By Valtteri Nurminen, COCO Volunteer
Today we celebrate the World Toilet Day for the fifth year. The day aims to raise awareness that billions of people around the world still lack proper sanitation facilities and that everyday people are killed because of diseases spread by human waste. Sanitation is arguably a bigger security threat than terrorism or North Korea’s nuclear program, yet the world has largely dismissed the importance of it.
The need for the World Toilet Day was unanimously agreed by the UN General Assembly 2013 resolution: “Sanitation for All”. And the toilet day is directly linked to the UN’s SDG 6: Ensure access to water and sanitation for all. The UN has an ambitious target of achieving access to adequate sanitation globally for everyone by 2030. Right now, we are nowhere close to reaching the goal because still 4.5 billion live without proper toilets and almost 900 million people live without any toilet. Accordingly, this year’s theme “When Nature Calls” aims to spread out the fact that billions of people are still without the appropriate means to safely answer “nature’s call”.
Access to sanitation can help to solve multiple development related issues, such as reducing diseases, improving public health and protecting women and girls. It is also a matter of life quality and human dignity, as humans spent over 1 year of their life in toilets. Indeed, the effects of sanitation are huge: diarrhoea kills more children than HIV/AIDS, malaria and measles combined. Secondly, the huge development in sanitation during the last two centuries has increased life expectancy by more than 20 years, though mostly in the western countries. Furthermore, human waste causes more than 50% of preventable child deaths (9 million) each year. This is because where there are no toilets at all or they are improper, the human waste goes straight to the water and soil of where people live. This severely pollutes the ecosystems where people get their daily water and grow their food.
While the priority, of course, should be in saving lives and reducing human suffering, improving sanitation is also economically effective. WHO estimates that every one dollar invested in sanitation would return over four dollars back. This is because improved sanitation reduces healthcare costs and increases workplace and educational productivity. It is estimated that if everyone had a toilet, economic productivity could raise $225 billion per year.
Almost half of the schools worldwide lack toilets and handwashing facilities. This is serious because handwashing is the easiest way to prevent multiple lethal diseases and almost 3, 5 million child deaths could be saved annually if children all over the world had the chance to wash their hands. Lack of toilets has extremely gendered impacts. Approximately 10% of African girls drop out of school due to periods and lack of clean toilets in the schools. In fact, the schools that provide facilities and education for good menstrual hygiene management have experienced an increase in the attendance and performance of girls.
For COCO, toilets and sanitation are an important emphasis. Sanitation is one of the six key elements in our Schools for Life programme. We have strongly focused on the gendered dimension of sanitation by building multiple toilets for girls, which has significantly increased the percentage of girls continuing education after the age of puberty. The toilets we have built are composting toilets, which prevent human waste from getting into the ecosystem where the drinking water is acquired. To tackle climate change, we use composting to create biogas, which has replaced the use of wood in the school kitchens. Waste from the toilets is also used to fertilise crops, so nothing is wasted!
Without your continuous support, COCO’s work for improving sanitation would not be possible. If you like what we do and would like to help us, you can donate to COCO here!