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Why We Need World Toilet Day

Toilet placed in front of a globe

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Published November 14, 2016 Reading Time: 3 minutes

#SiblingsDay, #NationalDonutDay, #PetYourCatDay—it seems like every day is used to celebrate some random object or relationship. It’s getting a little ridiculous really.

After all, who ever asked for #WorldToiletDay?

The United Nations General Assembly, as a matter of fact. Since 2013, the global governing body has designated November 19 as World Toilet Day to raise awareness and promote worldwide sanitation solutions. While the holiday might sound like a laughing matter to some, the issue is deadly serious to the 1 in 3 people worldwide who don’t have access to hygienic toilet facilities.

To solve this massive problem, the United Nations included “access to clean toilets” in the Sustainable Development Goals, which unite member countries to create health, prosperity, and a sustainable planet for all. One of the targets is to “By 2030, achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations.”

The truth is that toilets can be life-changing and life-saving for people in need. Find out how they protect individuals and communities from all kinds of threats.

Hygiene for Health

When you think about innovations that revolutionized human health, you might think of penicillin, vaccines, or modern treatments like chemotherapy. But toilets have done an incredible amount to improve health and wellness and continue to change lives in many places.

As Live Science writer Tanya Lewis explains in “5 Ways Toilets Change the World,” “When people don’t have toilets, they defecate in the open, often near living areas or the rivers that supply water for drinking or bathing.” The unsafe disposal of human waste can spread disease like wildfire, invading homes, schools, hospitals, and other public spaces.

In many wealthy countries, diarrhea is a minor, if embarrassing, personal issue. But in places where sanitary toilet facilities aren’t available, diarrhea can be a death sentence to individuals and whole communities. Small children are especially vulnerable.

The World Health Organization explains, “Diarrhoeal disease is the second leading cause of death in children under five years old… A significant proportion of diarrhoeal disease can be prevented through safe drinking-water and adequate sanitation and hygiene.”

Toilets and sanitary plumbing are a relatively simple solution to a staggering health problem.

How Toilets Boost Productivity

World Toilet Day 2016 focuses on the toll lack of toilet access has on jobs, productivity, and the economy. People who suffer from waterborne and sanitation-related diseases like cholera, E. coli, and trachoma miss school or work. Those who do attend risk spreading their illness. And the effects of these diseases can debilitate people for life.

According to the World Toilet Day website, “Loss of productivity due to illnesses caused by lack of sanitation and poor hygiene practices is estimated to cost many countries up to 5% of GDP (Hutton 2012).” When employers provide access to clean toilets and hygiene stations, employees can protect themselves and others from illness.

What’s more, World Toilet Day promotes economic opportunity through the construction of hygienic facilities. “Treating sanitation provision as a long-term business opportunity, as well as a fulfilment of people’s rights, could help speed up progress and attract investment,” explains World Toilet Day’s downloadable facts sheet. By reducing the stigma toward this issue, World Toilet Day hopes to spur public and private actors to meet the global need for hygienic toilets. Toilets can keep us alive, but they can also help people make a living.

Women’s Safety and Equality

Women’s safety and access to education is another important issue impacted by the availability of hygienic toilets. In places lacking sanitary facilities, women must travel to reach a toilet or relieve themselves in private. This puts them at risk for sexual violence. A police official from the Bihar state in India told the BBC that “about 400 women would have ‘escaped’ rape last year if they had toilets in their homes.”

While the root of the problem is obviously sexual violence, access to clean toilets could help women avoid some attackers.

Even as children, many women are held back by unsanitary facilities or the need for public defecation. Lack of toilets is one reason so many young women stop attending school when they begin menstruating. According to the Centers for Disease Control, “The installation of toilets and latrines may enable school children, especially menstruating girls, to further their education by remaining in the school system.” More education can then lead to greater earning potential and lifelong prosperity.


If the UN and its members can provide all people with adequate sanitation by 2030, it will create huge benefits. This simple technology can protect communities from disease and help people learn and work to the best of their abilities.

To help make this goal a reality, get involved. Spread the word on social media or learn about some of the dedicated organizations who tackle this issue.

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Communications Strategy Guide for Nonprofits

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