It sounds like a joke, but it’s far from that. World Toilet Day as declared by the United Nations – today, Nov. 19 – is serious business. Serious as in, 2,000 children die every day from diarrhoeal diseases, many for want of decent sanitation, which, as Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson noted, “is a euphemism for toilets.”
Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said in a statement that the point of the day was to make toilets a topic of vital consideration. “We must break the taboos and make sanitation for all a global development priority,” he said.
According to the U.N., some 2.5 billion people around the world are without regular access to a proper toilet and 1 billion people practice open defecation. Health suffers and so too does economic opportunity.
“Poor water and sanitation cost developing countries around $260 billion a year – 1.5 per cent of their gross domestic product,” Ban said. “On the other hand, every dollar invested can bring a five-fold return by keeping people healthy and productive. When schools offer decent toilets, 11 per cent more girls attend. When women have access to a private latrine, they are less vulnerable to assault.”
It was interesting that Ban made that point that toilet solutions need “not be expensive or technology-driven,” and that “there are many successful models that can be replicated and scaled up.”
This remark dovetailed with an op-ed in the New York Times on Monday by John Kass, an environmental engineer and the founder of the organization Toilets for People. The title of the piece: “Bill Gates Can’t Build a Toilet.” Kass lauded Gates for raising awareness of the sanitation challenge, but said the sophisticated, innovative toilet technologies that Gates was backing – like the one from CalTech that won a $100,000 award from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – were overkill. Wrote Kass:
High-tech toilets are exciting, but even the Gates Foundation has admitted that “the economics of such a solution remain uncertain.” In plain English: No one can afford them.”
Toilets for People has a solution. Watch the video below. If what you see makes sense, go to the group’s website and find out what you can do to help make this solution work for people around the world. Seriously.