Breaking the taboos around loos

Water, sanitation & hygiene article written on the 18 Nov 2016

Toilets. Water Closets. Dunnies. Whatever you call them, we all use them – but they’re not something we often talk about. And they’re definitely not a topic that you’d expect the Secretary-General of the United Nations to want us to discuss.

Yet that is exactly what Ban Ki-Moon is encouraging us to do. Saturday 19 November is World Toilet Day, and breaking the taboos around loos is one of of the main goals of this global awareness campaign.

According to the UN, there are 2.4 billion people around the world “struggling to stay well, keep their children alive and work their way to a better future – all for the want of a toilet.”

At Oxfam, the humble toilet is a topic close to our hearts.

Water and sanitation are a big part of our work and the installation of Fresh Life toilets has made a huge difference to the health and livelihoods of people living in poor places. The toilets also bring us closer to the Sustainable Development Goals target of access to a toilet for everyone by 2030.

In the Bangladeshi slum of Horijon Polli, lack of access to clean toilets and fresh water is the reality for many residents. But this reality quickly turns to a nightmare when it rains. The drains that line the slum’s streets, often clogged with human and household waste, regularly overflow in the heavy rain. Polluted water floods the streets and people’s homes with raw sewage and rotting garbage.

Photo: Tom Pietrasik / Oxfam

Chandra (left) shares a joke with her neighbour at the water pump outside her home

Photo: Tom Pietrasik / Oxfam

“If you live in a clean place, you won’t have diseases”

Chandra and the other children in her slum are forced to live and play in the filthy water. They are at great risk of disease and becoming sick from diarrhoea and pneumonia. The situation is made worse because there is no reliable source of clean water in the slum. Chandra and her family often have no choice but to cook, clean and wash in the contaminated water.

Chandra knows good sanitation and hygiene are key to keeping her family healthy. She told us that she would do anything to protect them from the dirty water: “I try to keep the home clean and clear, and I try to keep my little brothers clean, as well as the environment.”

We are working hard to build and maintain clean water supplies in villages around Bangladesh, and to build new shower and toilet blocks in these communities that are affected by water-borne disease. With your help, we can make a huge difference to those most in need.

This World Toilet Day, as you sit on your own clean throne, please think about Chandra and her family and how with your help they no longer need to fear the monsoon season. Please give generously. It will take less time than a trip to the loo.

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