Are toilets a human right?

Published: November 20, 2011
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This weekend was one of the year’s most auspicious days. A day that the WTO prides itself on and purportedly uses to create awareness of a problem facing 2.6 billion people. A day best celebrated sitting down.

I am, of course, referring to World Toilet Day, and if you’re confused, that’s not the World Trade Organisation, it’s the World Toilet Organisation. This ‘other’ WTO has organised ‘Big Squats’ globally ever since the WTD began being commemorated since 2001. Unfortunately (or fortunately for some), the website does not elaborate on what a ‘Big Squat’ is, but simply says that “WTO would love to see our day become ‘The’ event that represents the sanitation crisis globally”.

According to a senior official of the ministry of environment quoted in 2009 at the country’s first-ever national conference on sanitation, over 51 million Pakistanis were forced to use open fields as toilets. This, of course, leads to a contamination of groundwater supplies and in turn imposes significant health costs on the country.

Another expert, at the same event, said that at the rate of one household a day in every union council, Pakistan could provide sanitation facilities to its entire population by 2015. As achievable as it may seem, one must wonder how — in a country where much of the rural population still doesn’t know that using the same stream for drinking, washing up and, of course, ‘relief’ is a potent health hazard — the goal will be accomplished.

According to the WTO’s website, 2.2 million children die of diarrhoea worldwide. That’s one every 14 seconds. Access to a toilet, a bar of soap and clean water could cut that figure by 67 per cent. Over half the world’s hospital beds are occupied by patients suffering from diseases associated with lack of access to safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene, says the website.

A toilet may not be a human right in itself, but health is. While all of us may not be able to follow the WTO’s advice and send each other mail on toilet paper to show our support, we can educate someone, and we can get the message out. No one should have to suffer for want of sanitation.

Vaqas Asghar

Vaqas Asghar

The author is a senior sub-editor on the Islamabad Desk and also reports on diplomatic events. He tweets as @vasghar (twitter.com/vasghar)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • http://bigsaf.newsvine.com bigsaf

    Example of how communities benefit if the problem is seriously tackled.

    How toilets transformed a Bangladeshi village
    By Barney Jopson

    WaterAid in Pakistan
    http://pakistan.wateraid.org/Recommend

  • G. Din

    It ought to be!Recommend

  • Grace

    Access to toilets and basic sanitation should be a right; Think about the diseases which would be prevented by proper sanitation and waste disposal if the 500 million Indians and 50 million Pakistanis who have no access to toilets could find such accomodation!Recommend

  • http://www.etoro.com/B1915_A33591_TClick.aspx Crazy Prince

    very well written……. appreciated Recommend

  • Rehan

    Correction: Health-care is not a human right.
    Regards,
    RehanRecommend

  • Nandita.

    You are the one author whose blogs i really look forward to. Keep writing !Recommend

  • Parvez

    The first thing that pops to mind with such a topic is crass witticism. Your write up is good in the way that it prompts one to look at this a little more seriously and I remember reading on the Bio-gas project and how effective it is but very limited in scope because our government’s priorities are elsewhere. So, thank you.Recommend

  • Cautious

    Never have understood why India and Pakistan can afford nuclear weapons and expensive missiles while there people are forced to defecate in the fields and they don’t have basics like clean drinking water. Suggest you rethink your priorities.Recommend

  • http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/author/379/vaqas-asghar/ Vaqas Asghar

    @Rehan:
    actually it is,

    Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
    Article 25.

    1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

    2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

    well being in this case mean an acceptable standard of health (not risking your life by going to the bathroom/ behind the bushes)

    Thanks for the feedback though, i probably should have referred to this in the pieceRecommend