World Toilet Day: arche noVa campaigns for human right to toilets

19.11.2021 - 14:14 - Germany
Around 3.6 billion people worldwide still have no access to safe sanitation - with devastating consequences for the people affected. The World Toilet Day on 19 November draws attention to this. In its projects, arche noVa campaigns for the human right to adequate sanitation. Especially in view of the Covid 19 pandemic, this is more important than ever.

A quick trip to the toilet? For almost half of humanity, this is a luxury. For many of them, every visit to the toilet is associated with risks or must be planned precisely. This is because either there are no safe toilets available - or for almost 500 million people there is no access to toilets at all. This means that they have to do their business in the open, far away from the eyes of their fellow human beings.

UN target at risk - girls and women most affected

This should soon be a thing of the past: According to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal number 6, all people should have access to sufficient quantities of clean water and access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene by 2030. Moreover, access to clean water and sanitation has been a human right recognised by the UN General Assembly and the UN Human Rights Council since 2010.

According to the latest figures, however, we are (unfortunately) still miles away from this. Current figures suggest that approximately 3.6 billion people worldwide live without safe sanitation. The lack of toilets has devastating consequences for those affected.

"Especially for women, a lack of toilets is a big problem," says Andrea Bindel, Global Emergency Relief and Water Sanitation and Hygiene Education (WASH) Advisor at arche noVa. "In many households without sanitation, women and girls often go out into the fields or surrounding areas at night to do their emergency urination unseen. This is undignified and often dangerous as they are exposed to assault."

For menstruating girls, too, the lack of toilets in schools has lasting effects: "In many cultural circles, menstruation is still a taboo subject," says Andrea Bindel: "If there are no gender-separated toilets, girls miss up to five days of school every month - or don't go to school at all. The longer-term consequences of these school absences are devastating: due to the lack of education, the young women have poorer career prospects, which jeopardises gender equality in the long term.

Missing, poorly operated and unhygienic toilets and hand-washing facilities, however, endanger not only girls and women but everyone, as they contribute to the pollution of drinking water resources (2 billion people worldwide have to use drinking water sources contaminated with faeces) and to the spread of pathogens and diarrhoeal diseases up to cholera, dysentery, but also typhoid and schistosomiasis. Every day, more than 700 children die worldwide from diarrhoeal diseases. In addition, SARS-CoV-2, the causative agent of Covid-19, also benefits from poor hygiene conditions.

Safe water and sanitation as the basis for a self-determined life

With projects on three continents, arche noVa actively campaigns for the right to safe and hygienic sanitation. In order to achieve sustainable changes, schools are an important part of the work. For example in Iraq, which is still marked by numerous conflicts and where 2.3 million internally displaced people are still either slowly returning to their home villages or building a new life elsewhere within the country. In order to support them, arche noVa repairs and builds new toilets in twenty schools in return communities with a local team and also ensures the water supply there.

"Only when there are safe and functioning toilets in the schools can we ensure that all children can come to class again," says Tobias Pietsch, who is in charge of the projects in Iraq. The construction of gender-separated toilets in particular has already made a big difference. "Now that girls have separate toilets, families are also sending their daughters to school again who had refused before," says Pietsch.

He also emphasises the importance of a positive quality of stay: "Studies show that there is a clear connection between the quality of stay and hygiene behaviour," says Pietsch. That's why a lot of emphasis was also placed on making the toilets bright and appealing.

Sustainable improvements through knowledge transfer

Besides repairing and building new toilets, arche noVa also trains local forces to operate and maintain the facilities sustainably. "Toilets have to be adapted to the specific needs of the users, otherwise they will not be used by them. In addition, use, operation and maintenance as well as hygiene practices need to be trained to be able to sustainably ensure safe operation and improve the health situation."  Andrea Bindel describes the challenge. "Only if we manage to keep toilets clean and functional and to dispose of faeces properly and, if necessary, treat and recycle them, will we achieve sustainable change," she says.

Andrea Bindel describes how sustainably successful this change can be with the story of a family in Pakistan: "After the devastating floods in Sindh in 2011, arche noVa was present there in emergency aid and reconstruction," says Bindel. "In the process, we also supported a family that was ostracised and not allowed to enter the village. After negotiations with the village, we were able to achieve that they were also allowed to use the newly built water supply of the village - and after the construction of a toilet, the social status of the family rose so that their daughter could get married."