The UN General Assembly on Wednesday designated 19 November as the World Toilet Day, urging changes in both behaviour and policy on issues ranging from enhancing water management to ending open-air defecation, in a bid to make sanitation for all a global development priority.
A local media in New York reported that the 196-member UN General Assembly adopted the new resolution at session in New York.
The resolution urged UN member states and relevant stakeholders to encourage behavioural change and the implementation of policies to increase access to sanitation among the poor.
It also called for an end to the practice of open-air defecation, which it deemed ‘extremely harmful’ to public health.
It also recognized the role that civil society and non-governmental organisations play in raising awareness of this issue.
The resolution called on countries to approach sanitation in a much broader context that includes hygiene promotion, the provision of basic sanitation services, and sewerage and waste water treatment and re-use in the context of integrated water management.
It also noted that, of the world’s seven billion people, six billion have mobile phones, but only 4.5 billion have access to toilets or latrines, meaning that 2.5 billion people, mostly in rural areas, do not have proper sanitation.
In addition, 1.1 billion people still defecate in the open.
It further said that the countries where open defecation is most widely practiced are the same countries with the highest numbers of under-five child deaths, high levels of under-nutrition and poverty, and large wealth disparities.
UN Deputy Secretary-General, Mr. Jan Eliasson, in a statement issued after the adoption of the resolution, said: ‘This new annual observance will go a long way toward raising awareness about the need for all human beings to have access to sanitation’.
‘Despite progress toward the Millennium Development Goals, one in three people do not have a basic toilet,” Mr. Eliasson said.
He also noted that, ‘almost 2,000 children die every day from preventable diarrhoeal diseases, while poor sanitation and water supply result in economic losses estimated at US$260 billion annually in developing countries’.
He added that sanitation is also a question of basic dignity, and underlined that women should not risk being victims of rape and abuse because of lack of access to a toilet that offers privacy.
According to him: ‘It is also unacceptable that many girls are pushed out of school for lack of basic sanitation facilities, and I urge every country to accelerate progress towards a world in which everyone enjoys this most basic of rights’.
World Toilet Day has previously been marked by international and civil society organisations all over the world.
However, it was not formally recognized as an official UN day until Wednesday.