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Toilets: So Important, So Overlooked

Toilets: So Important, So Overlooked

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There are certain things in life which we take for granted, some of which though, are so important that they have significant implications for the quality of our lives, our health and well-being.

Take the toilet for instance, something which we are even reluctant to discuss. Yet, it is a critical factor in personal hygiene and in sanitation at all levels.

In recognition of this fact, a WTO (not the well-known one in trade, the World Trade Organization, but the World Toilet Organization) was founded in 2001 as a global non-profit body committed to improving toilet and sanitation conditions worldwide. In order to focus attention on this much-avoided subject, a World Toilet Day was first organized on November 19, 2001 has been commemorated annually on this date since then. In 2013 the Day (WTD) gained official recognition by the United Nations.

Today, November 19, is therefore being observed globally as World Toilet Day and SEARCHLIGHT joins in this global observance by focusing on its significance. The theme this year is “Leaving no one behind”, a phrase that Vincentians will find familiar since it is used in the context of our own “Education Revolution”. The theme is seen as very relevant to the task of tackling the global sanitation crisis and in helping to achieve Goal 6 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, that of ensuring “sanitation for all by the year 2030”.

It is certainly not only a worthwhile objective but one that is absolutely necessary. Today 4.2 billion people, more than half the world’s population are without safely-managed sanitation facilities and 673 million of them defecate in the open. It is estimated that at least two billion persons are forced to use water contaminated with faecal matter. As a result, inadequate sanitation contributes to the death from diarrhoea of an estimated 432,000 deaths every year and is a major cause of some intestinal diseases.

Of course poverty and underdevelopment lie at the root of these shocking health failures and the vast majority of those who suffer in this regard live in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. But there are other contributory factors as well, war and armed conflict being foremost among them. As usual children are the foremost casualties. They are 20 times more likely to die from diarrheal diseases than from direct violence itself. Another area of concern is poor sanitation facilities in many prisons worldwide.

We here in St Vincent and the Grenadines have made impressive strides in the field of sanitation since Adult Suffrage in 1951 and certainly since Independence in 1979. Most Vincentians born before 1970 would have experienced or known of pit toilets (latrines), the use of buckets for disposal and even open defecation in some cases. They will also recall the scorn and discrimination against sanitation workers, especially in those days, persons who disposed of those buckets for a living.

While we have largely moved away from these, there are still concerns and in particular, in the nation’s capital, Kingstown, open defecation is still a major health risk in the reclamation area on the waterfront. Goodness knows how lucky we have been so far to avoid a major outbreak of disease from this source!

On World Toilet Day we call on the government to address this outrage, to continue to highlight the need for proper sanitation in respect to toilets, to implement policies which will facilitate access to sanitary toilets by all households and to keep us on track to meet SDG6.

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