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Happy World Toilet Day 2014!

By Sarah Hedley 19 November 2014

Happy World Toilet Day! I assume you have extensive plans laid on for today’s celebrations. No? Well, here are a few quick things you can do show love for your loo:

  • Take a look at the My Toilet photographs on the BBC—part of an exhibition organised by Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP) showing in London this week.
  • Learn a thing or two about the one billion people that have no toilet at all and are forced to defecate in the open.
  • Watch journalist Rose George’s TED talk about why you really should care about toilets.

It might seem odd to celebrate the humble toilet—but there’s a very serious point to it all: one third of the world’s population does not have access to safe sanitation. This shocking statistic has serious consequences: poor sanitation can contribute to water-related diseases such as typhoid, which kills two million people every year, while diarrhoea is the second biggest cause of death among children under five.

Such huge numbers (along with a certain amount of squeamishness) perhaps partly explain why sanitation is a cause that doesn’t tend to get much attention and is rarely high on the agenda for philanthropists and foundations. Because with a need this big, how can anyone begin to make a dent in the problem?

Today we also welcome the launch of the Toilet Board Coalition—a new coalition of funders, companies and experts coming together to help tackle the sanitation crisis. Along with government donors, such as DfID, and private funders such as the Stone Family Foundation (an NPC client), what’s really exciting about this coalition is the roll call of big name multi-national companies also represented—including Unilever, Kimberly Clarke, Lixil (the world’s biggest manufacturer of sanitation fixtures and fittings) and Firmenich (a major perfume and flavour business).

As we’ve written before, businesses often possess expertise and resources that can have as much, if not more, impact than financial donations. Bringing the knowledge and expertise of these companies to bear on, say, the optimum way to set up a supply chain or the ideal injection moulding process for manufacturing low-cost latrines can be immensely valuable. This, combined with pooled funding of all the coalition members, has the potential to help sanitation NGOs and social enterprises increase the impact and scale of their services, which currently meet only a fraction of those in need.

This work is already getting underway. Several Toilet Board members have been involved in supporting Clean Team—a company started by Unilever and WSUP, and supported by DfID and the Stone Family Foundation, to provide families in Ghana with latrines in their own home that are not only nicer, safer and cleaner than using community toilet blocks, but cheaper too. The Toilet Board is now looking at how it can bring together the technical know-how of the corporate members to design the next generation of latrines and make going to the loo a much pleasanter experience.

It’s still early days and managing these kinds of coalition is never straightforward, as evaluations of other funder collaborations have shown. But for something so big and so basic, pooling funds and expertise is surely the right way to go.