This blog post is part of the series, where the board members of UN Youth of Helsinki write about the themes of United Nations International Days. This blog post is written by Pauliina Meskus, who serves as a domestic project attendant on the board.
WORLD TOILET DAY, 19th of November
Sustainable Development Goal 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
Why should sanitation be a global development priority?
We flush several times a day, mostly without thinking that much. But what does our daily, almost automatic habit imply? And why should sanitation be a global development priority?
We believe that something is wrong if public toilet facilities haven’t been cleaned properly or the sanitary boxes are missing. There are regulations and clear instructions for treatment of the wastewater and human waste at holiday cottages. The bathrooms are made comfortable and designed in a way that ensures our privacy and high hygiene when nature calls. In many public spaces, gender-neutral toilets have replaced separate toilets. Accessible toilet facilities must naturally be available in all public areas.
In daily life, one does not often pay much attention to these issues, and I think we should not need to since these arrangements and practices are in place to ensure fulfillment of everyone’s rights and health and safety.
However, as we know, the case is not the same everywhere: more than 4.5. Billion people live without a safe toilet, and 891 million people practice open defecation (while approximately 4.57 billion people worldwide own a mobile phone!). This means that the lack of safe toilet facilities and sanitation puts the human rights of more than a half of the world’s population at risk and has devastating effects on the public health and environment.
The fact that issues related to sanitation are still taboo in Finland, Spain, India, Uganda, or almost anywhere, doesn’t help to solve the problem. That is why since 2013 United Nations has celebrated annual World Toilet Day to raise awareness of the topic and encourage people to speak up for the right to safe toilets and sanitation. It has been said that failure to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SGD) 6 risks the entire 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development since the sanitation is interconnected with numerous other goals.
One of them is equality. There is a straight link between girls’ education and availability of safe and private bathrooms at schools since if there are no adequate facilities that ensure one’s privacy, girls tend not to attend the classes during their menstruation. Lack of privacy puts women also under the threat of rapes and other kinds of sexual harassment. In the end, access to safe sanitation and hygiene facilities is important for ensuring respect for human dignity.
The adequate sanitation is also a cornerstone of public health. Inadequate hand washing facilities, cleaning methods and equipment, or missing hygiene instructions in the bathrooms, may lead to the spread of fatal diseases. Insufficient treatment of human waste makes the soil and drinking water contaminated with human feces and results in the spread of bacteria.
So, let’s break the taboos, speak up and urge the political decision-makers to make more significant efforts in investing resources to the development of nature-based sanitation solutions and ensuring that safe and socially acceptable toilet facilities are accessible for everyone. Raising awareness of the sanitation rights should be an all-embracing aspect of that development. Finally, breaking taboos and empowering young people to stand up for their own rights as right-holders, can also be considered as a powerful way of making sure that the SDG 6 will be achieved by 2030.
OHCHR. For World Toilet Day, “Sanitation is a Human Right” on 19 November. Statement by Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, Léo Heller.
United Nations. World Toilet Day 19 November. http://www.un.org/en/events/toiletday/
The Statistics Portal. https://www.statista.com/statistics/274774/forecast-of-mobile-phone-users-worldwide/