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The UN declares 19 November as World Toilet Day

The UN declares 19 November as World Toilet Day

A model, low-cost toilet by the Norwegian Church Aid standing at the WCC Assembly in Busan, next to a banner on Sanitation. Photo Credit: Dinesh Suna

18 November 2013

World Toilet Day on 19 November 2013 was celebrated as United Nations World Toilet Day for the first time. The UN endorsement for World Toilet Day came almost 2 decades later than for World Water Day.

Even though this recognition by the UN shows their seriousness in addressing the issue of  access to adequate sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, doesn’t want to lose sight of the fact that more than 2.5 billion people are deprived of dignified access to adequate sanitation facilities. In a statement, she re-emphasizes the gravity of the problem of sanitation.

The Ecumenical Water Network has been engaged, since the 9th Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Porto Alegre, 2006, in promoting the human right to water and sanitation for all. Access to sanitation is as important as access to water and both are intrinsically related. Lack of adequate sanitation facilities is primarily responsible for water-borne diseases, including diarrhoea, especially among  children. Diarrhoeal diseases are the second most common cause of the death of young children in developing countries, killing more than HIV/AIDS, malaria and measles combined, and resulting in 1 death every 20 seconds.

Since water has a spiritual significance in most religions, including Christianity, and is widely talked and preached about in churches, it’s unfortunate that issues related to sanitation are more often than not considered a “taboo” subject. One Indian religious leader said at the launch of the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance (GIWA), “Let us shift our focus from temples to toilets”, implying that building toilets is a more urgent necessity than constructing new temples.

More information on UN World Toilet Day


News from the UN Office of Geneva: "No access to sanitation" – the big euphemism

GENEVA (19 November 2013) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque, has warned that the sanitation target set by the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDG) is today the most off-track of all, leaving around one billion people still practicing open defecation on a daily basis, and one-third of the world’s population ‘without access to improved sanitation.’

“This is a euphemism to describe the undignified life of billions of people who have no place to defecate or urinate and have to do it without conditions of safety, hygiene, privacy or dignity,” Ms. de Albuquerque said on the first UN World Toilet Day. Eighty three per cent of countries have fallen significantly behind the national targets they have set for sanitation.

“I am disappointed with the slow and insufficient progress in providing these services despite the significant political and legal commitments undertaken in the last years, including the ‘Sanitation and Water for All’ initiative - a strong political platform to gather support for increasing financing for the sanitation sector”, the expert said.

The Special Rapporteur recalled that the human right to sanitation was recognized in a landmark resolution supported by the majority of UN Member States in 2010, in order to respond urgently to this alarming situation.

“From now on,” she said, “the focus has to be on sustainable solutions for those persons who are systematically forgotten and face significant barriers in accessing sanitation – because they live with a disability, because they belong to a minority, because they are homeless, because they live in a slum, because women’s and girls’ need for privacy is not guaranteed,” Ms. de Albuquerque said.

“Twenty years after World Water Day was declared, we finally can celebrate UN World Toilet Day – an occasion to unite our global efforts with States, United Nations and relevant stakeholders to make toilets a reality for all and forever”, she noted.

The human rights expert hailed the UN General Assembly’s decision declaring 19th of November as UN World Toilet Day. “I hope this declaration galvanises national and international action to reach the billions of people who still do not benefit from this basic human right,” the Special Rapporteur said.

Recalling current discussions on a future global development agenda, the rights expert also called on Governments to achieve universal access to sanitation in the post-2015 global development agenda by giving priority to the elimination of open defecation and committing to eliminate inequalities in access progressively.

“Toilets are the symbol of dignity for billions of people who still cannot enjoy them,” said Ms. de Albuquerque. “Let’s cherish them, let’s prioritize them…let’s celebrate them!”