For World Toilet Day, a serious look at poop

Everybody poops. There, I said it. It’s a topic that not many like to talk about, but that is all about to change because today is World Toilet Day.

Did you know that 2.6 billion people — about a third of the world’s population — do not have somewhere safe, private or hygienic to go to the toilet? The world is largely off track to meet UN Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 7, which aims to halve the proportion of the population without sustainable access to basic sanitation by 2015.

Ugandan woman scooping water from an unsafe source. Photo courtesy of RuralAid.

I know that 2.6 billion sounds like a big number, and we know that the MDGs are important, but for many of us living in developed countries, open defecation is simply out of our realm of comprehension. However, for many people living in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, this is a daily reality.

Globally, diarrhea is a leading cause of illness and death, with 88 percent of diarrheal deaths due to a lack of access to sanitation facilities compounded by unsafe drinking water and the unavailability of water for hygiene. Every 20 seconds, a child dies as a result of poor sanitation — that’s 1.5 million preventable deaths each year.

Not only does diarrhea kill more children each year than malaria or HIV/AIDS combined, but it causes millions of adults and children to miss work or school, which has enormous social, economic and political consequences. It is estimated that every $1 spent on water and sanitation generates returns of $8 in saved time, increased productivity and reduced health care costs.

For World Toilet Day, don’t be shy; help spread the word about the bathroom habits of the 2.6 billion people globally who lack access to basic sanitation. And, if you’re feeling extra bold, find an event near you to take part in The Big Squat — “a movement for the toilet-less.”