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Toilets. We use them everyday – at home, on campus, at bars, clubs, and restaurants – yet we never discuss what they really mean to us. We rarely take the time to stop and appreciate the fundamental role they have played in constructing the Western world as we know it. Toilets, in short, are at the very backbone of our culture. While it might not be a “sexy” or “glamorous” subject to talk about, last year the UN officially launched World Toilet Day as the one day where the toilet is no longer off-limits and we give our thanks to that little guy behind the cubicle.
This year marks the 150-year anniversary of our modern day sewer systems in the UK and, since then, we have come an extremely long way. Toilets have had an enormous impact on our health and well-being. They have added 20 years to the human lifespan over the past two centuries.
Added to this, there has been a clear link between improved sanitary standards and economic growth. The economic developments in Europe and North America went hand-in-hand with advancements in their sanitary conditions. With greater health gains, labour productivity improved massively and education standards began to grow as fewer days were being lost due to illness.
The toilet, then, is undoubtedly one of the greatest and most important inventions in history. Readers of the British Medical Journal voted the flush toilet as the best medical advance of the last 200 years; chosen over the Pill, anaesthesia and surgery.
In order to imagine a UK devoid of our sanitary advancements, one needs only to look to the impoverished regions of sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. This is why WaterAid Lancaster is trying to make the significance behind World Toilet Day heard across campus. The silence that surrounds toilets has resulted in the third world sanitation crisis to go unheeded by world leaders. Diseases caused by poor standards of hygiene make them the most destructive silent killers that go on affecting our planet to this day. Here is a shocking WaterAid statistic: diarrhoea causes 500,000 deaths each year in young children, causing even more child fatalities than malaria, AIDS, and measles put together.
It is the aim of World Toilet Day to stimulate political will and institutional responsibility to tackle the crisis, and it is a battle that starts with us the public. Yes, here comes the cliché: we must “think globally, act locally!” These are some facts on the sanitation crisis at present:
- 2.5 billion people – around one in three of the world’s population – don’t have access to a safe, clean, private toilet.
- The estimated annual gain in economic productivity if everyone had a toilet: £143 billion.
- Roughly one person dies every 20 seconds as a result of inadequate sanitation.
- Contamination from faeces is responsible for more than 50% of the 9 million preventable child deaths each year.
- For every pound invested in sanitation and water there’s a return of around £4.
Data source: www.worldtoiletday.org and World Bank
These statistics are especially startling when you consider that the introduction of even the most basic of toilet facilities would be enough to drastically reduce the fatalities. It is a fact that is ever more imperative with the Ebola epidemic which is, right now, shattering the lives of thousands of people across West Africa. But change is happening and our support is essential. In the last year, WaterAid helped 2.9 million people gain access to a safe, clean and private toilet – that’s a staggering 8,000 people a day.
So on Wednesday Week 7, celebrate your toilet! WaterAid Lancaster will be in Alexandra Square all day on Wednesday Week 7, and at KoolaKoola in Elements in the evening, collecting donations and giving information. The toilet saves lives. Cherish it – not as the taboo that must be double bolted behind the bathroom door of your mind, but as a universal symbol of better health, higher income, increased education, and dignity. Cheers toilet.
The author is the Publicity Officer of WaterAid Society Lancaster.