Celebrating World Toilet Day

WaterAid’s Head of Region for East Africa, Lydia Zigomo, introduces our new report Child of mine which launches today – the second UN day of the toilet.


19 Nov 2014

We talk about toilets every day at WaterAid, but 19 November is a special day for anyone interested in the humble loo.

Now a UN-recognised event, each World Toilet Day gives us an opportunity to celebrate the impact that safe sanitation has on society. In a world reluctant to talk about faeces or even say the word ‘toilet’, each 19 November is a chance for us to break this taboo.

This year’s World Toilet Day is perhaps more important than ever. Today is the last World Toilet Day before 2015 – a year set to be crucial for global development and for WaterAid. We now have just over 300 days until heads of state and governments gather in New York to agree the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In 2015 we will launch WaterAid’s first ever global advocacy campaign, Clean Start, which aims to position water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) as a central pillar of child health.

Ahead of this, I’m delighted to launch WaterAid’s new briefing: Child of mine. Released on World Toilet Day, the paper examines the importance of sanitation for child health outcomes. It calls for UN member states to ensure that WASH is given a prominent position within the SDGs. In particular, it calls for:

  • A dedicated goal on water and sanitation, with ambitious universal targets on WASH by 2030.
  • Explicit links between targets on WASH and those on child health.
  • Targets that ensure inequalities in access to WASH are progressively eliminated.

From birth through to a child’s fifth birthday, sanitation has a crucial role in a child’s life. Three statistics in particular stand out from the briefing:

  • Diarrhoeal diseases, which are predominantly caused by inadequate WASH, cause more than 500,000 deaths every year.
  • 15% of child deaths globally are from pneumonia. Handwashing with clean water and soap can reduce incidences of pneumonia by 16%.
  • High rates of open defecation are directly related to stunted growth.

In 2013, one child in four worldwide has stunted growthThese statistics are notable because of the way in which the goals might be framed. The draft targets of the Open Working Group are ordered by goals; universal access to sanitation sits under a proposed water and sanitation goal, and child mortality sits under a health goal. However, all of the statistics above show that sanitation, water and hygiene are direct determinants of a child’s health. We have to frame the goals in some order, but if we’re to avoid the mistakes the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which encouraged siloed approaches, we need to make sure that ministries responsible for health and WASH are joined up in their approach.

2015 will be a crucial year for global development. From the Financing for Development conference in July, through to the SDGs summit in September and the climate change talks in November, heads of state and governments will be asked to engage with a huge number of issues. WaterAid will be using this World Toilet Day and the Child of mine report to remind them that the biggest issues – such as sanitation – are not to be ignored simply because they are uncomfortable to talk about.

WaterAid is not alone in this call, because, alongside the report, more than 36 medical associations representing more than half a million doctors and nurses globally have written to the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, to affirm their grave concerns about the effect that lack of access to water and sanitation has on future generations and underscore the opportunities that 2015 can bring.

I hope you will join me in celebrating this World Toilet Day, and I encourage you to read and share the report widely.

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