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World Toilet Day

November 19, 2011

Every year, November 19 is set aside to spotlight the global sanitation crisis and acknowledge the life-saving power of the toilet. Yes, I'm literally talking sh*t. And for a good reason. Consider these facts (source: UN Water):

  • Globally, diarrhoea is the leading cause of illness and death, and 88 per cent of diarrhoeal deaths are due to a lack of access to sanitation facilities, together with inadequate availability of water for hygiene and unsafe drinking water.
  • Roughly 2.5 billion people, including almost one billion children, live without even basic sanitation. Every 20 seconds, a child dies as a result of poor sanitation. That's 1.5 million preventable deaths each year.
  • In sub-Saharan Africa, treating diarrhoea consumes 12 percent of the health budget. On a typical day, more than half the hospital beds are occupied by patients suffering from faecal-related disease.
  • While the percent of population with access to improved facilities has increased since 1990 in all regions, the number of people living without access also has increased due to slow progress and population growth. In 2008, 2.6 billion people had still no access to improved sanitation facilities.
  • The Millennium Development Goal drinking water and sanitation (WASH) target is to reduce by half the proportion of people without access to basic sanitation by 2015.

Earlier this year, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has committed $200 million to global WASH initiatives over the past five years, announced grants totaling $42 million as part of a new strategy to bring safe, clean sanitation services to millions of poor people in the developing world. As Sylvia Mathhews Burwell, head of the foundation's global development program, said at the time: "No innovation in the past two hundred years has done more to save lives and improve health than the sanitation revolution triggered by invention of the toilet. But it...only reached one-third of the world. What we need are new approaches. New ideas. In short, we need to reinvent the toilet...."

To learn more about the global sanitation crisis and what funders are doing to address it, visit WASHfunders.org, a new Web site developed by the Foundation Center, with support from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, that aims to facilitate better collaboration and more strategic decision-making among WASH funders.

-- Mitch Nauffts

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