Toilet talk: World Toilet Day 2013

India Water Portal
Saturday, November 22, 2014 - 10:30

It's completely personal, it's our 'me-time', it's when we are shut off from the world (at least physically), it's when we solve many confusing problems -- yes, it's toilet time! Unfortunately, this is only from an urban perspective. The opposite is true in a rural setting with women having to bear the biggest brunt of the lack of covered toilets. 

World Toilet Day, celebrated worldwide on the 19th of November every year, is an effort to address the problem of sanitation and tackle the issue of access to toilets. According to a 2012 report focused on sanitation for women and girls, 700,000 children die every year due to unsanitary conditions and unsafe water. Lack of access to toilets means that people have to resort to open defecation, which is a problem with wider reaching consequences than previously thought. 

Complex attributes related to human behaviour and gender are essential elements in solving this problem. These point towards two clear conclusions. First, the biology of behaviour calls for building on programs and efforts driven by customised community-based approaches rather than one civic approach for everyone. Second, providing a personality, a sense of ownership and therefore creating a sense of value towards sanitation facilities will go farther than instructing someone to use toilets and to keep them clean.  

The stories of the two individuals mentioned below shows how they have created organisations and initiatives to popularise the subject of sanitation to society at large and to governments in particular.

Jack Sim aka Mr. Toilet man is the founder of World Toilet Organisation (WTO) and the reason that the UN and its member states passed the proposal which declared 19th November each year to be celebrated as World Toilet Day. An entrepreneur who dabbled with a string of successful business from construction to real estate and education, he found that his driver to success was his creativity as well as ability to form trusting partnerships. 

He founded the Restroom Association of Singapore (RAS) in 1998 and in the year 2001, World Toilet Organisation came into existence. His sole purpose and motivation was to provide centre stage to the social cause on sanitation. By creating this atmosphere via WTO, world toilet summits and expos, he has brought together the ruling governments around the world to sit up and take notice of the issues related to sanitation and lack of access to toilets. 

The main idea that drives this work is focussed on shunning the taboo that is to not talk about sanitation, toilets and poop. Through these efforts and with the help of partners in several countries he has also managed to rope in actors Matt Damon and Shahrukh Khan to lend this movement famous (familiar) faces in the hope that more people will be encouraged to talk about toilets.

Closer to home, an academic by training and a champion of the Sulabh Shauchalaya (Sulabh toilets) movement, Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak’s motivation arose from a controversial subject entrenched in our Indian society. The act of manual scavenging of human excreta and the suffering it has created over the centuries as a practice revealed its ugly face while he was pursuing his doctorate. His focus was to find low-cost sanitation solutions, which could replace this heinous yet prevalent practice painted with colours of casteism in our country. 

The human misery and deeply institutionalised discrimination due to being associated with a sub-human occupation also gave this effort a social justice context. His Sulabh Shauchalaya system introduced India to a low-cost sanitation solution, which is now recommended as a global best practice. A two-pit pour-flush toilet has become culturally acceptable as more than a million dry toilets have been replaced by Sulabh toilets. Dr. Pathak’s efforts have led to the construction of 7500 public toilets all over India, which are maintained on a 'pay and use' basis serving almost 10 million people daily (1). His efforts have led not only to social alleviation but addressed the issue of toilets and sanitation facilities in India. 

On World Toilet Day, let us all make a conscious effort to acknowledge the value of the toilets that we have access to. Whether they are inside our houses, apartments or at public places, they are the resources, which will help us keep our surroundings clean and our lives healthier. 

1. A profile of Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, Founder of Sulabh sanitation movement accessed on 18/11/2013.