November 15, 2020

Mercy Global Action Celebrates World Toilet Day 2020

On November 19th, we celebrate World Toilet Day 2020 to encourage the implementation of policies which increase access to sanitation and call to end the practice of open-air defecation.  World Toilet Day was officially declared on the 24th of July 2013, with the adoption of Resolution 67/291. The celebration raises awareness of the 4.2 billion people living without access to safely managed sanitation facilities across the globe. This year’s theme is ‘sustainable sanitation and climate change’, highlighting the need for urgent action to tackle the global sanitation crisis which is being exacerbated by the climate emergency.

The human right to water and sanitation is a core concern across the Mercy World. Access to water and quality sanitation facilities are essential to stop the spread of infectious diseases such as COVID-19, cholera, diarrhoea and typhoid. This year marks the beginning of the Decade of Action which calls for accelerated measures to implement the extensively negotiated Declaration of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In 2014, MGA strongly engaged in the advocacy efforts for the inclusion of the human right to water and sanitation in the 2030 Agenda, along with the NGO Mining Working Group. This successfully resulted in the inclusion of a stand alone goal, SDG 6, to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.”

According to UN Water, quality sanitation begins with access to a toilet that effectively captures human waste in “a safe, accessible and dignified setting”. Safety is particularly important for women and children, who otherwise risk sexual harassment and assault when defecating at night and in secluded areas. Hence, we must enhance the global focus on sanitation, improve the provision of toilets and promote hygiene in order to achieve SDG 6 by 2030.

Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events which have a great impact on access to quality sanitation services. Weather events, such as storms, flooding and droughts, threaten sanitation systems by contaminating water or causing water scarcity. Extreme weather events can also seriously damage the infrastructure which provides sanitation services, exposing public health to infectious diseases. As the global climate crisis continues to accelerate and extreme weather events become less predictable, the provision of functional, climate-resilient toilets, which safely treat and dispose of human waste, needs to be a top priority of UN Member States in order to protect human health, safety and dignity at all levels of society.

Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia still struggle with low sanitation coverage. India has the largest number of people without access to basic sanitation facilities. Many countries across the Mercy World are also lagging far behind in achieving universal sanitation for all. Approximately five million people lack access to improved sanitation facilities in Cambodia. The WHO describes an improved sanitation facility as a toilet that “hygienically separates human excreta from human contact”. Cambodia is the eighth most disaster prone country in the world, making it extremely vulnerable to climate change. In recent years, Cambodia has experienced water scarcity due to a lack of rainfall during their wet seasons. These factors, compounded by the fact that the majority of the Cambodian population live in rural areas with low socioeconomic status, complicate securing toilets and sanitation connections in many homes.

MGA strives to raise awareness and tackle issues related to sustainable sanitation and climate change across the globe. Last year, the first international immersion of the Mercy Emerging Leaders Fellowship (2019-2020) commenced at Mindol Metta Karuna Reflection Centre in Siem Reap, Cambodia.  As part of the MELF programme, the fellows were introduced to the theme ‘Degradation of Earth’ with a particular focus on clean water and sanitation. Members of the group shared their experiences of water use and abuse in their own countries, and discussed the effects that the scarcity, contamination and privatisation of water often have on poor or marginalised communities. The fellows had the opportunity to take part in a toilet building project in a small village outside of Siem Reap. The project was organised by the Mindol Metta Karuna team and aimed to construct toilets for families with low socioeconomic status, while empowering communities to improve their hygiene practices. For many of the fellows, this was an eye opening experience which highlighted how marginalised communities often lack their basic human right to clean water and sanitation, and how poor sanitation and pollution threaten to damage vital ecosystems and the Earth’s carrying capacity.

Climate change and water scarcity are accelerating so we must ensure that everyone has access to safe and sustainable sanitation that can withstand climate change and promote healthy communities. The good news is that as more and more people become educated on the importance of sanitation, new innovations are being made to make toilets smarter. Worldwide, new models are aiming to make productive use of wastewater and sludge from toilets to enhance sustainability and support a circular economy. The threats of climate change will make future disease outbreaks more common and more dangerous. The environment, health and sanitation are indivisible and this must be clear in our policies and practices as we take on future adversities, eliminate inequalities, and leave no one behind in our response to the changing climate.

Call to Action -

  • Raise awareness of the connection between toilets, climate change and health.
  • Ensure that water and sanitation systems are resilient and sustainable to protect public health and the health of the planet.
  • Mobilise around a call for the prioritisation of clean water, sanitation and hygiene in the response to the climate emergency.

Learn More -

Messages to: Siobhan Golden - MGA Intern

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