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World Toilet Day raises awareness about lack of sanitation

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Almost 3.6 billion people, or around half of the world’s population, lack access to a proper toilet and sanitation system.

World Toilet Day, which is held annually on November 19, celebrates the toilet, while raising the plight of those who don’t have access to proper sanitation.

“Access to proper sanitation is a human right. Today (19 November) on World Toilet Day we put a spotlight on sanitation and wastewater management,” said Riccardo Zennaro, a wastewater expert with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), “The theme this year is ‘valuing toilets’. With 3.6 billion people not having access to one, with all related impact on human health and increasing pressures on the environment, it couldn’t be timelier and more urgent.

This year’s World Toilet Day aims to draw attention to the fact that toilets and the sanitation systems that support them are, in many parts of the world, non-existent or at best underfunded, poorly looked after and neglected.

Globally, about 80 per cent of all wastewater, including sewage, is discharged into the world’s waterways without adequate treatment. This has severe repercussions on socio-economic activities, poses a serious risk to human health, and the environment, including fragile ecosystems such as fish and coral reefs. Globally over 2 billion people use a drinking source contaminated with faeces and everyday over 700 children under five die from diarrhoea linked to unsafe water, sanitation and poor hygiene

“The health of people depend on a healthy environment. UNEP, the global voice for the environment, has been working with various partners to gather data on water quality and develop innovative wastewater treatment solutions,” said Zennaro “We like to think of ourselves as conveners, bringing together willing partners to curb pollution and enhance sustainable development. In our work, we are seeking to spread the use of low-cost, alternative technologies, raise awareness and build capacity, whilst protecting human health and the environment.”

As part of UNEP’s mission, it is the global custodian of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target 6.3.2, which helps countries understand, measure and report on ambient water quality, something that is directly related to sanitation.

While the health and environmental advantages of a functioning sanitation system are clear the benefits go further, for every $1 invested in basic sanitation up to $5 is returned in saved medical costs and increased productivity. Toilets are particularly beneficial to women and girls, especially during menstruation and pregnancy. Also, when carefully managed, wastewater can provide some surprising social, environmental and economic benefits, contributing to overall well-being and health, water and food security and sustainable development.

In Tanzania, a decentralized wastewater treatment system shows how innovation can bring water sanitation to low-income communities in the country. An Egyptian experimental farm uses treated wastewater to grow crops. The Moroccan city of Ouarzazate uses wastewater to support over 635 hectares of trees that act as a protective buffer between the city and the desert. In Malaysia, a floating village has been transformed by UNEP-supported portable sanitation.

While World Toilet Day may sound like a strange occasion to commemorate, it is critical to ensure health and hygiene for many. Make sure to help raise awareness for the fact that it’s time to prioritize clean and safe sanitation for all.

The Global Wastewater Initiative (GW²I), in conjunction with the United Nations World Toilet Day is hosting a two-day Virtual Symposium on Wastewater and Sanitation. The symposium (November 18-19, 2021) will discuss wastewater management and sanitation provision across the Asia-Pacific, African, and Caribbean regions.