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The construction of latrines in the DRC has helped curb the spread of diseases like ebola and Covid in DR Congo. Here Samuel Abandeno Anoalite, Water & Sanitation assistant with Trócaire partner Caritas Wamba, shows the new latrines built in the school in Mabukulu village in Ituri province. Photo : Garry Walsh / Trócaire
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread across the world, over half the world’s population lack safe sanitation.
This week we mark World Toilet Day at a time of a global pandemic, when the world needs safe sanitation more than ever.
In many ways we are lucky in our developed countries to have the sanitation infrastructure we have in place. Many developing countries are facing a sanitation crisis, yet today we celebrate the humble toilet. We look at 5 reasons why toilets and sanitation are so important for communities across the world:
The global statistics on water and sanitation are shocking:
The pandemic has only deepened the sanitation crisis. Imagine living in conditions where you struggle to wash your hands and maintain safe hygiene while Covid spreads in your community.
The hardest hit by Covid are the poorest communities across the world, particularly indigenous peoples, marginalised minorities, and the urban poor living in crowded conditions with difficulties in accessing adequate water and sanitation services.
In conflict-affected countries, people are often living together in very crowded camps. Diseases and viruses spread easily. Many refugees living in camps already lack access to decent handwashing facilities.
“Washing hands frequently is a simple daily routine of many but it is a privilege and luxury for those who do not have adequate water and sanitation services and those who face the ironic decision of whether to drink water or use the water to wash their hands” said the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, Mr. Léo Heller.
Without safely managed, sustainable sanitation, people often have no choice but to use unreliable, inadequate toilets or use no toilets whatsoever.
Even where toilets exist, maintaining them can be a challenge. Overflows and leaks from pipes and septic systems, along with inadequate waste management, can mean untreated human waste gets out into the environment. This can spread deadly and chronic diseases such as cholera and intestinal worms.
Providing toilets can really transform communities. Sustainable latrines, alongside clean water and handwashing facilities, can help protect and maintain health. It can help stop the spread of deadly infectious diseases such as COVID-19 and typhoid.
It’s no joke, a humble toilet can be incredibly empowering and make a huge difference to people’s dignity and self-respect. For women and girls in particular, toilets can make a huge difference in terms of privacy, menstrual hygiene, and the bodily wellbeing of being able to use a toilet during daylight hours, which many women around the world wouldn’t do before their community had a toilet.
Trócaire’s local partner KMSS in Myanmar carrying out ‘desludging’ operations in internal displacement camps in Kachin state to ensure the toilets in the camps are safe and usable.
Climate change is a major threat to the world’s toilets, and the sanitation systems they are connected to. Flooding, drought and rising sea levels can damage sanitation systems. Often this results in raw sewage being spread which can create a public health emergency. Flood water can contaminate wells used for drinking water.
As the effects of climate change are becoming more frequent and more extreme, we must make our sanitation systems resilient, so they are sustainable as climate change gets worse.
The good news is that sustainable sanitation is resilient to climate change and safely processes bodily waste. Reducing unnecessary water consumption and water loss, means lower energy use and therefore lower emissions. Biogas from human waste can also be captured and used for greener energy generation.
This way we can conserve the valuable water, nutrients and energy from what goes into our toilets!
Currently in South Sudan, we are piloting an approach called Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) with our partners. This approach focuses more on the community than the infrastructure. We invest in mobilising the community to change behaviours rather than building toilets.
This community focus is so important because many sanitation projects have failed when they have focused just on building toilets, while not engaging the community at the same time. There are many examples of toilets not being used, or where they have been dismantled and the materials used elsewhere. It is crucial that the community feel a sense of ownership of their toilets, and that a change in behaviour is encouraged.
Essentially the message is that it doesn’t matter what latrine design you have, the most important thing is to have it and use it properly and above all, to wash your hands with clean water and soap to prevent the spread of Covid 19, cholera, typhoid or other preventable diseases.
Already in South Sudan, communities are in the process of constructing 300 latrines which they have built themselves from local materials. There are huge cultural barriers but mindsets are beginning to change and community celebrations are creating a deeper understanding of the importance of sanitation.
Examples from South Sudan where communities have built toilets on their own initiative using locally available materials.
This Christmas, consider buying a sustainable and ethical gift from the Trócaire Gifts range.
You can help tackle Covid and the sanitation crisis by buying the following gifts:
When you buy a Trócaire Gift, your money goes to the developing world – buying life-changing gifts for people who really need them as well as funding critical work in Trócaire’s justice, resource rights and women’s empowerment programmes.