Image credit: Andrex®/WaterAid/GMB Akash Panos)
For WaterAid SDG 6 is our core focus, yet all of the goals are interconnected. Societies cannot progress economically if children are ill, unable to attend school or don't survive infancy. Inadequate sanitation causes Bangladesh economic losses totaling $4.22 billion US dollars each year - this was equivalent to 6.3% of the country's GDP in 2007.
Failing to provide something as basic as taps and toilets means failing at education, economic growth, child health and gender rights.
Communities around the world won't break free from poverty until the basic human right of providing people with access to clean water and decent sanitation is realised. As we collaborate more and more with partners such as Andrex we'll get closer to changing normal for good. We're determined to make that happen and we believe the best way to do it is by working with others.
Our partnership with Andrex is helping to improve public facilities in Bangladesh, so that thousands of people have access to decent toilets as part of their everyday lives.
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