Safe toilets for all people in World Cup countries will take until the year 2159

4 min read
Female students stand next to their new toilet block
Image: WaterAid/ Drik/ Tapash Paul

It will be the year 2159 before every last household in all of the World Cup countries has a decent toilet, new analysis by WaterAid found.  

While millions are being spent on and off the Qatari football pitches, people in Ghana, contender in the World Cup, will have to wait until 2103 before every household has a decent toilet they don’t have to share with others. In Cameroon, it will take until the year 2159.  

The new analysis, which comes ahead of World Toilet Day (19 Nov) and the start of the World Cup, shows just how far behind the world is on its promise to ensure all people have access to safely managed sanitation, that is a decent toilet linked to waste treatment by 2030, WaterAid said. 

At the current pace, it will take an average of 136 years until all people living in Africa will have a decent household toilet, and 217 years to reach safely managed sanitation. It will take an average of 22 years before no one in Africa is forced to defecate in the open due to a lack of proper toilets nearby, the organisation added. 

The lack of progress is driven by insufficient investment by donors, governments and the private sector, and a lack of human resources and prioritisation in poorer countries, according to WaterAid, with some countries doing better than others.  

While the picture is gloomy, some countries are doing better than others. South Africa is on schedule to provide all households with at least decent household toilets within the next 21 years, while it will take Burkina Faso another 204 years. In Ethiopia it will take an estimated 323 years, based on the current progress and Liberia, while making good progress to provide basic water services to its population, might even have to wait until the year 2392 to have at least basic sanitation for all - another 370 years.  

A student stands next to a newly constructed toilet block
Eveline, 13, student in class three, standing next to the newly constructed block of latrines and indicating a message on the wall at Balanghin school, in the commune of Andemtenga, Centre-East region, Burkina Faso, March 2022.
Image: WaterAid/ Basile Ouedraogo

The numbers do not take the impact of climate change into account, which could make the future of sanitation in some countries even more dire. A recent study by WaterAid in Mozambique showed that the number of people using ‘improved sanitation facilities’ doubled to just 28% between 2000 and 2014. But since, it has dropped back to 19%, largely due to the destruction of infrastructure by cyclones and floods. 

The numbers also do not take into account that governments can make sanitation a priority and hugely accelerate progress in the coming decades. If they invest the necessary resources, the timeframes would shorten dramatically, WaterAid said. 

Dr Andrés Hueso González, Senior Policy Analyst – Sanitation at WaterAid, said: “Toilets - they’re not fun, not exciting, but they save lives as a lack of sanitation kills, or traps people in a cycle of poverty. If people use a clean, well-managed toilet their performance at school goes up, as does their productivity at work; businesses do better, women have it easier to manage their periods – it’s a matter of health and human dignity. A lack of good sanitation cripples communities and whole economies.”  

WaterAid said that middle- and low-income countries don’t have enough human and financial capacity to drive sanitation policies and plans. The latest WHO-led GLAAS1 cycle asked countries if they had sufficient funding -at least three quarters of what's needed- to implement sanitation plans. Initial results indicate that only 22% and 15% of countries have enough funds for their urban and rural sanitation plans respectively.  

Also, donors are failing to step up – governmental development aid for sanitation (excluding big infrastructure like wastewater treatment) remained flat between 2015-2019, and dropped by 22% in 2020 under pressure of the global COVID-19 pandemic.  

A make shift toilet in a camp after unprecedented flooding
A make shift toilet in a camp after unprecedented flooding submerged several villages in Johi Tehsil, Dadu Distraict, Sindh, Pakistan (25th October, 2022)
Image: WaterAid/ Khaula Jamil

“It is simply unacceptable to see the world falling so behind its target of everyone having access to safely managed sanitation by 2030, for some countries by decades or even hundreds of years”, said Rosie Wheen, CE of WaterAid Australia. “Climate change is going to exponentially add pressure to that commitment. Sanitation is crucial to battling disease and increasing the wellbeing and productivity of communities. Investment is needed urgently. We need governments, donors and the private sector to work together to tackle this huge issue”.

WaterAid is calling for countries to double their budgets for sanitation immediately. Likewise, donor-governments need to double their funding for sanitation as well, as soon as possible. These additional funds should not just be invested in infrastructure, but also in human capital, expertise, and the systems and policies to ensure sanitation services are maintained for decades to come, WaterAid said.