Can A Toilet Save Your Life?

November 9, 2011

world water day flier

Sanitation is rarely discussed—after all, what we do with toilets is not usually a topic for polite company. For some of us, the very existence of World Toilet Day seems like a joke. The problem is that many people don’t have a toilet, or any other form of sanitation. In fact, 2.6 billion people don’t.   It’s a basic service – and a fundamental human right – that most of us take for granted, but one that is currently denied to 40% of the world’s population.

A bipartisan Senate bill would further United States leadership on fulfilling the right to water and sanitation for people around the globe. The Water for the World Act of 2011 would help provide 100 million people with first-time, sustainable access to safe drinking water within six years.

From now until World Toilet Day – November 19 – WaterAid and Amnesty International are urging people to give a crap about human rights!

  1. Support the Water for the World Act by taking action
  2. Download the “Give a Crap For Human Rights” flyer and put it up in bathroom stalls in your community or on your campus!

The U.N. General Assembly declared clean water and sanitation a human right in 2010. Both safe drinking water and improved sanitation have Millennium Development Goal (MDG) targets, because they are essential to human well-being. Yet, even with this global consensus, it’s hard to make headway on one of the world’s greatest crises if those of us with the privilege of flushing it away don’t talk about it.

So as an employee of WaterAid, the world’s largest organization focused on providing safe drinking water, improved sanitation and hygiene education to the world’s poorest communities, I‘m thrilled that we’re teaming up with Amnesty International to put this issue front and center by telling people to give a crap about human rights.

Sanitation, Health and Other Unmentionables

In poor communities, inadequate sanitation leads to contaminated water supplies, which in turn causes water-borne illnesses. Most notable among these is diarrhea, which kills 4,000 children under five every day, more kids than die from AIDS, measles and malaria combined.  With growing urban populations, people are living in closer quarters in greater numbers. Imagine what happens in those settings when there is no safe, hygienic place to do that unmentionable thing we all do every day.

Part of Amnesty’s Demand Dignity Campaign’s human right to housing work is on equal access to services for people living in inadequate housing – and clean water and sanitation are crucial services, and basic human rights. Did you know that people living in slums often pay 5-10 times more for water than those in rich areas of their own cities – and more than consumers pay in New York?

As is often the case, women face additional rights violations when there is no sanitation, just because they are women. Women are more likely to be poor than men, and poor people are more likely to have inadequate sanitation.

When women and girls don’t have access to a safe, private, well-lit latrine, they are put in compromising situations that can lead to sexual violence. And, research has found that a lack of private latrines at school can lead to girls staying home during menstruation or dropping out entirely due to shame, bullying and violence.

Human Needs are Human Rights

Having a toilet is a basic human need, and a fundamental human right. That’s why Amnesty International includes water and sanitation in its work on economic, social and cultural rights. It’s why WaterAid has focused on providing latrines and other basic water and sanitation services for 30 years, why we push governments to close the enormous gap remaining in the MDG target on sanitation. It’s why the Give a Crap campaign is a great vehicle for showing how human rights violations are linked, and can arise from just one basic need being ignored. We have the opportunity to make real noise about the importance of sanitation, by encouraging our communities to give a crap—and asking Congress to do the same.

It’s time to stop worrying about polite company, and worry about the well-being of billions of people, instead. Now, take a break, run to the loo…and be grateful for what you have. Happy World Toilet Day!

Lisa Schechtman is Head of Policy and Advocacy  at WaterAid in America and member of Amnesty International USA Women’s Human Rights Group