unknownOK, so the heading on this blog says the theme is grumbling about Britain’s public lavatories. But in this posting I’ll be grumbling about the inadequacy of loo provision — public and private — in much of the rest of the world.

Today, 19 November 2016, is World Toilet Day, dedicated to raising awareness about the 2.4 billion people around the world — nearly a third of the global population — who lack access to adequate sanitary facilities. On this day the global community is asked to stand up (or sit down or squat, if they prefer) and do something about it.

Why 19 November? That was the date in 2001 on which the first World Toilet Summit was held and the World Toilet Organization was founded. The founders recognised that an international day would help draw global attention to the sanitation crisis, and they chose 19 November for the obvious reason. And in 2013, the United Nations came on board, making 19 November an official UN day, with the aim of promoting public awareness of the need for adequate toilets to improve health and save lives.

The world has a population of seven billion and more than one billion of them have to defaecate in the open because of a lack of proper loos. The countries where open defaecation is most widespread are also those that have the highest numbers of under-five child deaths — in addition to high levels of under-nutrition and poverty. The UN deems the practice of open-air defaecation as “extremely harmful” to public health, and estimates that providing proper toilets could save the lives of more than 200,000 children.

Not surprisingly, the UN has made sanitation a global development priority. Its Sustainable Development Goals, launched in 2015, include a target that by 2030 there should be access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and an end to open defecation, “paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations”.

Toilets and jobs

This year’s World Toilet Day has the theme “Toilets and jobs”, focusing on the impact of inadequate sanitation on people’s livelihoods. Good access to toilets, says the UN, not only improves health and protects people’s safety and dignity (particularly for women and girls) but it also increases productivity, creates jobs and grows economies.

A report in 2010 found that a lack of toilets at work and at home has a severe effect on businesses through poor health, absenteeism, attrition, reduced concentration, exhaustion and decreased productivity. Studies also indicate that illnesses caused by inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene practice lead to a loss of productivity that in many countries costs up to 5 per cent of GDP. And, according to the International Labour Organization, the transmission of such diseases at work causes 17 per cent of all workplace deaths.

To find out more, go to www.worldtoiletday.info. See also worldtoilet.orgworldtoilet.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/WecantWait1.pdfwww.un.org/en/events/toiletday/assets/img/posters/fact_sheet_toiletsandjobs_EN_3.pdf and www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/water-and-sanitation.