Overflowing cities: The impact of poor sanitation in urban areas

For the first time in history, more than half of the world’s population is living in towns and cities. This World Toilet Day, 19 November, our new report reveals the effect that rapid urbanisation is having on sanitation services.

18 Nov 2016
Worldwide, it is estimated that more than 700 million people living in urban areas do not have a decent toilet. Of these, 100 million have to defecate in the open.

Our second State of the World’s Toilets report, Overflowing cities, examines urban sanitation around the world – an issue that’s becoming increasingly pressing as two thirds of the global population are expected to live in towns and cities by 2050.

Nearly all the urban population growth is happening in developing countries, meaning that many are arriving – or being born into – overcrowded and rapidly expanding slums. Often, city planning and infrastructure-building have been unable to keep pace.

Nowhere to go

Despite having the world’s fastest-growing economy, India is the hardest place in the world to find an urban toilet, with over 157 million people living without a safe, private toilet.

The problem is so vast that the daily human waste produced on the streets of India’s towns and cities is enough to fill eight Olympic-sized swimming pools with faeces every day.

But this issue isn’t just restricted to one region. Other findings in the report include:

  • An estimated 84% of people living in urban areas in the world’s newest nation South Sudan do not have access to a toilet.
  • China is making the most progress in reaching its city-dwellers with sanitation – 329 million people in urban areas have gained access to a toilet since 2000.
  • Nigeria is falling furthest behind in reaching its urban population with a toilet. For every urbanite reached with sanitation since 2000, two were added to the number living without – an increase of 31 million people in the past 15 years.

A girl skips over a stream full of sewerage in a slum in the Ajeromi-Ifelodum area of Lagos, Nigeria. A girl skips over a stream full of sewage in a slum in the Ajeromi-Ifelodum area of Lagos, Nigeria.

A healthier, more sustainable future

World leaders know good sanitation is fundamental to public health. To achieve the UN’s Global Goal 6 – to deliver safe water and sanitation to everyone everywhere by 2030 – every town and city in the world needs to prioritise providing safe toilets for all to pave the way to a healthier, more sustainable future.

With only 14 years to achieve the Global Goals, there’s no time to waste. That’s why we’re calling for:

  1. More money... Governments must dramatically increase financing and building the strong institutions that deliver sanitation and water services.
  2. Better spent… This increased financing must be used transparently, efficiently and of maximum benefit for the poorest and the most vulnerable people.
  3. To reach everyone... Governments should drive a ‘city-wide’ sanitation effort to ensure equitable access for all citizens, including those in slums and informal settlements.
  4. By coordinating all actors.... Municipal sanitation planners must be empowered to bring together and lead the efforts of all service providers and citizens.
  5. And giving sanitation workers the respect they deserve. Governments and citizens must celebrate their sanitation workers – without them, good sanitation and healthy communities are impossible.

Read the full report >

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