NEW DELHI—A necessity that we use every day of our lives and one that we often take for granted is the toilet. There is usually a bathroom located conveniently right around the corner or down the hall. But the reality, according to the U.N., is that approximately 2.5 billion people in developing countries live without toilets and adequate sanitation, which threatens the safety of everyone on multiple levels.
With no access to toilets, open defecation is the only option for billions in developing countries like India, Ethiopia and Nigeria. Open defecation is done in a field, bush, forest, body of water or any other open space, and the U.N. estimates that one billion out of the 2.5 billion living without access to sanitation facilities practiced open defecation in 2011.
As a result of this high amount of open defecation occurring daily, several health risks are on the rise. Typhoid, hepatitis, cholera and other contagious water-borne diseases are spreading at an alarming rate since open defecation mostly occurs in fields of crops for food or by bodies of water where people drink and bathe. According to UNICEF, approximately 173 million people drink from bodies of water that cannot be protected against contamination, which only further increases the risk of infection.
Along with being a major health issue, the access to toilets and sanitation in developing countries is also considered a major human rights issue. Just imagine – it is late at night, and nature is calling. For the fortunate, this would not be a problem, but your home does not have a toilet. Like so many others, you have no other option but to find a private place outside.
This is exactly what two teenage cousins did one night in their village in Uttar Pradesh when both girls were abducted, gang-raped and killed by a group of young men in May. Unfortunately, this was not the first time this type of attack has happened to women, revealing how important this issue has become. In response to this and other attacks on women looking for a private place to defecate, the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) protested the gang-rape of those two teenage girls and demanded the arrest of those involved on May 31 in New Delhi, India, which only furthered the attention drawn to this issue.
Since 2000, the U.N. has worked to decrease the amount of people living without access to both safe drinking water and basic sanitation facilities by 2015 as part of Target C of the seventh Millennium Development Goal. While access to improved drinking water sources is now available to more than 2.5 billion people, ensuring access to basic sanitation facilities will be more difficult to reach by the 2015 deadline.
To support this goal and increase awareness of the issues surrounding open defecation, UNICEF launched the “Take Poo to the Loo” campaign in 2013 to specifically target the 600 million people in India who do not have access to a sanitation facility. The UNDP has also encouraged developing countries to focus on achieving this goal because not only will gaining access to toilets promote sanitation, but it will also encourage education, particularly among girls, and reduce health costs.
As such a serious multi-layered issue that needs to be addressed, it is time for open defecation to no longer be considered a taboo subject so we can openly talk about it, and more importantly, do something about it to resolve this human rights issue.
– Meghan Orner