Slow progress on sanitation and the entrenched practice of open defecation among millions around the world continue to put children and their communities at risk, UNICEF warned in a statement issued on World Toilet Day.
Some 2.5 billion people worldwide do not have adequate toilets and among them 1 billion defecate in the open – in fields, bushes, or bodies of water – putting them, and especially children, in danger of deadly faecal-oral diseases like diarrhoea.
“Lack of sanitation is a reliable marker of how the poorest in a country are faring,” said Sanjay Wijesekera, head of UNICEF’s global water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programmes. “But although it is the poor who overwhelmingly do not have toilets, everyone suffers from the contaminating effects of open defecation, so everyone should have a sense of urgency about addressing this problem.”
The call to end the practice of open defecation is being made with growing insistence as the links with childhood stunting become clearer. India, with 597 million (half the population) practising open defecation, also has high levels of stunting. Last week, UNICEF convened a conference in New Delhi called ‘Stop Stunting’ to call attention to the effect of open defecation on the entire population, particularly children. UNICEF’s ‘Take Poo to the Loo’ campaign in India also works to raise awareness of the dangers associated with open defecation.
“The challenge of open defecation is one of both equity and dignity, and very often of safety as well, particularly for women and girls,” Wijesekera noted. “They have to wait until dark to relieve themselves, putting them in danger of attack, and worse, as we have seen recently.”
In May, the hanging of two teenage girls in Uttar Pradesh who had gone out after dark to defecate caused international shock and dismay, and highlighted the security issues involved in open defecation.
UNICEF’s Community Approaches to Total Sanitation addresses the problem at the local level by involving communities in devising solutions, and has led to some 26 million people across more than 50 countries abandoning the practice of open defecation since 2008.
In Malawi, UNICEF in collaboration with other stakeholders such as DFID and Concern Universal are working with communities, sensitising them about the importance of hygiene and dangers of open defecation.
As a result, 440 villages in Dowa and Kasungu districts have been declared Open Defecation Free (ODF). At the national level, the percentage of villages that have been declared as open defecation free has increased from 3 percent in 2011 to 19 percent in 2014
To mark this year’s World Toilet Day, UNICEF is supporting the celebration of the 440 ODF villages in Kasungu and Dowa districts. The event which is a collaboration between Concern Universal, UNICEF, DFID and Dowa’s District Coordination Team (DCT) will showcase the ability of local communities to achieve universal access to safe and private toilets.
Eighty-two per cent of the 1 billion people practising open defecation live in just 10 countries: India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Sudan, Niger, Nepal, China, and Mozambique. The numbers of people practising open defecation are still rising in 26 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, though they have declined in Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. In Nigeria, numbers of open defecators increased from 23 million in 1990 to 39 million in 2012.
Globally, some 1.9 billion people have gained access to improved sanitation since 1990. However, progress has not kept up with population growth and the Millennium Development Goal target on sanitation is unlikely to be reached by 2015 at current rates of progress.
The inter-governmental Open Working Group on the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals have recommended that the new goals include a target of achieving adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and ending open defecation by 2030.
—Issued by Unicef/Newyork/Lilongwe