19 November 2009

Happy (?) World Toilet Day!

Well, I guess that depends on what part of the world you were born into. It's estimated that 20% of the global population lives without adequate clean water and sanitation facilities. Projections suggest that, though the percentage of the population without access to such rich-world basics as a toilet should decrease slightly in the next ten years or so, because of rapid population growth in many of the areas where this occurs the absolute number of people without adequate sanitation will remain fairly constant. You'll note that the UN Millennium Development Goals (7.3) only suggest reducing the proportion of people without access to adequate sanitation. At current rates of progress, I don't think it's gonna happen, but we still need to try and every effort counts.

So, several international groups have special things going on for World Toilet Day, as 19 November was designated by the World Toilet Organization (WTO) in 2001 in partnership with Unilever and its product brand Domestos in the UK and elsewhere. Water for People wants us all to "spread the word - not the germs" with e-cards and donations. And the more recently-founded group Water.org has lots of information on both events of the day as well as the toilet itself. Did you know that the first television program to show a toilet on-screen was "Leave It To Beaver" and that your car steering wheel likely carries more than twice as many germs as a typical toilet seat? You can donate to sanitation efforts there as well: according to their site, $30 will provide one person access to a toilet for life. Thanks to Water.org for the graphic as well. The group End Water Poverty is even sponsoring a ''Twitterstorm'' today, so go join in if you're on there.

Why is something so basic, that we in the developed world take so much for granted, such a big deal? The group Water Advocates has placed superb and highly informative full-page advertisements in the New York Times (pdf) every year over the past five to address and bring attention to sanitation issues in the developing world. Sometimes it's an issue of dignity, as I mentioned a few weeks ago in another post. Most often it's a matter of personal and public health: access to clean water sources and adequate sanitation facilities frequently occur together, and poor sanitation leads to contaminated water, human and animal diseases, and death due to dehydration from diarrhea and related symptoms in almost 2M children under the age of five every year in developing countries. Sick children need their parents, who then can't work, so families and villages lose productivity where subsistence farming and hunting are the primary sources of food. This is a significantly larger issue than the toilet itself, but a hand up needs to start somewhere. Water Advocates is hosting several events with lawmakers and other related groups in Washington D.C., including a photo opportunity for their "Sanitation is Dignity" exhibit on the Mall with the Capitol as a backdrop. If someone out there gets a picture of that, something like a Senator on the throne in front of the Capitol dome, send it along and I'll be happy to post it with due credit!

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