Sunday, December 13, 2009

Potty Talk & Public Health -Annie

While I love finding humorous potty signs in Singapore and interviewing pop stars from Kazakhstan about their favorite toilets, my blog about international bathrooms would absolutely be incomplete if I didn’t address some of the more serious aspects of international potty-going.

Recently, two graduate students from NYU’s program in international development came and talked to me about the over-arching importance of creating sanitary facilities around the world – as well as some of the challenges that result from the lack of clean bathrooms. Here in the United States, we may take our toilets for granted, but the lack of access to safe and clean toilets impacts more aspects of a society’s development than many people realize.

Some statistics:

* 2.5 billion people live without access to a safe and clean toilet. (This is almost two-fifths of the world’s population!)

* Diarrhea kills more children every year than AIDS, malaria, and measles combined.

* Each year, 60 million children are born into households without access to clean sanitation.

* Internationally, 11% more girls attend school when sanitation is available; although in contrast, 1 in 10 girls in Kenya drop out of school because they do not have access to bathroom facilities while attending class.

* Half of the hospital beds in developing countries are filled with people suffering from diarrhea.

The importance of creating clean water and sanitation in developing countries is enormous. Lack of clean facilities cause people to defecate in open public spaces, which results in environmental pollution and widespread diarrhea, both of which greatly inhibit sustainable economic development. In densely populated areas, people without toilets often resort to using plastic bags, and these “flying toilets” are tossed on rooftops or on the ground. For the one million residents of the largest slum in Asia (the Dharavi Slum in Mumbai), the there is an average of 1 toilet for every 1,440 people.

However, fixing the problem can be relatively inexpensive to solve, with broad social and economic benefits. According to the World Health Organization, for every $1 invested in sanitation, there is an overall economic return of $8 due to increased productivity. A $30 donation is enough to help one person gain access to safe water, sanitation, and hygiene education.

Increasing international awareness of the importance of improving global sanitation is crucial… but modes of raising this awareness can be fun. In Korea, the World Toilet Association has built a GIANT Toilet-Shaped House to help highlight this issue!

(Many thanks to Crossley Pinkstaff from NYU Wagner's School of Public Service and Katherine Frew of WaterAid, for their contribution to the information and statistics on international sanitation. Their sources include: WHO, UNDP, and the UK Government Department for International Development.)

For more information, or to donate, please visit Water Aid’s website:!

- Annie

PS: Please continue to send your international bathroom stories and anecdotes to me at

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