23 November 2016


On Saturday 19th November, it was World Toilet Day, a day to raise awareness of the life-changing impacts of the humble toilet and the wider, positive consequences it has upon health, education, empowerment, and livelihoods. It’s time to break the toilet taboo – let’s talk about toilets.

The Silent Crisis

The global sanitation crisis is often referred to as the ‘silent crisis’ (1). This silent crisis refers to the plethora of critical issues (from health to education to gender equity issues) caused by a widespread lack of access to basic, clean, and safe sanitation. This is a crisis that is affecting the lives of billions globally; in fact 2.4 billion people live without a toilet or improved sanitation (2), yet it remains on the peripheries of global media coverage and in the background of public attention.

“This lack of access is a ‘silent crisis’ that has claimed more casualities through illness than any conflict’ (UN ESCAP 2015)(3)

Although sanitation is increasingly being recognised as a critical development issue, there is still a way to go if our response as a global community is loud enough to even begin matching the vast scale of the problem. World Toilet Day is one step towards addressing this. It’s a chance for the voices of those affected by the consequences of poor, unsafe sanitation to be heard, and it brings together the international community, policy makers, NGOs, and the general public.

Why Toilets?

Why are we celebrating the humble toilet? Although we tend to take clean, safe toilets for granted here in the UK, this is not the case for billions of people around the world. The toilet plays a bigger role in global development than you probably imagined. Toilets are more than just toilets. Toilets can have an impact upon education, gender equality, health, jobs and livelihoods, and much more.

Here at Sanitation First, we believe in this power of toilets in helping people out of poverty – and we have a solution. Our solution is our ecosan (and GroSan) toilets. Ecosan toilets turn what is normally seen as waste into a safe, natural compost and fertiliser. They are ecological, UDDT (urine diverting dry toilets) that separate liquids and solids at source allowing human waste to be safely contained, composted and used in agriculture as fertiliser. If you’d like more information about this important toilet innovation, see here.

Our Solution

We are proud of our toilets. And for good reason!

  • By restricting the waste from entering the open environment, we prevent raw sewage form contaminating water tables that can subsequently cause serious illness, some of which can be deadly

  • Our toilets allow waste to be safely and naturally treated to make compost which is sold into the agricultural marketplace

  • Our ecosan toilets in schools in India are helping more children to spend more time in school and less time off sick – research show that with toilets in school, there is a 15% increase in girls attending school



Toilets and Jobs

Access to clean, safe toilets has a knock-on affect for many other aspects of daily life. This year, World Toilet Day is shedding light on one of these: toilets and jobs. So, how are toilets and jobs connected, and what affect could clean, safe toilets have upon the workplace, people’s livelihoods, and the economy?


Inadequate sanitation can and does have serious consequences for people’s health. This leads to many workers having to take multiple days off work as a result of illness, causing dramatic dips in productivity in the workplace. In fact, this loss of productivity can cost countries up to 5% of their GDP (Hutton 2012). And it’s not just illness that leads to reduced productivity – it’s also time lost. Fewer toilets mean more time spent looking for a clean toilet or for a safe space to go in the open. The UN estimates that in India, this lost time costs the economy over $10 billion/year!


Even when there are toilets in the workplace, we often encounter problems with regard to unclean, unsafe toilets and even restricted toilet breaks. These have unprecedented health consequences because it forces workers, and in particular female workers, to feel that they can’t use the toilets at work. Holding it in all day, avoiding food drink, or being unable to safely manage menstruation increases illness (leading to further absenteeism) and risks of disease.


More toilets mean more jobs. Toilets not only require maintenance but also wastewater and solid management services, producing more jobs in the water and sanitation sector. Better water and sanitation management also leads to safer jobs. For example, it provides an opportunity for ‘manual scavengers’ (who empty latrines by cleaning out human faeces with their bare hands) to be retrained in a safer and more sustainable livelihood.

Breaking the #ToiletTaboo

It is obvious that toilets are exceptionally important and they can have life-changing impacts for those in need. So why are an estimated 530,000 children still dying every year from diarrhoeal diseases caused by dirty water and poor sanitation? Part of the problem, is the #toilettaboo. Many are shy to talk about toilets and this only intensifies the ‘silent’ nature of this issue. How can we address a global sanitation crisis, if we are not talking about toilets?

‘We must break the taboos’ (Ban Ki-Moon, 2013)

This is where you come in …

What can you do? We want you to talk about toilets! Help us to break the #toilettaboo and raise awareness of the global sanitation crisis.

  • Chat to your friends, your sister, your next door neighbour – for example, ask how many of them knew that the equivalent on 90 school buses filled with under fives die every single day because of poor water, sanitation, and hygiene?

  • Take to Twitter and shout about your support for World Toilet Day (Don’t forget to mention us! @SanFirstUK) #worldtoiletday #toilettaboo #sanitationfirst #weneedtotalkabouttoilets

  • Sign up to our newsletter and get all the latest updates on our work

Although World Toilet Day comes around just once a year, Sanitation First is dedicated to working on toilets and sanitation issues all year round.

  1. http://www.unmillenniumproject.org/documents/TheLancetWater.pdf)
  2. http://www.un.org/en/events/toiletday/assets/img/posters/fact_sheet_toiletsandjobs_EN_3.pdf
  3. http://www.unescap.org/media-centre/feature- story/access-water- asia-pacific%E2%80%99s-silent-crisis
  4. http://www.un.org/en/events/toiletday/assets/img/posters/fact_sheet_toiletsandjobs_EN_3.pdf
  5. http://www.worldtoiletday.info/resources/

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