It’s World Toilet Day. Seriously.

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.

image via United Nations

image via United Nations

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.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

1 Comment

  • Reply November 20, 2013

    Satish Chandra

    The headlines scream “Open Defecation” by the majority of Indians on World Toilet Day. Going to the fields is the most environmentally friendly way to defecate. Lake Ontario which supplies Toronto’s drinking water is heavily polluted from fecal bacteria from flush toilets whose health effects are ignored. Cleanliness procedures of Indians from Yoga to daily life — Indians expressed shock that the University of Chicago president’s wife put a spoon which she had just put in her mouth to taste a dish she was preparing back in the pot to stir it and I replied “That’s why they are called dirty Jews” — are the most stringent in the world. The environmental and health effects — from water requirements to pollution of water bodies — of flush toilets on India will be devastating. Without first establishing dominance via emplaced nuclear warheads (below), snatching entire continents from the white man after killing the existing population, India cannot be dominant in health and sanitation. IndiasLegitimateRulerSatishChandraDOTblogspotDOTcom

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