Working at Rentokil Initial, it’s easy to become immune to some of the things that any normal person would find disgusting. In the world of Pest Control and Hygiene, we hear the words bacterial microbes, infestation, faeces and urine all day, every day without batting an eyelid. But every so often, you research something that really touches your heart.
The thing that most recently captured my attention and sympathies – something that I know I have in common with so many of my colleagues – is World Toilet Day.
Working in this industry, I probably have an unhealthy interest in toilets, but my focus has always been on how clean they can be, how the way they are kept can affect people, and how many people wash their hands. But what about the 1 billion people who don’t have access to any sanitation at all, forcing them to have to openly defecate1, or of the 46 countries where at least half the population does not have access to proper sanitation2.
The sanitisation crisis
Not enough people are aware of the sanitisation crisis that exists. This year’s WTD theme focuses on how sanitation, or the lack of it, can impact on livelihoods. It’s a shocking statistic that poor water and sanitation result in economic losses estimated at £153 billion annually in developing countries, or 1.5% of their GDP3. This is the result of a variety of issues:
- Pest-borne diseases – Vermin such as flies, rodents and cockroaches are attracted to the smell of faeces, and with pests comes diseases such as asthma, salmonella, E.Coli, leptospirosis, typhoid, cholera and dysentery – all of which, without the right medical care, can have devastating consequences.
- Water-borne diseases – With people using open bodies of water as an alternative to waste ground, or even round the world, at least 1.8 billion people use a drinking-water source contaminated with faeces. Contaminated water can transmit diseases such diarrhoea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio and is estimated to cause 502 000 diarrhoeal deaths each year2.
- Affecting the lives of children – Many pupils and teachers (often female) will avoid drinking during the day to avoid the need to have to find somewhere to ‘go’. This results in dehydration, which can have a negative impact on health, but also on cognition, lessening the ability to learn and indeed teach.
With previously healthy people being unable to work and earn money, families are left in challenging circumstances – worse still, with mortality rates being affected, families are left bereft and in poverty.
Lack of toilets puts women and girls at risk
The thing that really struck a chord for me was the safety issue. One survey carried out in Bhopal, India reported that nine of out of ten women and girls say they have faced harassment when going to the bathroom and a third said they have been assaulted4. Although the number of people surveyed was undisclosed, it doesn’t really matter, because just one is one too many. The lack of toilets makes women an easy target as they wait until dark to find somewhere remote and hidden to defecate and become easy prey, prone for attack.
The statistics are startling:
- 2.4 billion people across the world don’t have somewhere safe to go to the toilet1
- Women and girls living without a toilet spend 266 million hours each day finding a place to go1
- A quarter of women in Lagos, Nigeria who lacked access to sanitation had first or second-hand experience of harassment, threats of violence or physical assault, linked to a lack of a private toilet4
My new African toilet
I felt very humbled by my research and it’s affected me more than I thought it would. I felt that I wanted to do something – so I am pleased to say that I am the proud sponsor of a Clean Latrine in Africa from Send a Cow. I’ve also twinned my toilet at home with a toilet in Bangladesh. I’ll be proudly hanging the certificate on the bathroom door to raise awareness with my family and friends.
Given that United Nations Development Programme tells us that for every £1 spent on a water and sanitation programme, £8 is returned through saved time, increased productivity and reduced health costs, I’m hoping that in my own little way, I’ll be able to spread the word.