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Global Health: World Toilet Day Raises a Stink

Tiled ToiletWhile it may sound like a bad joke, today's World Toilet Day focuses on a not-so-funny issue impacting almost half the world's population — a lack of toilets and sanitation.

People may be too embarrassed to openly talk about it, but everyone does it, toilet or not. World Toilet Day helps people celebrate the importance of sanitation and raise awareness for the 2.5 billion people who don't have access to toilets and proper sanitation. This video by the nonprofit WaterAid highlights the luxury of having a toilet.

Celebrating your can may seem silly, but not having one can not only lead to embarrassment, lack of dignity and safety issues, but also preventable diseases and even death. When people don't have toilets, they're forced to relieve themselves in open streets, fields, or back alleys. The result? The contamination of drinking water and food sources, which leads to a slew of health risks. Lack of sanitation is the world’s biggest cause of infection and kills 1.8 million people, mostly children, a year. Even countries with abundant toilets have to deal with problems ranging from unhygienic public toilets to waterway-destroying sewage disposal.

Vanilla, blogging on Let's Look At It This Way from Singapore, says that people should care about toilets:

“I know this is a crappy topic to most people. It is unfortunate that it is a ‘taboo’ topic to talk about openly and many people remain ignorant about the scale of the problem. I fail to understand how this can be an unimportant topic when, on an average, we visit the toilet 2500 times a year, or 6-8 times a day. In our life time, we would have spent 3 years in the toilet.”

Organized by the nonprofit The World Toilet Organization, World Toilet Day is being celebrated globally with various events. To further increase awareness, WaterAid announced the launch of its new ToiletFinder UK App for iPhone users this week. The free app helps Brits find the nearest public toilet while reminding them how lucky they are to have clean and safe toilets. The largest event today, called The Big Squat, asks people to stop and squat for one minute in a public place to raise awareness. These photos show people squatting globally, including this one of preschoolers in Singapore:

Singapore Squat

A blog from Brunei, the world according to panyaluru …, also shows appreciation for the toilet by putting it into perspective:

“Imagine if we are walking along in the row of shops in Kiulap or Gadong. Suddenly the tummy grumbles, just like the worst ribut you can think off. No rest bite. Grumble and grumble. Rumblings. The light is on amber and ready to turn green. But no toilets in sight. Not a single public toilet in the rows of shops…Add to that no water, no tissue, nothing! That could be the worst day of your life, your worst nightmare, ever worse than the nightmares those kids have in the Nightmare on Elm Street Movies. On this day, let’s show our appreciation to our toilets.”

Despite its serious side, many people have used humor to celebrate World Toilet Day. In the U.K., the blog London City Drains features a 10-question toilet quiz, while in this video high school teacher Matt Cheplic sings about the day.

Some bloggers point out that toilets alone may not be the answer. Sandhya, blogging on Maradhi Manni in India, says many men don't use available toilets:

“In a city like Chennai, where the climate is hot nearly 10 months of the year, I see men urinating on the roadside all the time. When women can control and go home and relieve themselves, why can't men do so, I don't know. So, first of all people should be fined heavily for doing this crime (yes, it is crime) on the spot. I have seen them doing this on the wall of the public toilets! In Srirangam, I saw them urinating on the compound wall of the temple even though every street surrounding the temple had toilets, which were clean, but pay toilets!”

While lack of sanitation impacts everyone, the taboo around toilets can disproportionately affect women. In some countries, modesty forces women do their business in fields before sunrise or to hold it until after the sun sets, leading to health and safety concerns. Joanne Sprague, blogging on Overturning Boulders in India, observes that women are absent from the morning toilet run in Chennai, while in Ethiopia the blog AN ADVENTURE IN ADDIS notices a similar situation:

“I’ve heard so often about the lack of toilet facilities for women or lack of toilets in general; that teenage girls in the countryside get up at 4 am to go out in the dark to do their business so they don’t get bullied by the boys at school or stop going to school altogether. Men just pee anywhere, cigarette in hand and there’s an assumption that women don’t need to, if they are thought about at all….I want to see a huge billboard in Amharic saying ‘Girls go too’ with a picture of Barbie sitting on a toilet.”

To celebrate World Toilet Day, blogger Jonathan Stray, takes readers on an international tour of toilets he's visited, from Thailand and the U.K. to West Africa and Oman, concluding:

“We in the west with our flush toilets and toilet paper and sparkling shower stalls are the exception; the rest of the world thinks a bathroom is a wet, smelly place, when they have a bathroom at all. A good toilet means you probably have a very good quality of life, so enjoy yours. Happy World Toilet Day!”

Photo of Tiled Toilet by nedrichards on Flickr, Creative Commons.

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