‘World Toilet Day’ Shines A Light On The Public Health Dangers Of Inadequate Sanitation

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The United Nations has declared Tuesday, November 19 to be “World Toilet Day.” It’s an attempt to promote developing nations’ efforts to provide their people with clean water and sanitation systems, and to raise awareness about a critical public health disparity that more privileged nations often take for granted.

“World Toilet Day aims to change both behaviour and policy on issues ranging from enhancing water management to ending open-air defecation (which 1.1 billion people practice worldwide),” write UN officials on the agency’s website.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 2.6 billion people across the world — a third of the entire human population — don’t have access to proper sanitation such as toilets or latrines. Although the world was able to meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving the number of people without access to clean water five years ahead of schedule, sanitation improvement campaigns aren’t expected to meet that threshold by the 2015 target date.

People in countries that don’t have effective sanitation systems and private toilets are exposed to a number of public health risks, including the possibility of infections, higher child death rates, and an increased risk for women to become victims of sexual violence while urinating or defecating in public areas. Those factors also exacerbate existing socioeconomic disparities.

“The lack of improved sanitation largely contributes to the fact that almost 2,000 children die every day from preventable diarrhoeal diseases,” the UN’s statement on World Toilet Day notes. “It also impacts vulnerable populations such as persons with disabilities and women, who are more exposed to sexual violence. Lack of private toilets in schools is a major reason why girls do not continue their education once they enter puberty.”

In fact, researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine estimate that lack of sanitation causes 10 percent of the world’s disease burden. In a 2010 study, the authors highlighted the approximate economic benefits of improving sanitation standards to meet Millennium Development Goals:

sanitation public health


“The health sector now needs to reassert its commitment and leadership to help achieve a world in which everybody has access to adequate sanitation,” concluded the authors.