The Toilet is still a luxury for 2.5 billion people worldwide…

No laughing matter, this...

It had to happen sooner or later: a world day dedicated to, ahem, toilets. When all sorts of public interest causes are claiming the 365 days of our year, it was only a matter of time.

19 November is World Toilet Day – a day to celebrate the humble, yet vitally important, toilet and to raise awareness of the global sanitation crisis. It was established in 2001 by the World Toilet Organization (the other WTO!), a global non- profit organization committed to improving toilet and sanitation conditions worldwide.

The World Toilet Day promotes the importance of toilet sanitation and each person’s right to a safe and hygienic sanitary environment.

Did you know, for instance:
* 2.5 billion people do not have somewhere safe, private or hygienic to go to the toilet?
* One gram of faeces can contain 10 million viruses, one million bacteria, 1,000 parasite cysts and 100 parasite eggs?

Here’s a cool viral video that WaterAid have produced to mark the event:

A third of the world’s population lacks any toilets. The rest of us who do have a toilet don’t always make the most efficient use of it – when we typically use 10 litres of water to flush away one litre of urine, that’s not very thrifty, is it?

On this day, I came across an interesting essay by Debra Shore, Commissioner, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, in The Huffington Post. She writes: “Using freshwater in toilets is not smart and it is not sustainable. I believe the homes of the future will be designed to use “grey” water — the water from our washing machines and dishwashers, the water from our showers and from rain captured in barrels and cisterns — to flush our toilets. This kind of redesign of water use, both residential and industrial, will be one of the growth industries of coming decades.”

She adds: “So, on World Toilet Day, here is my plea: monitor your water use. Think about ways to conserve water. And consider how lucky we are.”

Rose George, author of The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters says toilets are a privilege that nearly half the world still lacks. At least 2.6 billion people around the planet have no access to a toilet — and that doesn’t just mean that they don’t have a nice, heated indoor bathroom. It means they have nothing — not a public toilet, not an outhouse, not even a bucket. They defecate in public, contaminating food and drinking water, and the disease toll due to unsanitized human waste is staggering. George notes that 80% of the world’s illnesses are caused by fecal matter.

Read more: Toilet Tales: Inside the World of Waste, by Bryan Walsh in TIME, Nov 2008

Calculate your water footprint

Blog post in July 2007: A Silent Emergency: More television sets than toilets!

Blog post in July 2007: Faecal Attraction: There’s no such thing as a convenient flush…

Author: Nalaka Gunawardene

A science writer by training, I've worked as a journalist and communication specialist across Asia for 30+ years. During this time, I have variously been a news reporter, feature writer, radio presenter, TV quizmaster, documentary film producer, foreign correspondent and journalist trainer. I continue to juggle some of these roles, while also blogging and tweeting and column writing.

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