REFLECTION: World Toilet Day 2020 and why it’s important

As World Toilet Day is approaching it is important to understand why something "as simple" as a toilet has been given its very own day. With the majority of the world population not having access to proper sanitation it is not surprising that many disease that could be solved by proper use of toilets still roam the world today. Three important factors make toilets invaluable: Disease prevention, female empowerment, and fighting climate change.

REFLECTION: World Toilet Day 2020 and why it’s important
'Toilet Appreciation' by @milie.dsgn. © 2020 Emilie Schaefer and What Is Science Even?

Tomorrow (November 19th) is World Toilet Day, so let’s talk about toilets! It’s one of those things that we all use every day but never really talk about. So you might ask ‘What is the World Toilet Day and why should we talk about toilets?”. The World Toilet Day is a United Nations Observance that celebrates toilets and raises awareness of the 4.2 billion people who live without access to safely managed sanitation [1]. Yes, you read that right, more than half of the world’s population do not have access to safe sanitation! And another fact is that 2 billion people globally do not have any type of toilets [2]. When I say toilets, I don’t just mean flushable and private ones, but also community-run toilets, latrines, buckets, etc.

As you might guess, toilets that are in poor conditions can lead to poor sanitation and hygiene and unsafe drinking water. At least 2 billion people use drinking water sources that are contaminated with faeces [3]. Poor sanitation can also have knock-on effects on productivity: A study by the World Bank and Sanitation program in 2005 showed that countries in South East Asia lost 1.5-7.2% of their GDP due to poor sanitation.


Success through sanitation

Now that we have convinced ourselves that talking about toilets is important, let’s focus on three outcomes that can be achieved through clean toilets and sanitation:

Firstly, let’s talk about how clean toilets can prevent transmittable diseases and deaths. It is widely known that poor sanitation is linked to transmission of diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid and also malnutrition [2]. It is estimated that there are 432,000 diarrhoeal deaths annually [2], which could be prevented with better sanitation, hygiene and clean water. Therefore, having cleaner toilets and better hygiene can prevent people, especially children under 5, catching diarrheal diseases that may lead to malnutrition or even death.

Secondly, access to toilets is highly linked to education, and providing clean and safe toilets in schools is a significant part of empowering girls and women. One-third of schools globally do not have toilets! And 2 in 5 schools lack handwashing facilities [4]. Many girls globally miss out on education due to lack of clean and safe toilets in schools. This is particularly the case when girls start their period, as toilets then are needed more than ever to provide a clean and safe environment. In Nigeria, every fourth girl misses school because of their period due to the lack of toilets at school, or that the toilets there are there are unclean and unsafe [4]. Therefore, providing clean and safe ways to use toilets is a very important part of empowering girls and women.

Thirdly, sustainable toilets are also important in fighting climate change. The wastewater and sludge from toilets contain valuable nutrients, which can be used to safely boost agriculture [1]. Additionally, faeces could be used as a source of energy and fuel [5]. If you are interested in this, check out how the Gates Foundation is reinventing toilets to make energy:



Johanna Habicht
Writer on Medicine & Health



[1] World Toilet Day website
[2] WHO. Sanitation. World Health Organization website: Jun 14, 2019 [web page]
[3] WHO. Drinking-water. World Health Organization website: Jun 14, 2019 [web page]
[4] WHO. Progress on drinking-water, sanitation and hygiene in schools: Special focus on COVID-19. World Health Organization: Aug 13, 2020 [report]
[5] Global Dimension. Toilets: we all need to ‘go’Jul 8, 2018 [web page]

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