World Toilet Day

Spotlight on 2019 Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene
Developments Around the World

Co-authored by Sarah Belay,
Ben Troutman, & Natalie Gill

Today marks World Toilet Day to raise awareness and inspire action to tackle the global sanitation crisis. Currently, 4.2 billion people live without safely managed sanitation, 673 million practice open defecation, and 3 billion lack basic handwashing facilities. This spreads disease, effects water and food supply, reduces human well-being, and inhibits social and economic development. The World Health Organization estimates that inadequate sanitation causes 432,000 diarrheal deaths each year. World Toilet Day helps advance Sustainable Development Goal 6 to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

Lack of access to safe toilets, as well as broader water and sanitation challenges, prevail in both rural and urban settings. Informal settlements and slums in places undergoing rapid and unplanned urbanization face serious gaps in water and infrastructure services and delivery which increases inequality, damages health especially for women and children, and impedes the ability of individuals to determine their own life outcomes . In 2009, urban centers accounted for 30% of global gaps in water and sanitation coverage. Water Aid estimates this will rise to 2/3 over the next decade.  This makes sense given the United Nations estimate that approximately 70% of the world’s population will reside in cities by 2030.

IHC Global is observing World Toilet Day and the efforts to meet SDG 6 through a two-part blog that spotlights eight major water, sanitation, and hygiene developments in 2019, including on water and sanitation  in urban settings. This is the first of the two-part series that provides timely information on 2019 WASH developments focusing on the worldwide water shortage, U.S. water policy, India’s Swachh Bharat Mission, and how advocates are using performance to advance SDG 11.

I. The Looming Water Crisis Facing the World

Global water shortages threaten the dreaded “day zero,” where cities entirely run out of water. A 2019 World Resource Institute study reports that a number of cities worldwide have come dangerously close to day zero and 17 countries are extremely vulnerable to water crises. Below are just a few of the major cities facing water shortage around the world.

Basra, Iraq
“Empty Pot” demonstration in Chennai
  • Chennai, India: Two of Chennai’s four reservoirs are completely dried up and the other two have little water left. Citizens are relying on deep wells, but this only depletes remaining water. Residents hope monsoons season and rainfall will replenish their reservoirs.
  • Manila, Philippines: In Manila, the dam that supplies 96% of all its water to Manila is unable to provide enough water in the face of rapid urbanization and population explosion. The dam’s water levels are so low that the water no longer reaches the aqueducts. The shortage has forced malls to close public restrooms and hospitals have started to turn away patients.
  • Basra, Iraq: Acute water shortages have rocked Basra since 2018. Local politicians point to low rainfall, but critics accuse the authorities of mismanaging public water sources, improperly handling sewage and waste, consequently making sparse water unsafe to drink.
  • Iran: Despite this year’s floods, 233 Iranian cities and towns face water shortage, with 59 cities considered dangerously low on water, effecting 1/3 of Iran’s population- or 28 million people. Remaining water is often unclean because facilities are not capable to purifying the water that plants pollute. 

II. Key Developments in U.S. Water Policy

In 2019, the U.S. Government continued to promote water security for regions, nations, and individuals. U.S. Government efforts help advance development and save lives through improvements in water supply, sanitation, and hygiene programs, and through sound management and use of water for food security. U.S. water policy is grounded in the 2005 Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act which prioritized WASH in U.S. foreign affairs and the 2014 Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act, which called for targeted, effective, and sustainable WASH programs to countries where access to services are needed most. For more information on U.S. policy, read the IHC Global policy paper “Implementation of the Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act.”  IHC Global is also pleased to be a member of the InterAction Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene working group in Washington, D.C., which is an invaluable resource for those interested in issues pertaining to and legislative advocacy for WASH programming and foreign aid.

