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World Toilet Day 2018

3 hard truths about the global sanitation crisis

Seema Thomas's picture

Co-authors: 
Martin Gambrill, Lead Water Supply & Sanitation Specialist, World Bank 
Rebecca Jean Gilsdorf, Water Supply & Sanitation Specialist, World Bank
Ndeye Awa Diagne, Young Professional, World Bank


Today when you go to the toilet, be it in someone’s basic latrine in a rural village you might be visiting, in a public toilet where you work, or on a comfortable water-flushed ‘loo’ at home, take a moment to think about those not as fortunate as yourself.
 
As you sit (or squat) and contemplate, consider these three hard truths about 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.