Overflowing cities cause toilet trouble for 700 million

City life is a playground for some, and a constant toilet challenge for others.

18 Nov 2016
Your house. The local pub. The petrol station. Most of us in the UK can find a toilet when we need one. But what if nature calls, and there’s nowhere safe to go?

Humans are fast becoming an urban species, with 54% of us now living in towns and cities.

Whilst a move to the big city might better our chances of a job and a good night out here in the UK, it's a different story for the world's poorest, who often face life in an overcrowded slum with no access to a decent toilet.

That's the scary reality for 700 million urbanites, as our most recent report on the state of the world's toilets reveals.

An aerial view of Westpoint in Monrovia, Liberia which is home to more than 75,000 residents on four square kilometres of waterlogged land.
An aerial view of Westpoint in Monrovia, Liberia which is home to more than 75,000 residents on four square kilometres of waterlogged land.

So where in the world is it hardest to go?

According to our report, if you live in South Sudan then the odds are against you - only one in six of the urban population has access to a toilet.

But if it's queue length you're talking about, then it's India bringing up the rear... more than 157 million urban-dwellers in the country live without toilet access.

Shockingly, a quarter of these have no choice but to defecate in the open, producing enough poo to fill eight Olympic swimming pools every day.

However sanitation shortage doesn't just affect the poorest countries in the world. Millions of people in fast-growing economies such as Russia, Brazil and China struggle to access a decent loo.

But how does not having a toilet affect people's lives?

This is Francis, a father-of-three and fisherman from the waterside Ago-Egun slum in Lagos, Nigeria.

Francis Ajagun, 35, Ago-Egun Community, Bariga, Lagos, Nigeria.
Francis, 35: "The major problems facing our community are the lack of drinkable water, toilet system, electricity and schools for the kids."

During the rainy season, the slum is prone to flooding. For Francis’s community, stopping the flood water is about reducing disease in the slum, because the surrounding water is an open toilet. Everyone in the neighbourhood has little choice but to take a boat under a nearby bridge to defecate straight into the water.

Diseases caused by dirty water kill 315,000 children every year. When it doesn’t kill, disease makes it harder for people to hold down a job, or for children to stay in school, keeping communities in a continuous cycle of poverty.

For lack of a decent toilet, Francis and millions just like him are condemned to an existence of squalor and humiliation. No city or country ever achieved true success without good sanitation.

What's next?