  • Refugee Sanitation Act 2019: The House of Representatives passed the Refugee Sanitation Facility Act (R. 615), introduced by Democratic Representative Grace Meng on Monday, May 20th. In refugee camps, co-ed bathrooms and shower facilities with no locks, poor lighting, and distance to facilities leave women and girls vulnerable to sexual assault. The Act aims to “ensure the provision of safe and secure access to sanitation facilities, with a special emphasis on women, girls, and vulnerable populations.” The Bill is currently in the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
  • USAID Appoints New Global Water Coordinator: On the fifth anniversary of the Paul Simon Water for the World Act, USAID Counselor Chris Milligan announced the appointment of Jennifer Mack, as USAID Global Water Coordinator to co-lead the implementation of the US. Global Water Strategy. The position is a key component of the Water for the World Act.
  • U.S. Government Cuts Funding to Central America: The U.S. government cut $450 million in foreign assistance to Central America, effecting efforts to ensure sanitation and potable water access in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
  • Fiscal Year 2020 Development and Humanitarian Assistance : The Senate appropriated $435 million for Water and Sanitation Programs, including $195 million for programs in sub-Saharan Africa. 

III. India – Swachh Bharat: Prime Minister Narenda Modi Declares India Free of Open Defecation

Since 2014, India has aggressively sought to address water and sanitation issues, within both rural areas and densely populated Indian cities through its Swachh Bharat Mission. According to the World Bank, approximately 35 percent of the Indian population – or 460 million people- live in Indian cities. India currently has 5 megacities, with populations of over ten million, and the U.N. anticipates the number will rise to 7 by 2030. Indian policymakers are therefore acutely focused on emerging urban challenges, including increasing toilet access and safe sanitation. 

New Delhi, India

On February 1, 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared India free of open defecation. He made this announcement in the fifth year of the Indian government’s national sanitation program Swachh Bharat Mission. Swachh Bharat is a countrywide initiative to address inadequate sanitation across India and especially focused on increasing access to toilets. The campaign, predicated on the assertion that increased toilet is critical to the eradication of eradicate open defecation, led to the construction of more than 80 million toilets. One example includes the Pune Smart Sanitation City Project that successfully implemented Swachh Bharat in Pune, a city of three million. The Toilet Board Coalition and the Pune Municipal Corporation collaborated to incorporate smart technologies and sensors in toilets and city sanitation. Pune calls itself the first Smart Sanitation City in the world.

Some experts question whether increased toilet access translates into ending open defecation. Statistics provided by the Research Institute for Compassionate Economics (RICE) suggest government numbers are “misleading” — and that toilet access does not necessarily equate toilet use. This raises the question of whether the government has singularly focused on building toilets and neglected to make sure people actually used them. But, culture and socioeconomic issues can limit a government’s ability to change behavior. Multiple researchers have pointed out community-based programming that “nudges” its targeted audience to change their habits is more successful and sustainable long-term than relying on the state to enforce toilet through means such as punishing open defecators

Ti Bus Toilet

IV. Performance Draws Attention to WASH Issues

Advocates are using film and theater to promote discussions about water and sanitation challenges. 2019 projects include:

  • How the Potty Trained Us,” is a special performance hosted by IRC Wash and Population Services International in in Washington, D.C. today for World Toliet Day. The stand-up comedy performance, by Shawn Shafner of the Poop Project address global safe water toilet access.
  • A History of Water in the Middle East,” by British-Egyptian playwright Sabrina Mahfouz opened in London this month. The play examines water as a weapon of war in the region with a special emphasis on its impact on women.
  • Toilet Man was screened at festivals around the world this year, and will play all next week in East Village, New York. The comedic documentary follows self-described eccentric entrepreneur Jack Sim, born in Singapore slums, as he crusades for global sanitation.

Look for the second part of the IHC Global  spotlight on 2019 WASH here tomorrow!

Sarah Belay is a senior at the George Washington University studying public health and pre-medicine. Sarah will begin her Master of Public Health at GWU this Spring, focusing on global health policy and global health development.

Ben Troutman is a junior at George Washington University and a fall intern for IHC Global. He studies political science, international affairs, and Mandarin. Ben has worked at a number of grassroots organizations raising money for environmental issues in Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.

Natalie Gill is Program Associate for Research and Policy at IHC Global. Her work on gender and technology has been featured in Open Global Rights and Land Portal. She co-authored IHC Global paper “Storytelling: A Powerful Strategy to Increase Land and Property Rights in Uganda and Beyond,” presented at the 2019 World Bank Land and Poverty Conference.