Happy World Toilet Day!

19/11/2014

Blog Speech BubbleJamie Myers

Today, on 19 November 2014, we are celebrating the fourteenth World Toilet Day, an international day aiming to draw attention to the dire global sanitation problem, inspire action and celebrate the work taking place across the world.

Currently, 2.5 billion people do not have access to sanitation facilities that hygienically separate human excreta from human contact. Out of those 2.5 billion people, 1 billion people practice open defecation.

This problem has been framed in a number of different ways. Rates of diarrhoea, the second highest cause of death amongst children under five, are often discussed. Improved sanitation has been estimated to reduce cases of diarrhoea by more than 33 per cent. When including hand washing with soap this reduction rate is even larger. The United Nations Environmental Programme has claimed that the uncontrolled disposal of human waste is a major source of global water pollution. The Water and Sanitation Program runs the Economics of Sanitation Initiative which highlights the economic burden; it has shown that the lack of access to sanitation costs the world US$260 billion a year. In 2010, the United Nations General Assembly recognised that clean drinking water and sanitation are a human right. Lack of access to sanitation interferes with a person’s right to life, health, education and dignity. The recent rape cases in India have highlighted the specific negative repercussions and dangers that lack of sanitation carries for women. Lack of privacy for defecation, urination and menstrual hygiene, and the shame of being seen, are major gender discriminations in South Asia and elsewhere. And lack of sanitation impacts on school attendance and thus education, especially for girls. It is now also becoming increasingly evident how lack of adequate sanitation impacts the nutrition and the physical and mental development of young children. This month my colleague Robert Chambers, along with Gregor von Medeazza from UNICEF, highlighted the links between inadequate sanitation and undernutrition. In an IDS Working Paper they show how open-defecation leads to stunting due to environmental enteropathy, other intestinal infections and parasites, all of which have been previously overlooked.

CLTS latrine_Malawi_PB

A better understanding of the multiple problems associated with the access and use of improved sanitation has led to the expansion of the sanitation and hygiene field. We now have sociologists, engineers, epidemiologists, behavioural change experts, doctors, religious leaders and even actor Matt Damon, putting in efforts to trying to solve this depressing issue.

This commitment by so many is excellent news. It brings the efforts of more people and different perspectives. However, we also need to make sure that we work together to try and establish a common language. Bringing together people who are traditionally trained separately is not an easy task and will take some time.

Expanding our awareness of the problem does not answer any of the difficult questions we are facing. It adds to the complexity of the issue and calls for conversations between different and sometimes conflicting points of view. However, it can make the answers easier to find. As more work emerges linking the sanitation crisis to a range of devastating problems affecting certain countries, this once hidden issue is brought up the priority list. The numerous reframing’s force policy makers and those in power to put time and effort into dealing with this tragedy. Additionally, it highlights to us, and by us I mean the WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) community, the need to synergise our work in order to integrate the many different sectors and actors involved. If we are able to leave behind the professional silos we are all comfortable in and co-create multidisciplinary action orientated work, new possibilities and creative solutions may emerge.

So today on World Toilet Day 2014 I expand the call. Visit our website at www.communityledtotalsanitation.org, follow us on twitter @C_L_T_S and join the discussion.

Jamie Myers is a Research Officer at the Institute of Development Studies working on Community-led Total Sanitation.


World Toilet Day: ‘We can’t wait to improve sanitation’

19/11/2013

Petra Bongartz???????????????????????????????

The 19th November is World Toilet Day. The World Toilet Organization created World Toilet Day (WTD) to break the deadly silence around sanitation and to raise awareness of the struggle of the billions of people in the world who still do not have access to adequate sanitation. It is a day to draw attention to the many challenges this brings to their daily lives and the dire consequences for their health and wellbeing. A day to encourage discussion about what needs to be done in order to tackle the sanitation crisis! It is a call to action, a call for everyone to get involved in changing behaviour and policy in order to end open defecation and thereby change the lives of billions of people for the better.  And it is also an occasion to recognise and celebrate the efforts and achievements of organisations and individuals in bringing about positive change in the area of sanitation and hygiene.

Woman standing outside a latrine in Malawi

Latrine in Malawi, photo by Edson Baptista

This year, the first year of the 19th November being officially designated World Toilet Day by the United Nations (despite it having been ‘unofficially’ honoured since 2001), the theme is ‘We can’t wait to improve sanitation’.  And with 2.5 billion people around the world still lacking appropriate sanitation, the call for action is as urgent as ever!

The Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) Knowledge Hub at IDS is marking the occasion with the launch of a new publication series Frontiers in CLTS: Innovations and Insights – a series of short notes offering practical guidance on new methods and approaches and thinking on broader issues. The first issue looks at participatory latrine design. A methodology that can ensure that users participate in creating and selecting sanitation technologies that are appropriate for their needs.

Petra Bongartz is the Coordination, Communication and Networking Officer for the Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) Knowledge Hub, based at the Participation, Power and Social Change Team at IDS.

