In a recent article in The Times of India, Sunita Narain brings up the tried and true dilemma of how throwing new toilets at a city, without an existing waste treatment infrastructure, is not a valid answer to its poor sanitation problems.
"This is because we often confuse toilets with sanitation. But the fact is that toilets are mere receptacles to receive waste; when we flush or pour water, the waste flows into a piped drain, which could be either connected, or not, to a sewage treatment plant (STP). This STP could be working, or not. In the majority of cases, human excreta (our household waste) is not safely disposed but instead discharged, untreated into the nearest river, lake or a drain."
Indeed! We’ve mentioned multiple times on this very site that simply manufacturing and installing toilets, doesn’t answer the call for better sanitation. In the end, any sanitation solution we create needs a corresponding way to deal with the waste we humans create. Be it, gigantic sewage treatment plants or basic septic tanks, we need a place for our waste go instead of our rivers and streams.
Despite this common sense though, we still need efficient ways to remove our waste and transport it into receptacles safely for treatment. For many countries, retrofitting or building new sewerage systems in towns and cities is disruptive and cost-prohibitive, to the point of impossibility.
So, as Narain wrote so well about, Governments are starting to see the value of working within the existing infrastructure.
"Governments are beginning to realise that yesterday’s system can be re-engineered to work for today and tomorrow. They now recognize the fact that septic tanks are decentralised waste collection systems. Instead of thinking of building an underground sewerage network – that is never built or never completed – it would be best to think of these systems as the future of urban sanitation. After all, we have gone to mobile telephony without the landline. Individual septic tanks could be the way to achieve full sanitation solutions."
It’s important remember: sometimes you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Many times you just have to find different ways to use it.
We encourage you to read Sunita Narain’s article. You can get to it by clicking right here.
In a press release last month, UNICEF announced that around 180,000 children under the age of 5 die annually in sub-Saharan Africa.
Breaking it down, that’s roughly 500 children a day. 500 children. Gone forever.
These deaths are caused by diarrhoeal diseases that are born of inadequate access to clean water, sanitation, or hygiene. The situation is dire and it’s only getting worse.
“Currently, nearly half of the global population without access to improved drinking water lives in sub-Saharan Africa and some 700 million people in the region lack access to improved sanitation. With a population which has nearly doubled in the last 25 years, access to sanitation only increased by 6 percentage points and to water by 20 percentage points across the region in the same period, leaving millions behind.”
So, in many ways, it’s not that the world isn’t coming up with new and effective ideas. It’s more that we are addressing the epidemic too late and now that we are, we are not moving fast enough to overcome the boom in population growth.
“UNICEF said that without speedy action, the situation can drastically worsen within the next 20 years, as rapidly rising populations outstrip the efforts of governments to provide essential services. For example, the number of people in the region who defecate in the open is higher now than it was in 1990. Meanwhile, open defecation has been linked to an increase in stunting among children.”
It’s a sobering read for sure and it’s meant to be. It points to the horrible cost of past inaction and lack of haste in attempting to address the water and sanitation gap in the world right now.
What’s worse, is that children shouldn’t have to pay for this. Yet they are – by the hundreds – every single day.
“World Toilet Day is a day to take action. It is a day to raise awareness about all people who do not have access to a toilet – despite the human right to water and sanitation.
It is a day to do something about it.
Of the world’s seven billion people, 2.5 billion people do not have improved sanitation. 1 billion people still defecate in the open. Women and girls risk rape and abuse because they have no toilet that offers privacy.
We cannot accept this situation. Sanitation is a global development priority. This is why the United Nations General Assembly in 2013 designated 19 November as World Toilet Day. This day had previously been marked by international and civil society organizations all over the world but was was not formally recognized as an official UN day until 2013. World Toilet Day is coordinated by UN-Water in collaboration with Governments and relevant stakeholders.” from UnWater.org
This is why our project exists. This is why we continue to move forward. With technology, research and field testing, collaboration, and a focus on delivering a solution that will last and serve its people well.
Today is a day to recognize the people around the world that continue to work tirelessly towards a solution to the globe’s sanitation problem. It’s also a day to acknowledge that there is still more work to to be done before we get that goal.
I see open defecation. It is all too common in the developing world. It is dangerous, risky, unhealthy to people and harmful to the environment.
It is unfortunately necessary, or more desirable, when there are no better options. When sanitation options in the form of improved latrines are soiled, smelly and sickening ODF is often a better choice. Open defecation is defecation in fields, wooded areas, bushes, on railroad tracks, bodies of water, or other open spaces. It is still practiced by nearly a quarter of the population in the least developed countries. In India, 48% of the population practices open defecation – that is 626 million people. Among the poorest 20% of the population in India, nearly everyone practices ODF. In Indonesia, 63 million people practice ODF. In Pakistan over 40 million. In Ethiopia over 38 million people and 34 million people in Nigeria.
An April 2014 article in the Economist magazine helps us raise the profile for sanitation and its link to health. It is so important to have main-stream, influential media writing about sanitation. A lack of awareness about the global sanitation crisis, plagues our ability to mobilize resources and influence to address the problem.
Follow our Twitter account@abettertoilet, for all of our tweets, links and posts from the event! We also encourage you to follow the official event hashtag,#Toilets4All to follow and contribute to the dialogue from all of the participants this year!
We are so honored and excited to be here! It’s going to be an incredible event! Stay tuned.