Saturday, 23 January 2021

UN in your language

Washroom, restroom, lavatory, loo…

..a beloved child has many names. It is unclear who had the privilege to be the first one to use an actual toilet, but ruins of ancient toilets dating as far back as 3000 B.C. have been discovered for example in Scotland and Greece, and the Romans are known for their innovative sanitation solutions.

Toilets are among the most common technical systems in service of mankind. A bit like your health, you probably don't think about them that much when they're in order – but when deprived of them, their importance suddenly become all too clear.

Sometime back in the 19th century, a revolution took place when the connection between germs and diseases was discovered. Major improvements in hygiene and sanitation were made, and toilets –along with sanitation – played an essential role in preventing the spread of diseases in densely populated urban environments. The flush toilet we use today is a result of a series of innovations - Alexander Cummings, a Scottish watchmaker, patented the S-trap which uses standing water to seal the outlet of the toilet in 1775. The same mechanism is still in use.

And today, for the first time, World Toilet Day is officially marked by the United Nations.

But all is not well. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque, has warned that the sanitation target set by the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDG) is today the most off-track of all, leaving around one billion people still practicing open defecation on a daily basis, and one-third of the world's population 'without access to improved sanitation.'

"This is a euphemism to describe the undignified life of billions of people who have no place to defecate or urinate and have to do it without conditions of safety, hygiene, privacy or dignity," said Ms. de Albuquerque.

In urban areas 2.1 billion people use toilets connected to septic tanks that are not safely emptied or use other systems that discharge raw sewage into open drains or surface waters. And each year, more than 800,000 children under five die needlessly from diarrhoea – more than one child a minute.

The human rights expert hailed the UN General Assembly's decision declaring 19th of November as UN World Toilet Day. "I hope this declaration galvanises national and international action to reach the billions of people who still do not benefit from this basic human right," the Special Rapporteur said.

So today, when you head for the loo, consider yourself lucky.

Additional links

Secretary-General's message

UN campaign aims to end open defecation by 2025

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