By Amita Bhakta, University Loughborough
Where do you go to pee? Is it hygienic? Can you access it all year round? These questions don’t often cross the minds of those of us using clean toilets in the comfort of our homes, schools, workplaces, and the other public places we visit. However, in 2015, 2.3 billion people across the world did not have access to a private toilet that safely takes away their… well, poo. This risks the spread of disease and ill-health as people have no choice but to go to the toilet outside in a field or a street.
The current Sustainable Development Agenda via the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has given us, as a global population, a target to provide sanitation which meets everyone’s needs by 2030 (see SDG6, to provide clean water and sanitation for all). At the same time, we’re also working towards combating climate change and take ‘climate action’ (SDG13), ensuring gender equality (SDG5), providing a quality education for all (SDG4 ), and, importantly, ensuring good health and wellbeing for everybody (SDG3). Access to safe, improved toilets that reduce disease spread all year round is a vital part of meeting these goals. Whilst global efforts are underway to provide sustainable sanitation for all, climate change brings with it an array of risks and threats to our ability to take care of our health (Batty, 2018) through access to toilets.
In their paper in The Geographical Journal, Jewitt et al (2018) discuss how despite the fact that communities in India are gaining improved ‘pukka’ latrines, ‘stacking’ different latrine systems is not sustainable in the long term. Climate change raises the need to consider seasonality in sanitation design more carefully to adapt to risks of seasonal flooding. Whilst we can design and build man-made structures such as toilets, they are still vulnerable to the forces of nature, which can ultimately dictate whether a toilet maintains its ‘improved’ status, and leads to ‘stacking’ where different types of sanitation are used in the absence of good infrastructure.
Sustainable sanitation for all needs to be able to withstand the seasons of the year, but it also needs to consider who it is there to cater for. In recent years, the water and sanitation sector has explored the needs of women and adolescent girls for menstrual hygiene, disabled people, incontinence sufferers, and, recently, women who are going through the menopause. Individuals have different needs for sanitation, and this needs to be carefully considered in the design of each facility in the longer term. Women and girls will always need good menstrual hygiene management in toilets that are safe and dignified. Disabled people will always need a toilet that they can use easily without barriers. And, ultimately, we will all always need to pee. Sanitation for all means for all – no matter what the weather.
About the author: Amita Bhakta is a PhD candidate at the Water, Engineering, and Development Centre (WEDC) at the University of Loughborough.
Batty, M 2018 ‘Ways to step up the fight against global antimicrobial resistance’ The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/mar/29/ways-to-step-up-the-fight-against-global-antimicrobial-resistance 29 March 2018 [accessed 24 April 2018]
Jewitt S, Mahanta A, Gaur K. Sanitation sustainability, seasonality and stacking: Improved facilities for how long, where and whom?. Geogr J. 2018;00:1–14. https://doi.org/10.1111/geoj.12258.
‘UNDP Goal 3 Good health and wellbeing’ http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/sustainable-development-goals/goal-3-good-health-and-well-being.html [accessed 24 April 2018]
‘UNDP Goal 4 Quality education’ http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/sustainable-development-goals/goal-4-quality-education.html [accessed 24 April 2018]
‘UNDP Goal 5 Gender equality’ http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/sustainable-development-goals/goal-5-gender-equality.html [accessed 24 April 2018]
‘UNDP Goal 6 Clean water and sanitation’ http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/sustainable-development-goals/goal-6-clean-water-and-sanitation.html [accessed 24 April 2018]
‘UNDP Goal 13 Climate action’ http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/sustainable-development-goals/goal-13-climate-action.html