The Crisis in the Classroom

5 min read
Image: WaterAid/ Ronny Sen

The health, education and safety of millions of children around the world is threatened because they don’t have a decent toilet at school or at home, according to WaterAid’s State of the World’s Toilets 2018 report.

The Crisis in the Classroom, WaterAid’s fourth-annual analysis of the world’s toilets released ahead of World Toilet Day on Monday 19 November, highlights that one in five primary schools and one in eight secondary schools globally do not have any toilets. Guinea-Bissau on the coast of West Africa tops the table for worst in the world for school toilets, while Ethiopia remains the nation with the most people without household toilets.

A shocking one in three of the world’s schools lack adequate toilets, compromising children’s human rights to sanitation and leaving them to either use dirty, unsafe pits, go in the open, or stay at home. This means children are dangerously exposed to illnesses that could kill them. Repeated bouts of diarrhoea increase their chances of being malnourished, and sanitation-related illnesses result in missed school days and the loss of potential.

Of the 101 countries with data available on how many schools have decent toilets, Guinea-Bissau in West Africa comes last. There, eight in ten schools lack adequate facilities. This is followed by Niger, where only 24% of schools have even basic sanitation and more than seven in ten people defecate in the open because they lack a household toilet.

The sanitation crisis doesn’t end at school. In sub-Saharan Africa, an estimated 344 million children do not have a decent toilet at home meaning their communities are polluted with human waste. Ethiopia tops the table at an astonishing 93% of households without a decent toilet, leaving children vulnerable to diarrhoea and intestinal infections.

Closer to Australia, Papua New Guinea comes third in the list of countries where the proportion of people with decent toilets at home and school is decreasing. Australia’s closest geographical neighbour suffers from 220 child deaths each year due to water and sanitation-related diarrhoea. Recently, polio – a waterborne disease - has returned to the island after being eradicated in 2000.

Not all news is bad, however. Some countries are making decent toilets in schools a priority. Over half of schools in Bangladesh now have a decent toilet and shared toilets in slum areas are providing a stepping stone to better health. Meanwhile, 73 percent of schools in India now have access to basic sanitation.

Among the other findings:

  • Children living in communities without decent toilets are at higher risk of diarrhoea. Sadly, diarrhoea caused by dirty water and poor sanitation kills 289,000 children under five each year.
  • Diarrhoea and intestinal infections kill more than 140,000 children aged between five and 14 each year – many of which could be prevented with clean water, decent sanitation and good hygiene.
  • Across South Asia, more than a third of girls miss school for between one and three days a month during their period.
  • As many as one in three schools in Madagascar don’t have any functioning toilets at all. It is the third worst country in the world for access to a decent toilet at home – just one person in ten has at least basic sanitation.
  • Nearly seven in ten schools in Zambia now have basic toilets, and three quarters of children are able to complete their primary education.

Rosie Wheen, WaterAid Australia’s Chief Executive, said:

“Children in every country of the world need access to safe toilets at home and at school. Their health, education and safety depend on it. Every child should be able to go to the toilet safely and with dignity whether they are at school or at home. Bringing safe toilets to the one in three schools worldwide with no adequate toilets, should be a top priority – along with bringing decent household toilets to the 2.3 billion people still waiting.

“This World Toilet Day report reinforces the importance of WaterAid Australia’s vital work in Papua New Guinea, where less than half of all students have a decent toilet at their school.

“Progress towards any of the UN Sustainable Development Goals will not be possible without clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene. If we are serious about all children and young people, wherever they are, whatever their gender, physical ability or community background, having their right to clean water and sanitation, we must take decisive and inclusive action now.”

This World Toilet Day, WaterAid is calling for:

  • Governments to invest more money in sanitation for all and ensure an integrated approach and improved transparency in monitoring and reporting
  • Education and finance ministers in every country, as well as donors, to invest in sanitation services and establish credible plans for achieving universal access within an agreed timeframe
  • School sanitation to meet the specific needs of girls in order to ensure their privacy, safety and dignity.
  • School sanitation to be inclusive, enabling children with disabilities to use clean, safe, accessible toilets at school.

Presentation details

WaterAid Australia and Rosie Wheen will be presenting on “The Crisis In The Classroom” report at two events in Melbourne:

  • On Friday 16 November at 2.30pm, Rosie will speak at the “Super Bowl Olympics” event at Melbourne Water, 990 La Trobe St, Docklands, VIC. During this schoolyard-themed event, teams from Who Gives A Crap, Melbourne Water, City West Water, South East Water and Yarra Valley Water will compete in toilet paper sporting activities.
  • On Thursday 22 November at 6pm, Rosie will speak at the World Toilet Day 2018 Panel Discussion at WeWork, 152 Elizabeth St, Melbourne, VIC alongside Plan International Australia CEO Susanne Legena, Cotton On Foundation Projects Operations Manager Sarah Spiker and Global Citizen Australia Country Director Sarah Meredith.

WaterAid Australia will also be marking World Toilet Day by launching a cheeky poo pop-up card product, available in their Gifts for Life range at

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For interviews or more information, please contact:
Kevin Hawkins, Communications Manager, [email protected], 03 9001 8262 or 0415 868 311