For the first time, the world celebrated the toilet day on November 19—a day that might draw sniggers and a few bowel jokes, but is about saving lives, particularly of children.
For some people the picture of a dirty latrine with flies buzzing around comes to mind when the word toilet is mentioned. Others think of the comfort and privacy of having to handle their business. Yet many still see it as a luxury relieving them in anywhere and in whatever container they can find.
An estimated 2,000 children under the age of five die every day from diarrhoeal diseases globally, and of these some 1,800 deaths are linked to water, sanitation and hygiene. Ironically, the world observes the sanitation access a day before celebrating their children.
According to the United Nations 2.5 billion people in the world do not have access to a toilet, meaning one in every three people do not go to a toilet. More than one billion people are also said to practise open defecation. Of these 949 million live in rural areas.
The number of people relieving themselves in the open has decreased by 271 million globally since 1990 even though three in every 20 people still use forests, fields or water bodies.
In sub-Saharan Africa, the percentage of the people practising open defecation has been decreasing in the last to decades. Forty-five per cent of the population use shared or rudimentary sanitation facilities while 25 per cent are said to be defecating in public.
Sadly, the decreasing percentage does not reflect the actual numbers that continue to grow with population. Since 1990 33 million people more have taken to open defecation according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Unicef joint monitoring programme, meaning that sanitation demand in the region is growing faster than the supporting infrastructure.
Another 1.8 billion people lack access to improved sanitation around the world and use shared facilities like public toilets or community latrines. Over 60 per cent of the people using these facilities live in urban areas, stressing the dire need among the rural population.
In sub-Saharan Africa, over 90 per cent of the richest population in urban areas have access to improved sanitation. Among the poor in rural areas 60 per cent of the households practise open defecation.
Evidently the world is unlikely to meet the millennium development goal on sanitation by 2015.