Friday, 15 January 2021

UN in your language

Breaking the taboo on a major problem for health and gender

Toilet Photo tuesday

19 November 2014. The UN today called on religious, education and opinion leaders in developing regions to join government officials and champion a halt to open defecation, a practice of 1 billion people worldwide — one-sixth of the developing world’s 5.9 billion inhabitants.


In sub-Saharan Africa, where 25% of the population practices open defecation, diarrhea is the third biggest killer of children under five years old.

At UN Headquarters in New York marking World Toilet Day (19 November) , Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson highlighted the health threat posed by lack of access to sanitation, and the particular dangers open defecation poses for women and girls. Said Mr. Eliasson: “Ending open defecation goes beyond infrastructure. It requires the understanding of behaviors, cultural attitudes and social norms.”

The theme of World Toilet Day is Equality and Dignity. “Girls are more likely to drop out of school if they don’t have access to a safe and clean toilet. Women and girls can also risk harassment and sexual abuse when trying to use public toilets or when trying to find somewhere to defecate in the open. Universal access to sanitation has a clear role to play in defending women’s safety, dignity and equality,” said Mr. Eliasson. 

The practice of open defecation is deeply rooted in poverty but has also been related to convention and customs in some countries and societies — representing, for example, some of the only times other than worship when women from rigid family circumstances may meet.

A major health problem

A3posterSebastiaoBarbosaStudies estimate that a child dies every 2.5 minutes because of unsafe drinking water, poor sanitation and hygiene. Children with diarrhea eat less and are less able to absorb the nutrients from their food, which makes them even more susceptible to bacteria-related illnesses. Compounding the problem: the children most vulnerable to acute diarrhea also lack access to potentially life-saving health services.

The recent Ebola outbreak, meanwhile, shone a public spotlight on the open defecation issue in West Africa where worried health officials in Lagos and Nigeria, citing human waste as a vector of the virus, wtd3appealed through the media for citizens practicing open defecation to stop.

In Liberia, the nation most affected by Ebola, roughly half the nation’s 4.2 million citizens don’t use toilets; in rural Sierra Leone, the second worst-hit country, the estimate is 28%.

UN World Toilet Day is coordinated by United Nations Water (UN-Water) - the UN’s inter agency coordination mechanism on all fresh water related issues, including sanitation.

The Deputy Secretary-General, on behalf of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in March 2013 launched the Call to Action on Sanita-tion. This in turn inspired the UN’s End Open Defecation campaign created earlier this year (; #opendefecation).

For more information:
World Toilet Day
GLAAS report
End Open Defecation campaign  #opendefecation

UN Call to Action on Sanitation:

Social Media

Facebook R dark blue 150px  TwitterBird R dark blue 150px  Vimeo R dark blue 150px  Youtube R dark blue 150px  Instagram R dark blue 150px
>> All our channels

externallinks-icon120x120External link:


infoPoint32x32 Dblue Latest Products:

New Backgrounders:
          Refugees and Migrants
          Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs)

Library Newsletter - October 2019
(new websites, information material & publications)

UN Press & Media Contacts

externallinks-icon120x120External link (non-UN):


When the Security Council approaches the final stage of negotiation of a draft resolution the text is printed in blue... What's in Blue helps interested UN readers keep up with what might soon be "in blue".