#StreetToilet: Sharing a Message about Clean Water Access

World Toilet Day is November 19th!  Each year, World Toilet Day calls on the global community to do more to address the sanitation crisis. Would you believe that more people have a mobile phone than a toilet? It’s true, around the world 2.4 billion people lack access to improved sanitation (1).

At OHorizons, we don’t directly work on sanitation issues or install latrines, but sanitation is intimately connected to the work we do. Often in places with inadequate or no sanitation, there is also a lack of clean water. Water sources like rivers, streams, and lakes, can become contaminated with human waste because there is no place for people to go to the bathroom or the facilities that are available do not properly store or dispose of their waste. People then have no other choice but to use these contaminated water sources. Hygiene of course is connected as well; handwashing after going to the bathroom is very important in any water project, whether it is installing a BioSand Filter or a latrine, and is critical in ensuring people stay healthy long after gaining access to clean water and/or sanitation (see our post on Global Handwashing Dayto learn more about the role of hygiene in our work).

Although we aren’t building or installing latrines (at the moment anyway) we decided to show our support for this critical issue and raise awareness by walking around New York City with a toilet on a pushcart. We asked people if they would drink the water that is in the toilet in their apartment. We got some weird looks and lots of interesting reactions, here are some of our favorites:

“If I was a dog”

“Hell #%$&ing No”

“If I flushed it a couple of times and was dying of thirst….maybe”

It turns out New Yorkers are pretty disgusted by their toilet water. But, the water that goes into our toilets here in the United States is actually pretty clean (we can’t necessarily say the same for your toilet bowl though), but around the world, 1.8 billion people use a water source that is contaminated with feces (2). So, the water that goes into our toilets is CLEANER than the water that nearly 2 billion people use around the world. And this is just water that contains fecal contamination, we’re not even counting agricultural runoff or industrial waste, which can also make people sick and have long-term adverse health effects.

This year’s World Toilet Day theme is “Toilets and Health: Better Sanitation for Better Nutrition.”

This theme fits especially close to our organization’s mission, which follows a systems approach to ending hunger on a global scale. In a previous blog post on The Four Horizons of Life, we outlined that drinking contaminated water can lead to undernourishment, chronic malnutrition, and even death.

Here are a couple of facts that demonstrate how inadequate access to clean drinking water and sanitation are connected to poor nutrition and why the #WeCantWait World Toilet Day hashtag rings true.

The World Health Organization has found that, “50% of all cases of undernutrition are associated with repeated diarrhea or intestinal worm infections as a direct result of inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene (3).”

Children are particularly vulnerable. As of 2014, “Nearly 1,000 children die every day from diarrhoeal diseases linked to a lack of safe water, sanitation and basic hygiene (4).”

What we find most upsetting is these are basic, easily treatable illnesses that for the most part are completely preventable! We must be diligent and proactive to find solutions to sustainably address this situation.

Our organization is focused on increasing clean drinking water access to people in the world’s most remote and underserved communities. We have engineered a Wood Mold for the production of concrete BioSand Filters. You can learn more about our impact here.

Increasing access to clean drinking water and sanitation promotes people’s right to live a healthy, productive, and dignified life. Kids miss less school because they are not sick. Families save more money because they spend less on unnecessary hospital visits due to preventable water-related illnesses.

Women and girls in particular bear the largest burden when WASH infrastructure is inadequate. They are typically responsible for gathering water, which may require them to walk long distances, missing out on time that could be spent in school, generating income, or doing other household activities. They are denied opportunities in school and public life because of a lack of private and decent sanitation facilities and in many cultures, they are put in uncomfortable and potentially risky situations because the only time available for them to defecate, if they don't have a latrine, is after dark. They risk harassment and assault during these night-time walks to and from the communal defecation fields.

For humanity, for women, and for children #WeCantWait!

Are you ready to join the global movement to Raise a Stink for UN #WorldToiletDay? Please share our #StreetToilet video with friends and family and check out these other resources to learn more about clean water and sanitation issues and how you can raise awareness.

Together let’s ensure the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all!

World Toilet Day Homepage Here you’ll find the latest WASH News and ideas on how you can participate.

The Role of WASH in the Fight Against Child Undernutrition-Generation Nutrition A prevention fact sheet with stats and infographics.

Integrating WASH into Nutrition Programming-USAID & WASHPlus This is a short, easy-to-read paper that highlights the connection between WASH and Nutrition. It features facts, graphs, and basic instructions on how to prevent illness.

UNICEF WASH This is UNICEF’s all-encompassing page on Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene.

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  1. World Health Organization-UNICEF. 2015. ‘Progress on Sanitation and Drinking Water 2015 Update and MDG Assessment.
  2. Prüss-Ustün et al. Tropical Medicine & International Health, Vol 19, no 8: 917–927. 2014.   ‘Global assessment of exposure to faecal contamination through drinking water based on a systematic review.’
  3. World Health Organization. 2008. ‘Safer water, better health.’
  4. Prüss-Ustün et al. Tropical Medicine & International Health, Vol 19, no 8: 894-905. 2014. ‘Burden of disease from inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene in low- and middle-income settings: a retrospective analysis of data from 145 countries.’