IFRC

Kiribati grandmother gets her first ever toilet

Published: 29 November 2016 3:47 CET

Kiribati grandmother, Abinoa, is one of 2.4 billion people in the world who does not have access to a safe, private place to go to the toilet. World Toilet Day on 19 November highlighted this plight – which affects a third of the world’s population – and outlined ways of addressing the problem.

Ensuring everyone everywhere has access to a toilet by 2030 is one of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals launched in 2015. Worldwide, diarrhoea caused by poor sanitation and unsafe water kills 315,000 children a year, and having a toilet plays a crucial role in improving the health, safety and dignity of women and girls.

When Abinoa was young, Kiribati was a tropical island paradise. But these days, the island’s capital, South Tarawa, is one of the most densely populated places on earth. The coral atoll’s turquoise-blue water and beaches are covered in rubbish and very few people have access to clean water or toilets.

Nevertheless, the people of Kiribati are happy and proud, the great-grandmother says. “No matter where you look, people have a big smile, most of the time.”

And now she has something to smile about. In the cramped community of Betio, the 72-year-old has recently acquired her own toilet for the first time in her life.

Many in her community are building their own toilets with help from Kiribati and Australian Red Cross (ARC) Societies. ARC WASH aid worker Samuel Cleary says 120 toilets will be built by June 2017.

“In Kiribati, most water is sourced from a fresh groundwater lens underneath the soil,” Mr Cleary says. “Tarawa Island is only 500 metres in width. The freshwater lens that sits above the saltwater is very shallow and provides a valuable yet at-risk resource due to climate change and sea level rise.”

Mr Cleary says getting the toilets and water tanks built is a true collaboration. “We can’t rush the process, it’s important that the community participates in the decision-making process to ensure ownership of the project. The aim is to ensure that every household has access to and responsibility for their own toilet.”

Kiribati Red Cross data shows 65 per cent of people in Betio do not have access to toilets. Until recently, Abinoa and her 14 family members had to make the often scary, embarrassing and sometimes dangerous trip to the beach to go to the toilet. But she says there has been a shift in behaviour.

“Community members are taking pride in teaching children how to be more hygienic and prevent disease. We hold our children's hands and lead them to the toilet, and teach them how to use the lavatory properly before cleaning their bottoms and taking them back,” Abinoa says. “I am very happy. Nothing bad happens to us and there is less sickness in the community."




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