HAITI World Toilet Day

 Water Sanitation & Hygiene
 20th Nov 2012

by Elizabeth M Campa, MSc. Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Coordinator, CARE Haiti

I have to go…

I’d like you to try something out for me.  This morning when you wake up, you do not have access to a toilet. This might take some mental preparedness as we are so accustomed to always having access to a toilet. And, I'm not talking about remembering your rustic camping forays into the forest...here you'll have to figure out ways to relieve yourself in very public places.

This might be hiding behind a tree, in between cars, pooping into a plastic bag, into a shallow hole in the ground, but not a toilet. You will not have access to toilet paper or water afterwards (and if you do, it is not clean water) to make sure your hands are uncontaminated before you prepare food, take care of your children or conduct day to day activities. And if you do not find a place, no way of relieving yourself, you will have to hold it in for hours, possibly until the sun has set and you are able to go outside your front door and defecate there when everyone else has gone to sleep. Or walk into a dark field or alley where someone might be waiting to attack you knowing that you have to relieve yourself.

Going to the bathroom for 2.5 billion people around the world is about planning and waiting.

November 19, 2012 is World Toilet Day. Presently, over 40% of the world’s population does not have access to a toilet. By the way, I’m not speaking of the pretty white porcelain flushing kind, I mean a hole in the ground dedicated to pooping, also known as a latrine. While we in the developed world might have to think about finding a place to relieve ourselves, we can generally find a toilet in a restaurant, in a gas station, etc. 40% of the world’s population will hold it in for hours until they can find a place that is private enough to relieve themselves. While this is in itself incredibly uncomfortable, for many millions of people, particularly women, this can cause infections and other health complications that could lead to death. It is also a comfort problem in developing countries where there are very high rates of diarrhea due to poor nutrition, health and no access to clean water.

People living in rural areas around the world will go into fields and defecate openly; often contaminating water sources and or the soil around the food they grow making them and their families sick.  Even more people, as in the capital of Haiti where I work, a densely populated city, will defecate in the open, again, contaminating water sources used for cooking and bathing.

The more discrete, will poop into a bag, because there is no other option. Some will use a filthy public latrine that might be available but for women, they risk being sexually assaulted as these latrines offer no security, poor lighting and doors that cannot be locked.  School children around the world will defecate along the exterior walls of their school because they have no facilities and in turn millions upon millions of children will become infected with intestinal worms contracted from stepping on fecal material with their bare feet. And even more millions of girls will stop going to school all together when they begin to menstruate as they will not have a private place to clean themselves, continuing the vicious cycle of poverty and poor education.

CARE works around the world with communities to improve water, sanitation and hygiene in order to increase access to latrines, clean water and improved hygiene. Working with communities to improve sanitation and access to clean water is about giving back to people their dignity. Access to sanitation and water is a human right. So you see, building a toilet is not only about helping someone relieve themselves, it is about giving back to people their right to education, to better health and to feel safe.  Should we not all have access to these basic rights?

About CARE: Founded in 1945, CARE is a leading humanitarian organization fighting global poverty and providing lifesaving assistance in emergencies. In 84 countries around the world, CARE places special focus on working alongside poor girls and women because, equipped with the proper resources, they have the power to help lift whole families and entire communities out of poverty.

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