19 November is World Toilet Day, what it is and why access to sanitation is so important

On 19 November we celebrate World Toilet Day, the international day dedicated to a global sanitation challenge: over 2 billion people lack access to a toilet.

The 19th of November is World Toilet Day (WTD), an international day aimed at raising awareness and mobilising individuals around the world on issues of sanitation. Established in 2001 by the World Toilet Organisation, the campaign has since gained increasing global recognition. In 2013 the United Nations passed a resolution (UN Resolution A/67/L.75), marking it as an official international day, with a permanent place in the calendar of such events.

World Toilet Day
United Nations staff install a 15-door-high inflatable toilet to mark World Toilet Day © Jewel Samad/Getty Images

Sanitation, a global issue

Sanitation is a global sustainability problem. It is estimated that around the world there are 2.3 billion people living without basic sanitation facilities. Water scarcity, poor water quality and inadequate hygiene and sanitation practices negatively affect people’s health, livelihoods and opportunities for education. Each day, about 800 children die due to preventable water and sanitation-related diseases such as diarrhoea.

To overcome this global issue, the UN has established a target dedicated to sanitation in the form of Sustainable Development Goal 6 (ensure access to water and sanitation for all): that everyone has access to toilets by 2030.

Inadequate sanitation, a huge problem for women

Having to defecate in the open is an infringement of human rights. Whilst this widespread practice negatively affects the lives of men and women alike, the latter face more risk of being shamed because of it. Lack of adequate toilet facilities and privacy often means that women can’t manage menstruation and pregnancy in private, or that to do so they wait until dark, which increases their vulnerability to being attacked.

The 2019 theme: leaving no one behind

Each year WTD focuses on a theme, and this year it is drawing attention to those people being left behind without sanitation. A toilet is not just a toilet. It’s a life-saver, dignity-protector and opportunity-maker. However, even if sanitation is a human right, 4.2 billion people still live without safely managed toilets. That’s why a world effort is needed to expand access to toilets and to leave no one behind.

The 2018 theme: toilets and nature

Last year’s theme was toilets and nature. It focused on developing sanitation systems that are in harmony with our environment, harnessing the power of ecosystems. This included the use of composting latrines, which provide free supply of fertiliser, and reed beds sewage systems to filter liquid waste before it is released back into water courses.

What you can do to help

Each year there are hundreds of events all over the world aimed at increasing knowledge and raising awareness on the problem of hygiene and sanitation. You can learn more about this issue and get involved by spreading the knowledge, organising or taking part in an event near you and helping in raising funds to overcome this global challenge.

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