The loo, can, John, privy, water closet or bathroom – no matter what it is called, the toilet is a universally valued sanitation need. That said, this year marked the first official celebration of World Toilet Day. While the day has been informally recognized by sanitation advocacy groups for 13 years, the United Nations officially declared November 19 World Toilet Day this year.
“To have it inscribed as a U.N. official day,” says World Toilet Organization founder Jack Sim, “means we now have the … legitimacy to engage at country and local levels to generate awareness down to where it matters most. We’ve finally broken the taboo on sanitation.”
Lack of proper sanitation poses a threat to many developing nations around the world. In fact, more than 2.5 billion people lack proper sanitation, states Devex, and are at an increased risk for waterborne illnesses. Five years ago in Harare, Zimbabwe, more than 400,000 were killed and 100,000 sickened by cholera, states the Huffington Post.
The densely populated city still faces health and sanitation risks today. A new report titled “Troubled Water: Burst Pipes, Contaminated Wells, and Open Defecation in Zimbabwe’s Capital” captures the dangerous living conditions of many of the nation’s citizens. The lack of proper filtration, sanitation and clean water violate fundamental human rights, the report claims.
Zimbabwe has not always lacked proper sanitation systems, however. Until the 1980s the country had a functioning sewage system, but governmental neglect and corruption has allowed the system to deteriorate and cause public hazards.
“The government’s inability to maintain the water system and its practice of disconnecting those unable to pay,” Human Rights Watch Southern Africa director Tiseke Kasambala says,” forces people to drink water from contaminated taps or from unprotected wells.” Sewage lines the streets of many communities where inhabitants also lack clean water for bathing and drinking.
The situation is not much better in Haiti and according to Devex, only one-third of the Caribbean nation has access to toilets. More than 680,00 people have contracted cholera, with nearly 8,400 dying from the disease in the last three years. Researchers, however, are using defecation as an opportunity to develop sustainable energy practices.
Professors from the University of Maryland and Biobolsa of Mexico have designed a technology that utilizes anaerobic digesters to break down organic matter and transform it into methane. The methane biogas can then be used to generate electricity and heat homes.
The researchers and technicians have high hopes for the project. “We hope this project can be used to bring together these WASH [water, sanitation and hygiene] communities through the sharing of our rigorous evaluation data, survey results and workshop materials,” University of Maryland’s Stephanie Lansing said, “so the sanitation model implemented here in Haiti can be replicated throughout the development community.”
Though improper sanitation and hygiene practices threaten many developing nations, work is underway to flush these public health hazards down the drain and transform them into sustainable development opportunities.
– Mallory Thayer
Sources: Devex: Learning to love the loo, The Huffington Post, Devex: Haiti
Photo: New Times