How to Flush Poverty on World Toilet Day


Sometimes you just can’t hold it any longer. 

Nature calls loud and clear, and you find yourself rushing into a washroom seeking relief. And then, a moment to sit and think just happens.

Some of our best thinking is done on the John (and in the shower, but we can talk about that on International Shower Day). Don’t scrunch your face up at that comment; you know it’s true. We all like a good visit to the loo. Whether you’re a busy parent who needs some “me time” or a professional who needed to get out of a meeting, it’s nice to take time in our day to sit, relieve ourselves, and think.

So, what do you ponder as you use the loo?

This weekend, during one of your daily constitutionals, perhaps lend a few thoughts to how sitting on a porcelain throne is, in fact, not a norm for 862 million people around the world. How that throne is a sanctuary of privilege - a space to yourself, a clean and safe area, and part of a bigger system keeping our communities healthy.

Now consider the amazing reality that you can be part of extending that sanctuary to others worldwide!

When I wrote about World Toilet Day (November 19) back in 2015, I listed four ways you can give a crap. If you’re new to this truly bowel-moving day, check those out. If you want to flush this out some more, well, I’ve done some thinking myself recently. (Yes, even on the potty.)

I know you’re saying to yourself, “Wait. What? This guy has been passionate about toilets and poo for years now? Aren’t there better things to be passionate about?”

Here’s the naked truth, fellow poopers. No one should be exposed to other people’s excreta, or the indignity of defecating in the open. But, there’s an opportunity here. It’s not just about getting people toilets. It’s also about what we do with our personal waste, and how that relates to living well. Being passionate about taking care of Number Two can be equated to a passion for ending poverty.

Here’s what I mean.


Again, you’re saying to yourself, “Hold it. This is 2017; it’s not the Dark Ages. We know now to wash our hands and we don’t empty bedpans into gutters - Bubonic plagues aren’t sweeping continents any more. We have recycling and trash removal and treatment plants. Where’s the crisis?”

Indeed, we’ve made great leaps in the past several centuries when it comes to sanitation and hygiene, but we certainly have not arrived. According to the UN, 4.5 billion people live without a household toilet that safely disposes of their waste - that’s nearly two-thirds of the world’s population. In the developing world, one in five are forced to use limited sanitation services - that’s anything from a bush to a gutter, but certainly not a proper latrine or toilet.

It gets worse. Nearly 892 million people still defecate in the open. This is actually more people than the number of people who lack basic drinking water (855 million)! I can’t think of a more visceral symptom of poverty. Thankfully, this global number is down from 1,229 million since 2000, but we can’t rest on those lavatorial laurels just yet; sub-Saharan Africa saw an increase over that period of time.

African populations seem to be suffering the most from a lack of toilets.
By 2015 most countries (of the 154 with data) in the world had achieved over 75% coverage with basic sanitation services, whereas most African nations were lagging behind with under 50% coverage. You can check out more of the joint UNICEF / WHO official report here.

I think we can all agree, those numbers stink. It’s an overwhelming stench. In fact, they’re downright shitty. That’s a lot of people who are looking for a clean, secure space and for the knowledge and opportunity to live different, to live better. We’ve got a lot more flushing to do!

World Toilet Day was started in 2013 in response to the global sanitation crisis. In 2015 it was quickly tied into the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of ensuring everyone has access to a safely managed household by 2030.


How can you “give a crap” this World Toilet Day (and every day after)? Consider the power of a clean toilet.

A good toilet effectively captures waste and is one step in many towards recycling it back into the environment. It also keeps that waste from spreading, as fecal matter can become a breeding ground for bacteria that, when multiplied, creates problems. A clean toilet also provides girls and women with a safe, private space to manage their periods without having school attendance or work interrupted.

Poor sanitation from not having proper toilets causes disease to spread, compromising family health and negatively affecting all areas of community life. Families get sick. Babies don’t grow properly. Children start to miss school. Parents cannot keep up with daily activities, and crops or income suffer. Trying to manage health takes over all aspects of life. Poverty sets in. That is not thriving. In it’s report Out of Order, Water Aid details many more of the negative impacts experienced when communities don’t have clean toilets.

Another luxury usually paired with our porcelain thrones is water taps - kinda essential to hand washing, right? But these communities who don’t have toilets also don’t have access to clean water or the information to know that NOT washing your hands after you poo can make you really sick.

Sooo, combine a clean latrine with a handwashing station, and kerplop!, sanitation goes up and disease goes down. Flush and done.


So get involved in World Toilet Day! It really #cantwait. 

Raising awareness leads to support for good organizations trying to help people by providing creative disposal processes, educating families about the harms of open defecation, and promoting effective sanitation practices. UN Water has pulled together a map of events you can join, as well as other resources to spread the word. 

If you’re moved to do something more direct, why not get informed and find out where your poo goes! In Canada, we have elaborate systems that keep our communities clean and healthy. You wouldn’t believe the fancy science that goes into how it works. It might just make you that much more grateful.

And if you want to help someone suffering without a place to go, you can actually give a clean toilet to a family through Food for the Hungry. To go right along with that, you could give the gift of hand washing with a Clean Water Tap. Or help equip women with practical tips to help them keep their families and homes clean and healthy, you can support Life Hacks for Moms.

We all poop, and we all deserve for it to be a safe, positive daily ritual. So next time you find yourself doing your imitation of The Thinker while on your porcelain throne, push yourself to move beyond your comfort room and make it your business to help give the world’s poo a flush. 

Together, we can take poverty and shove it where the sun don’t shine.


For more information and stories on World Toilet Day, check out www.worldtoiletday.info

Ernestina Sueri is a 41-year-old wife and mother who lives in Mozambique. She learned how to boil her water to sanitize it, and how and why to construct a sturdy, covered latrine. Now her family is healthier and no longer suffers from chronic diarrhea. 

Give a clean toilet to a family through Food for the Hungry.



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Food for the Hungry: How to Flush Poverty on World Toilet Day
How to Flush Poverty on World Toilet Day
Food for the Hungry
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