From pit to progressWorld Toilet Day is marked to raise public awareness of the global sanitation crisis that affects the lives of billions.
Toilets, we often take them for granted, but for many, making it to a toilet is not as easy as it might seem. On World Toilet Day, a global initiative that shines a spotlight on the importance of sanitation and toilets, let’s take a journey through the world of toilets, sanitation and the transformative power of change.
The United Nations observes this day on November 19 each year to raise awareness among billions of people living without access to proper sanitation and toilets. Over the years, the importance of sanitation and toilets has been understood from various dimensions, considering the impact of climate change on health, economics and the environment. The sixth of the Sustainable Development Goals emphasises this point, setting a goal for “water and sanitation for all by 2030.”
Each year, UN-Water sets the theme for World Toilet Day. For 2023, the focus is on “accelerating change”. This theme underscores the urgency of addressing the sanitation crisis and ensuring that everyone, regardless of their age or background, has access to safe and dignified sanitation facilities.
I grew up with a pit toilet, a simple facility consisting of a hole in the ground covered with a slab. It was an integral part of my everyday life until my eighth-grade education opened up a world of possibilities I had never imagined. Little did I know that my early experiences would shape my career in the development sector. A decade ago, my path led me to the Tarai region—specifically to the Sunsari district. This journey marked a transition from my own childhood pit toilet to a role in a water, sanitation and hygiene project. The transition was profound, filled with valuable experiences and eye-opening encounters.
Working closely with the community, I come across a diverse range of people and local stakeholders. The real gurus in my professional life were the individuals I met on the ground, who faced the harsh realities of inadequate sanitation every day. Their determination, dedication and leadership inspired me deeply.
As my journey took me from the hills to the valleys, my family’s situation improved, granting us access to a water-sealed toilet connected to biogas. However, the community I worked with had different challenges. This was my first hands-on experience in the development sector, a journey of learning and adaptation. It was through their experiences and insights that I learned what truly works for them.
During this journey, one poignant encounter stands out. An elderly woman in her 70s shared her perspective with me: “I don’t feel comfortable using a toilet, and I can’t always afford soap to wash my hands.” Her words were a reminder of the challenges associated with changing behaviours related to sanitation and hygiene.
At its core, World Toilet Day aims to inspire action and address the global sanitation crisis that affects the lives of billions. Shockingly, 3.5 billion people worldwide lack access to safely managed sanitation facilities. This statistic is more than just numbers; it’s a pressing issue that must not be ignored. Access to clean water and adequate sanitation is not merely a matter of convenience; it's a fundamental human right.
In a country striving to ensure sustainable access to water, sanitation and hygiene, the task of building toilets has always been a significant challenge. However, there has been a remarkable improvement in recent decades. Back in 1980, a mere two percent of households across the nation had access to toilets, and by 1990, this number had only inched up to a meagre six percent. According to government data, the country has finally achieved a significant milestone by reaching 100 percent access to toilets in 2019. While this is a major step toward achieving complete sanitation, it is crucial to focus on various aspects, such as constructing public toilet facilities and promoting behavioural changes such as the use of toilets, handwashing and environmental sanitation.
Growing up in rural Nepal, I can relate to the struggles faced by many families. In my childhood home, we had a pit toilet. Due to the scarcity of water and difficulty in access to soap, we often faced troubles with handwashing. My mother and sisters, like many other women, faced additional challenges during their menstrual periods due to the lack of proper sanitation facilities.
Today, as a professional communicator working in the field of water and sanitation, I can truly empathise with the realities faced by individuals in Nepal and around the world. My personal experiences have fueled my inner motivation to work towards improving these conditions.
The need for action in the realm of sanitation is urgent. Currently, the world is seriously off track to meet the promise of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6.2: ensuring safe toilets for all by 2030. With only seven years left, the world needs to work four times faster to meet this commitment. So, what can we do to accelerate change and make proper sanitation a reality for all? Here are some key steps:
Advocacy and awareness: We must continue to advocate for the importance of sanitation at all levels of society in municipal leadership. Awareness campaigns can help dispel myths and educate the public on the benefits of clean water and sanitation.
Infrastructure development: Investment in sanitation infrastructure is essential. Governments, NGOs and private organisations should collaborate to build and maintain sanitary facilities, especially in underserved areas.
Behavioural change: Changing behaviour is at the heart of ensuring proper sanitation. Education programmes emphasising the importance of handwashing and toilet use can have a significant impact on communities.
Policy and regulation: Governments must enact and enforce policies and regulations that ensure the availability of sanitation facilities in public spaces and households. These policies should prioritise the needs of women, children, people with disabilities and the elderly.
Access for all: To truly accelerate change, we need to ensure that sanitation facilities are accessible to everyone, regardless of their age, gender, or physical abilities.
World Toilet Day is not just about Nepal; it’s a global issue that demands global cooperation. We are all in this together, and by working collectively, we can accelerate change and provide a brighter, healthier future for all.
This day serves as a powerful reminder of the urgent need to address the global sanitation crisis. As we reflect on the journey of the past decade and the lessons learned from the people I met in Nepal, it’s clear that “accelerating change” is not just a theme for 2023; it’s a call to action. Let us commit ourselves to creating a world where everyone can comfortably and confidently use a toilet and wash their hands, regardless of their age or circumstances. Together, we can make a difference. Happy World Toilet Day!