• Happy World Toilet Day 2012!

    Posted by Ben

    19 November, 2012

    It's not one of the best-known or most widely-celebrated of international days. It doesn't have a major celebrity spokesperson or designer accessory to promote it. But World Toilet Day is, arguably, one of the most important days on the calendar. Your loo, and the sanitation infrastructure you are perched on top of every time you do your daily business, is probably doing more to keep you healthy than any other medical advance made in the last 200 years. 

    But in the world today, 2.5 billion people still don't have access to adequate sanitation and around 1.1 billion still practise open defecation, with health consequences that aren't difficult to imagine. Diarrheoal diseases cause around 2 million deaths each year, and almost all of those are the result of low-quality water supply, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene.

    Locally and globally, though, there is good news. Grassroots, or bottom-up (pun intended), campaigns to bring toilets to every community are having startling success in many places. In Nepal, for example thousands of communities are overcoming poverty and poor government service delivery, along with centuries of traditional practice of defecating in the open (near paths and rivers or in fields, bushes or streams) to become 100% "open defecation free".

    Magma, a straggle of small settlements clinging to rough, rocky slopes in Western Nepal, is one such community.  It’s well off the tourist routes. No welcoming stone lodges, solar hot showers, or morning views of snow-capped peaks. Just an endless grind to scrape a living from tiny terraced fields of thin, shaly soil. 

    Women's group from Magma Ward 3

    Here, the community has been working to construct simple pour-flush latrines for each household. The pit is dug out laboriously by hand and then lined with chipped stones. The latrine is covered with simple mud-and-stone shelter, with timber beams from the forest for the roof and thatch recovered from the last grain crop. A ceramic pan for squatting is inserted in a concrete floor built with sand and water carried up from the river in the valley below.

    Darryl Jackson, Australian Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) specialist, and TEAR Australia fieldworker, explains: “These simple pour-flush latrines are technically easy to build, though the physical work is hard. They don’t need a vent pipe. If the pit is deep enough, it should last a family for around 10 years. Coupled with training on good hygiene practices, especially hand-washing, disease rates will drop dramatically, once each household in a community has a toilet.”

    Jyotikha Nepal sits in front of her newly-constructed toilet

    That’s the trick – getting what’s called “total sanitation” coverage. The Government of Nepal provides incentives for villages, who now vie to achieve Open Defecation-Free Zone status. Magma Ward 3 was the first to achieve this, last year. Chairperson of the local women’s group, the driving force behind the sanitation campaign, is Jyothika Nepali.

    She says: “We used to be ashamed, because our village was so dirty, people passed us by without stopping. Now, our village is clean, and we are much healthier.” Other wards are following their example, busily building toilets. In fact, hundreds of Nepal's local government areas (known as VDCs) have already become open defecation free through this process. 

    Investments in sanitation, can have enormous health impacts – saving lives and reducing illness. They can also bring big economic returns, with at least $5 returned to a developing country economy (in productivity gains and avoided losses related to disease) for every $1 invested in sanitation. Better sanitation brings dignity, privacy and security for women and girls. 

    For all these reasons, Micah Challenge has been partnering with WaterAid to call on the Australian Government to increase aid to water and sanitation to at least $500 million annually by 2015, with at least half to sanitation and hygiene programs. This represents roughly our fair share of the global cost of ensuring that everyone has access to clean water and adequate sanitation. It's why we've been moving a giant toilet to 35 locations across the country to raise awareness of tens of thousands of people.

    Check out our video of Australians calling on the Foreign Minister to do more on water and sanitation, and then sign our petition here


    Ben Thurley is the Political Engagement Coordinator for Micah Challenge Australia. Ben previously worked with TEAR Australia and has just spent four years in Nepal volunteering as an advocacy advisor to a local Nepali organisation.

    Photos and blog post material provided by Lyn Jackson,  Communications Director - United Mission to Nepal, and TEAR Australia Fieldworker.