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shared sanitation

‘Improving’ versus ‘improved’ sanitation: the case of shared toilets in Ghana

Sanyu Lutalo's picture

Ms. Tettey wakes her children up at 3.30 am every morning to be able to make it to the front of the line at the nearest public toilet block, located about 150 meters from her house in Accra’s La Dade Kotopon Municipal Assembly.  Like many residents of low-income informal settlements in Greater Accra, the Tettey family rents a single room in a compound house with about ten other families.  The 2008 Ghana Living Standards Survey reports that 79% of Ghanaians live in compound houses consisting of several households built around a common open area or yard that share basic utilities like water, electricity and sanitation, where available.  The use of shared toilets was the only alternative the Tetteh family had to open defecation when at home.  During the day, the adults tried to take advantage of the public toilets near the market where Mrs. Tettey works, and the children were encouraged to use the toilets at their school before coming home.  The Tetteys are among the 80 percent of Ghana’s population that lack access to ‘improved’ or safely managed sanitation.

An improved sanitation facility is defined as one that hygienically separates human excreta from human contact.  The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) currently exclude shared toilets from their definition of safely managed sanitation.  Likewise, to meet the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Program (JMP)’s definition of improved sanitation, toilets must be used by only one household, and they should meet certain design standards that prevent human contact with faeces.  These definitions are driven by concerns that an increased number of users, among other factors, reduces the overall levels of hygiene and cleanliness of facilities and decreases their safety, thereby limiting access for women, children, and the elderly, and precluding achievement of the health, social and environmental benefits of having adequate sanitation.

How many people can share a toilet?

Rebecca Jean Gilsdorf's picture

An Introduction to Shared Sanitation

Rachel Cardone

Martin Gambrill

How many people can share a toilet? This question might sound like the start of a joke but it’s actually a serious issue for many across the world. That’s because an estimated 20 percent of the global population do not have their own toilets.
In urban areas, almost one person in ten uses a shared household toilet, i.e., a toilet shared with at least one neighboring household. But sometimes no one in the neighborhood owns a private toilet, so some of these families instead have no choice but to use community toilets - that are locally available and used by anyone who lives nearby. In such cases, hundreds of people might be using the same block of community toilets. Now let’s think about the other toilets we all use – when we’re out shopping or running errands, when we’re at work or school, or when we’re in transit. These public toilets might be used by hundreds or thousands of different people at different times of day.
Many of us go through the day without giving much thought to this. But for hundreds of millions of people worldwide who do not own their own toilet, these are daily realities. Additionally, even for households who have their own toilet, when they are outside of the home, they still need access to improved sanitation facilities. The illustration below depicts a day in the life of the Mijini family (Mijini means urban in Swahili). The Mijini ’s sanitation situation is great in their home, as they have an individual household toilet, but it’s underwhelming and even dangerous once they leave home for their day. Their experience is not unique, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.