Read more about CLTS:


Sanitation and Hygiene: Undernutrition’s Blind Spot

02/05/2012

Robert Chambers

The undernutrition of babies, infants and children is horrible and a disgraceful blot on our human record. It is not just the immediate suffering, anguish and death. It is also the lasting impact: when growth is stunted at age 2 the damage is largely irreversible. Stunted children are disadvantaged for life – their cognition and immune systems impaired, and their education and earning prospects reduced. Stunting leads to a 10 per cent decrease in lifetime earning. Stunted children start school 7 months later and attend 0.7 years less than children who aren’t stunted.

So undernutrition cries out for action and there is plenty of action. The normal, commonsense, humane response is direct and visible – to get more nutrients and food into babies, infants and children. To get it into their mouths. Who could be against that? Not me. It is so obvious, so necessary, so important, so urgent, with such immediate results.

But, and it is a monumental but, has this distracted attention from a major cause, and outside famines and acute seasonal crises, I will dare to venture even the main cause: faecally-related infections(FRIs)? Have I lost my senses? Well….

I recently watched  a video of a presentation made by Dr Jean Humphrey in India, and met her, and heard her speak  at the UK Department of International Development (DFID). She works in Zimbabwe and in the Lancet (19 September 2009) famously argued with convincing evidence that environmental enteropathy (EE) is a more significant cause of undernutrition than diarrhoea. EE is a persistent subclinical condition in which infections damage and reduce the absorptive capacity of the gut and at the same time make it permeable so that nutrient energy has to be continuously diverted to make antibodies to fight the infection. EE is a multisystem disorder, a ‘profound immune system disorder’ which moreover weakens the immune system later in life. That Lancet article stirred things up, and she is now engaged on long-term rigorous field research into EE. She and others are now saying that diarrhoea is just the tip of the iceberg. I agree. But what an iceberg, not just EE!

Here are some bullet points. Are they right?

Diarrhoeas
How significant are the diarrhoeas as causes of undernutrition?

  • Because among faecally-related infections, they are so dramatic, awful, visible and episodic, and so easily measurable, the diarrhoeas have received and continue to receive the major professional attention. Many other conditions are subclinical, continuous, invisible and hard or impossible to measure. The multiple dimensions of EE are a very significant part of this.
  • With oral rehydration therapy, diarrhoeas are less damaging than they were
  • There is rapid recovery between bouts of diarrhoea
  • Studies of the effect of diarrhoeas on linear growth show effects in the range of only 5-20 per cent, and some show none at all
  • In the Gambia where the Dunn Nutrition Laboratory has been doing research for many decades there has been a big drop on the incidence of diarrhoea 1979 – 1993 but no change in stunting. They have found stunting is not explained by inadequate diet or days of diarrhoea!

The misleading conclusion could be drawn that since diarrhoeas are not so much implicated in undernutrition, sanitation and hygiene are not so important either, and that FRIs in general are not so signficiant

Feeding programmes
What is the evidence of the impact of feeding programmes?

  • A review of 42 studies of feeding programmes found that the very best solved only one third of the problem and some had no effect at all
  • No nutrition intervention has ever normalised linear growth

Faecally-related infections (FRIs)
FRIs are much more than the diarrhoeas and EE.

  • The variety and scale of these infections is quite mind-blowing. There are intestinal parasites – bacterial like gardia (extremely widespread), amoebiasis, and worms like ascaris (1.5 billion infected) that steal food and hookworm (over 700 million infected, 200 million in India) which voraciously consumes blood from the host, and tapeworms which come through intermediate hosts. There are hepatitis A, B and E, typhoid fever, polio and other enteroviruses, schistosomiasis (over 200 million, more than half in Africa), liverfluke, trachoma, and various zoonoses from animals (in addition to tapeworms)…..

So there is much, much more to the iceberg of which the diarrhoeas are the tip, than EE. No one so far has been able to point me to a study of how many of these infections are found in any one undernourished infant or child, nor how they interact. So my question to those who work in nutrition and those who work on faecally-related infections, is this: does professional specialisation prevent us seeing the enormity of the whole picture? And is the implication of the whole picture that sanitation and hygiene are not only a huge priority in eliminating undernutrition but even, bar famines and seasonal crises, possibly the main means?

Consider India. The latest data indicate that India has 59.4 per cent, almost three fifths, of the open defecation in the world, a proportion which has risen in the past decade. It also has a third of the undernourished children, a figure which has largely resisted herculean attempts to tackle it directly through the mouth with school meals, ration cards and the like. Imagine if suddenly all FRIs were caught and confined safely just below the anus. How much undernutrition would remain?

Robert Chambers is a Research Associate in the Participation, Power and Social Change research team.

Read other recent blog posts from Robert Chambers:
Ensuring those who are ‘last’ come first: using Reality Checks to inform post-MDGs
Discrimination, duties and low hanging fruit: reflections on equity in CLTS
A passionate family: reflections on the WSSCC Global Forum on Sanitation and Hygiene