talking toilet

Happy World Toilet day!

By Sarah Hedley 19 November 2013

Today is World Toilet Day—and is being celebrated round the world (and especially on twitter).

Toilets have become the specialist subject of a few of us here at NPC. Over the past five years, we’ve been working with the Stone Family Foundation to help it give away £3.5m in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) every year.

One of the biggest lessons we’ve learnt from working with the foundation is that solving the sanitation crisis requires more than just building a few million new toilets. Here are three of the reasons why:

1. You need to build demand for toilets first: The need for a loo may seem blindingly obvious but that still means creating awareness about the need for good sanitation and thinking carefully about what households want from a toilet.

The Dutch NGO, SNV, has been working intensively in one rural district of Cambodia to eradicate open defecation, by raising awareness of the need for sanitation and by working closely with local government to ensure that toilets are high on the agenda. On 24 October this year, the first commune of Cambodia was declared open-defecation free.

2. Toilets need to reach people that need them: The majority of people living without toilets live in rural, and often remote, areas. Carting around millions of toilets in difficult and expensive, which means that in some cases they just don’t get there. You therefore need to think about how to get toilets to where they’re needed.

Two of the foundation’s grantees—WaterSHED and iDE Cambodia—are doing this by helping local businesses make and sell low-cost latrines in rural Cambodia. Local production makes toilets cheaper to produce and by supporting local businesses to build the latrines, toilet production carries on after the NGOs have left.

3. You need to think about what happens afterwards: Most toilets for low-income households are not linked to sewers, and so you need to think carefully about how to dispose of the waste afterwards. This problem is especially acute in towns and cities where space is limited and where high population density increases the risk of disease.

The NGO, Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor, has set up an innovative new social enterprise in Ghana, called CleanTeam, which provides low-income households with portable toilets. Waste from these toilets is captured in a cartridge in the toilet and then collected several times a week to be disposed of. CleanTeam aims to convert the waste into energy and organic fertiliser to sell to commercial farms in the region. The foundation has provided CleanTeam with funding to expand to 1,000 toilets in 2014.

Happy World Toilet-Demand-Creation-Distribution-Waste-Management Day is admittedly not such a snappy title. But it’s worth knowing that sanitation doesn’t just start and end with the bog.

PS. For those who would like to join in the World Toilet Day revelry, check out WaterAid’s singing toilet video: