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Giving a crap on World Toilet Day 2017

Kristin Myers | 17 November 2017 | 0 Comments

It can be tough to talk about that thing we all do, but with 2.5 billion people around the world lacking access to adequate sanitation we’re determined to break the taboo. Let’s talk crap this World Toilet Day and help make proper sanitation a reality for all!

Liliana Mwenza is pictured beside a water hole that she used before a new water point was installed by a Concern-led WASH consortium in her village, Mulombwa, Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo: Kieran McConville/Concern Worldwide.

The best loo in Waterloo market, Sierra Leone

Every day, thousands of people pass through Sierra Leone’s Waterloo market and until recently, open defecation was the only option. Beyond the social discomfort, this posed serious health risks, particularly to children. In fact, diarrhoea-related illnesses are responsible for more deaths among children than HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis combined.

For this reason, water and sanitation programmes are a key component of our emergency response and development work. Across the world, we’re working to ensure that communities have access to simple sanitation — such as Veronica Buckets — and facilities like the ones we built in Waterloo market.

Proper toilets prevent disease and danger

Issues of sanitation and gender are often intertwined. A lack of privacy for women and girls increases the risk of sexual violence. Many toilets do not have any facilities to help women and girls manage their menstrual hygiene. If toilet blocks are not lit properly, women will not use them as they fear for their safety.

Mama Lumiere community group in Tahoua, Niger reaches tens of thousands of people with messages on breastfeeding, diarrhoeal treatment, hand washing, water treatment, and basic sanitation. Tahoua, Niger. Photo: Jennifer Nolan/Concern Worldwide.

Equality and dignity is what we aimed for when constructing the latrine blocks in Waterloo market. On the entrance we labelled women-only toilets with large pictures of women, so they are kept separate for men and women. This affords women greater safety and privacy, along with simple locks that can be fastened to the doors using nail and string.

The causes of diarrhoea uncovered

Of course, toilets are not the entire solution. People need information on how they can protect themselves from life-threatening diarrhoea. For example, a survey we conducted in South Sudan last year about the causes of diarrhoea revealed that people associated the disease with eating cold food, and they didn’t think people could get sick from hot meals. This is logical, considering that heat kills off bacteria, while a cold meal indicates that the food was cooked some time ago. But those surveyed did not make the connection between uncovered food (exposed to flies) and contamination.

Moreover, no one mentioned the importance of using the lid of the toilet. In a latrine without a lid, flies go in and out and subsequently contaminate food, causing diarrhoea. On top of all that, unclean hands used to prepare food were not recognised as a cause of food contamination. Gathering this sort of knowledge helps Concern build a shared understanding of what should be done to prevent diseases in the communities where we work, and how we can provide targeted messages to improve behaviour.

Nishimwe from Burundi makes a two hour journey to school on foot carrying a small container filled with water. Photo: Darren Vaughan/Concern Worldwide.

Innovative solutions to human waste

In South Sudan, where flooding has rendered hundreds of latrines unusable, we’ve successfully piloted the use of PeePoo bags. These self-sanitizing and fully biodegradable toilets are designed for single use. Given the current constraints on latrine construction caused by a lack of dry land, the PeePoo bags offer a means of addressing the sanitation gap until more permanent measures can be put in place.

Another innovative way to improve hygiene is the Glo Germ. This “makes visible the invisible” by using UV light to show that hands can be dirty even if they look clean to the naked eye. This helps demonstrate that the only way to thoroughly clean your hands is by washing with soap. An entire kit, which is sufficient for up to 100 washes, costs just over 100 euro.

Like so many development issues, we still need the political will and financial support to make sanitation for all a reality. We must prioritise sanitation as an important global issue and encourage open dialogue instead of open defecation.

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