World Toilet Day: Sustainable sanitation and climate change

World Toilet Day: Sustainable sanitation and climate change

The humble toilet is often the butt of jokes, but World Toilet Day (taking place on 19th November) has been developed to inspire action to tackle the global sanitation crisis and help achieve Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6) – which promises sanitation for all by 2030. It highlights the simple but important fact that toilets save lives by stopping the spread of killer diseases.

Coordinated by UN-Water in collaboration with governments and partners, the aim of the day is to shine the light on the fact that for billions of people around the world, sanitation systems are either non-existent or ineffective.

Did you know?

  • 2 billion people live without safely managed sanitation – more than half the global population.
  • 673 million people still practise open defecation worldwide.
  • Inadequate sanitation is estimated to cause 432,000 diarrhoeal deaths every year and is a major factor in diseases such as intestinal worms, trachoma and schistosomiasis.
  • 297,000 children under five are estimated to die each year from diarrhoea as a result of unsafe drinking water, sanitation and hand hygiene.
  • Children under the age of five living in countries affected by protracted conflict are, on average, nearly 20 times more likely to die from diarrhoeal diseases caused by a lack of safe water, sanitation and hygiene than by direct violence.
  • Loss of productivity to water and sanitation-related diseases costs many countries up to 5% of GDP.

This year’s theme is sustainable sanitation and climate change. While it may seem a tenuous link, the problems are very real. The effects of climate change threaten safe sanitation systems around the world on a daily basis – from toilets to septic tanks to treatment plants. Floodwater poses a particular problem, damaging toilets and spreading human waste into water supplies, food crops and people’s homes. These incidents are becoming more frequent as climate change worsens, causing public health emergencies and damaging the environment.

Sustainable sanitation systems, combined with the facilities and knowledge to practise good hygiene, are a strong defence against COVID-19 and future disease outbreaks. Additionally, wastewater and sludge from toilets contain valuable water, nutrients and energy. Globally, 80% of the wastewater generated by society flows back into the ecosystem without being treated or reused. Sustainable sanitation systems make productive use of waste, to safely boost agriculture and reduce and capture emissions for greener energy.

Closer to home, even first world countries have been experiencing toilet troubles associated with COVID-19. Not only have we been advised to flip down the toilet seat before we flush the toilet, based on new research on toilet plume from China, but it’s been increasingly hard to find publicly accessible toilets when away from home.

Across a backdrop of the steady defunding and closure of public lavatories in the UK, coronavirus has seen many facilities remain off limits – even as lockdown lifted. This has had a disproportionate impact on women, the elderly, the disabled, those with medical conditions and parents of babies and young children. The effect on local economies has been huge, with people limiting their time away from home when accessing high streets and attractions, due to a lack of loos.

Worryingly, some high street and tourist destinations now have no operational public toilets at all, relying upon good-natured local businesses to open their toilets to the public. However, with coronavirus restrictions in place, companies are far less likely to admit non-customers, especially when facing management of social distancing regulations and restrictions on how many can come through the doors.

Kevin Wellman, CEO of the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering (CIPHE), said: “It is mind blowing that the situation in many developing nations is currently so dire, with basic sanitation in some almost non-existent. The additional burdens of COVID-19 mean it’s never been more important that people everywhere have access to adequate toilet and hand washing facilities. That’s why it’s so vital events such as World Toilet Day inspire governments and organisations to find solutions to the global sanitation crisis.”

Talking on UK issues, Kevin continued: “We also need to look at issues closer to home. Public toilets are a necessity and not a luxury, providing dignity, independence and safety to all. Simply following official public health advice means frequent hand washing is a high priority for keeping everyone safe from coronavirus. Add to this a fragile economy and a drive to get the public spending money on the High Street again, and the argument for councils to provide much needed public lavatories rings clear.”

To find out more about World Toilet Day, visit www.worldtoiletday.info

To find out more about the Love Your Local Lav campaign, visit www.ciphe.org.uk/loveyourlav

To find out more about the flip ‘n’ flush campaign, visit www.ciphe.org.uk/flipflush

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