World Toilet Day 2009

Today is World Toilet Day. And – if you giggle at this funny-sounding name – you might not realize the vital importance of proper sanitation.

Over 2.5 billion (about 40 percent of the world population) urinate and defecate outside. Open defecation, or OD as it is commonly known, spreads diseases and results in the poor health or DEATH of many people. Around 2 million children die each year from sanitation-related illnesses (more than HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria combined).

But it’s difficult for numbers to tell the true story. During visits to villages in South India with Arghyam, some people told me their stories of OD. A story of how OD speeds the spread of diseases. A story of skin rashes, boils, and infections resulting after using the main OD area in a village (sometimes without shoes). A story of what it feels like walking down a trail covered in human feces during the rainy season to use the main OD area in a village.

Here is a small snippet of an interview of my friend interpreting a woman’s description of an OD area (in an undisclosed village). The interview is graphic. Please listen at your own risk.

Now, if after reading this blog post, you want to make a difference. Here are some ways:

Talk about it. One problem is that people do not want to discuss what they think is a dirty subject. The WTD website has some great ideas for spreading the word.

Donate. Water Aid, a well-known water and sanitation NGO, has an option where you can buy a family a toilet online.

Attend an event. Water Advocates is having a special event in Washington DC today, and there are other such events around the world. Check them out!

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