Monday, 18 January 2021

UN in your language

International stop-making-fun-of-world-toilet day!

GHD logoThe international day that is made fun of the most is probably World Toilet Day. Close second is Global Handwashing Day. But why make fun of these days unless it is because they focus our attention on these issues for one day and should be our concern for 365 days, 24/7.

Lack of basic sanitation is a silent serial killer that targets the most vulnerable: every 20 seconds a child is killed by a disease directly related to poor sanitation. This amounts to more deaths than AIDS, malaria and measles combined.

Perhaps there should be a wanted sign somewhere promising a bounty for the capture of this serial killer which kills 4,000 children every day. So far the world has made less progress in providing sanitation than on most of the other Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), largely because the sanitation sector is in desperate need of more financial resources.

“Investing in sanitation is good business and a smart deal,” says Catarina de Albuquerque, the UN Human Rights Rapporteur on water and sanitation, stressing that for every dollar spent on sanitation facilities, there is an average return of $8 in averted costs and productivity gains.

Universal access to sanitation by 2015 (the target year for the MDGs) would require over $14.5 billion annually, according to a 2006 study by the UN World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

“This seems a huge sum,” Ms. de Albuquerque pointed out. “Yet, put in perspective, it is less than what people in rich countries spend on bottled water each year.”

October 15 is Global Handwashing Day. On that occasion last year the UN reminded people across the world that simply washing hands with soap and water remains the most cost-effective way to prevent diseases, and urged everyone to motivate others, especially children who are easily infected by disease-carrying germs present in dirty hands, to make it a habit.

Washing hands with soap at critical moments, such as after using the toilet or before handling food, is an easy and affordable intervention that can reduce the incidence of diarrhoea (which kills 1.1 million children a year) among children under the age of five by almost 50%, and cut respiratory infections (which kill 1.2 millions a year) by as much as 25%.

“Soap is not in short supply, even in developing countries,” says UNICEF´s Therese Dooley, “The vast majority of poor households have soap in the home. The problem is that soap is used for laundry or bathing, but rarely for handwashing.”

So wash your hands after going to the toilet and stop making fun of handwashing and toilet days!


3 Questions to Catarina de Albuquerque, the Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation.


  • Sanitation generally refers to the provision of facilities and services for the safe disposal of human urine and faeces. The word 'sanitation' also refers to the maintenance of hygienic conditions, through services such as garbage collection and wastewater disposal.


  • Access to sanitation has been recognized by the UN as a human right, a basic service required to live a normal life.


  • The second component of MDG Target 7.C is to halve the proportion of the population without sustainable access to basic sanitation. Current rates of progress towards this are insufficient. If current trends continue, this component of Target 7.C will not be met (World Health Statistics 2011, WHO)


  • Most countries that are not on track to meet the MDG sanitation target are in Sub-Saharan Africa and in Southern Asia


  • The United Nations estimates that 2.6 billion people, nearly 40% of the worlds population, still lack access to improved sanitation and around 1.2 billion practice open defecation. An estimated 1.6 million people, mostly children under the age of 5, die each year from water and sanitation-related diseases.


  • Cross-country studies show that the method of disposing of excreta is one of the strongest determinants of child survival: the transition from unimproved to improved sanitation reduces overall child mortality by about a third. Children under five are the most vulnerable to poor hygiene and inadequate sanitation, two of the major causes of diarrhoea. According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the disease kills at least 1.2 million children under five each year.


  • “Sanitation is a sensitive issue. It is an unpopular subject. Perhaps that is why the sanitation crisis has not been met with the kind of response we need,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said .


  •        He added that focusing on total hygiene does more than improve health. “It can also improve the safety of women and girls, who are often targeted when they are alone outdoors. And providing safe, private toilets may also help girls stay in school – which we know can increase their future earnings and help break the cycle of poverty.”