More than one in five people globally – almost 1.7 billion – do not have a decent toilet of their own. Not having a decent toilet – at home, at school, in healthcare facilities – is dangerous for so many reasons.

Why Sanitation?

Contaminated water and poor sanitation are linked to the transmission of diseases such as cholera and diarrhea. Diarrheal diseases linked to a lack of access to safe water and sanitation causes the deaths of more than 300,000 children under five die every year - that's over 800 children a day, or one child every two minutes. This shouldn’t be normal.

Without toilets in schools, children are left to defecate in the open. This makes them vulnerable to diarrheal diseases and causes them to miss lessons. Girls in particular are affected by a lack of toilets, and often drop out completely when they start their periods. This continues to reinforce and widen the gap between boys and girls, holding girls back from realizing their full potential.

Recruiting teachers for positions in schools without decent toilets is also difficult. The ripple effects of this are considerable. In many countries, the economic cost of poor sanitation and hygiene amounts to more than 5% of their GDP.

For girls and women, limited access to toilets affects their privacy and safety – they often wait until dark to find a quiet place to defecate outside, which leaves them vulnerable to harassment and even assault. 

Despite commitments by many governments, and the UN’s recognition of sanitation as a human right, it remains neglected. At current rates of progress, universal access to safely managed sanitation, the aim of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), won’t be achieved until 2107 – that is 77 years behind schedule.

For the life-changing impacts of clean water and good hygiene to be delivered, decent toilets must be normal for everyone, everywhere. This is why we put sanitation at the center of our work.

Our approach

Together, we can make a bigger difference. With governments, development partners, utility companies, community-based organizations, businesses, entrepreneurs, and local people, we work every day to improve people’s access to sanitation services.

To ensure improvements are sustainable, we promote behaviour change and work with communities to review various sanitation options so they can make informed decisions about what best meets their needs.

We address the entire sanitation chain to make sure human waste is safely managed, including transportation or storage, treatment, and disposal or re-use. We advocate for the dignity, health and safety of the sanitation workers operating that chain.

We prioritize the poorest and most marginalized people, to ensure no one is denied this basic human right – entire communities must use toilets to ensure that all people’s health, livelihoods, and wellbeing are improved.

Sanitation is at the core of our program delivery, and through our advocacy work and campaigns, we raise awareness of the fact that improvements in sanitation services are key to the success of many other areas of development – including health, environment, education, housing, and infrastructure.

Ensuring sanitation for all takes more than building toilets or motivating communities to use sanitation facilities. We use our experience of delivering services to help governments and service providers identify blockages and improvements in their sanitation service delivery systems. In doing so, we contribute to ensuring everyone, everywhere has sustainable access to sanitation. We call on governments nationally and internationally to make sanitation a political priority and support them to deliver on their commitments.

Together, we can achieve the SDGs to end open defecation and ensure everyone, everywhere has sanitation by 2030.

The power of a decent toilet

It might not look much, but this simple latrine has changed Dondoungou's life in Burkina Faso for good.

Image: WaterAid/ Basile Ouedraogo

Until recently, Dondoungou Hanadoun’s family compound in Koumbia, southwestern Burkina Faso, didn’t have a toilet.

As a woman with a physical disability, Dondoungou faced a double layer of challenges: the only way she could relieve herself was by crossing a dangerously busy road on her motorized tricycle and searching for a hidden place in the bushes where no passersby would see her. Twice, she was almost bitten by snakes.

But since we worked with our local partners to build a specially-adapted latrine right by Dondoungou’s house, she can use the toilet whenever she needs to – and as a result, enjoy a healthier, safer, and more dignified life.

Keeping children in the classroom

Combined with clean water and good hygiene, decent toilets help children – especially girls, like Pushpa in Nepal – stay safe, well, and ready to learn.

Image: WaterAid/ Mani Karmacharya

It’s difficult to concentrate on learning when school toilets are dirty, broken, or simply non-existent. Many children have no choice but to relieve themselves outside, sometimes just meters away from where they play at breaktime. For adolescent girls, the challenges are intensified when they start their period.

Without decent toilets or running water at school, many female students stay home for up to a week every month – falling further and further behind their male classmates, and often eventually dropping out entirely.

Pushpa’s school in Lahan, Nepal, now has access to clean water through a bio-sand filtration system; separate and accessible toilets for girls and boys; handwashing stations within the toilets and around the school; and menstrual hygiene facilities that includes access to sanitary products, a place to lie down when experience menstruation related pain, pain medicine, and waste disposal units.

Learn more about our work on periods and menstrual hygiene

Facilities that last, whatever the weather

Anita's life has changed significantly after her climate-resilient toilet was built just a few steps away from her house in Bangladesh.

Image: WaterAid/DRIK/Habibul Haque

Bangladesh’s southern Khulna region has always been vulnerable to flooding and high tides. But now, climate change is causing increasingly higher sea levels and more severe and frequent extreme weather events like cyclones.

As a result, the fragile infrastructure in Khulna is often washed away – including makeshift hanging toilets, which are perched above the river so that human waste falls directly onto the bank below.

We worked with our local partner to build a climate-resilient toilet for mother-of-four Anita Das, located right next to her house. It’s secure, private, and, thanks to its raised platform, safe from floodwaters casued by cyclones.


Without clean water, people are denied access to opportunities that should be open to everyone, everywhere.


Hygiene is crucial in preventing disease. Without hygiene, the benefits of clean water and decent toilets will always be limited.