World toilet day

Published: 19 November 2012 9:31 CET

Today is World Toilet Day. While toilets are not the easiest topic to discuss, 2.5 billion people worldwide – invariably the poor, underprivileged and disenfranchised – lack access to adequate sanitation, making this something we need to talk about.

To mark World Toilet Day, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) asked people involved in sanitation projects supported by National Societies or the IFRC to send us pictures of the results of their efforts for a 'toilets of the world' contest.

The response, in photos and votes, was inspiring. We received dozens of photos that demonstrate the dignity that a toilet can provide. More than 5,000 people voted for their favourite picture on our blog, and we are pleased to announce the winner is a photo from Mongolia.

Toilet trouble in Mongolia

By Patrick Fuller

As the world marks ‘World Toilet Day’, the impact of poor sanitation and lack of access to safe drinking water is in plain view in Mongolia’s capital city, Ulaanbaatar. In recent decades the city has changed dramatically, particularly the ‘Ger districts’ of the suburbs which have been swelled by an increasing number of rural migrants. Most have been forced to abandon their traditional nomadic livelihoods in the countryside due to by successive ‘Dzuds’ – harsh winters followed by dry summers – which have devastated their livestock and crops.

However, as the city expands, essential services lag behind. Ulaanbaatar’s heating and water infrastructure was established several decades ago, and functions only for residents living in the city centre. 60 per cent of the population now reside in the Ger districts where access to safe drinking water supply and sanitation facilities is extremely limited. Ger residents often travel far to fetch drinking water directly from surface water sources or open wells.

Latrines, where they exist, are extremely basic. The combination of poor water supply and limited sanitation has resulted in high incidence of various water-related and epidemic diseases, which severely hampers the social and economic development of the urban poor regions.

38-year-old Bat-Erdene Ulziibaatar, was born and grew up in Ulaanbaatar. He has just been awarded first prize in International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescents’ (IFRC) Toilets around the World photo contest which is designed partly to highlight the situation of 1.1 billion people around the world, who have no choice but to defecate in the open as they lack a toilet. Bat-Edene works as an actor as well as a movie and theater director and he pursues photography as a hobby.

“The kids in the photo are from the Ger district. They have a tough life, but they are proudly showing off their clean hands,” he says. “The city has changed and developed so much compared with my childhood. It is important to educate kids, parents and teachers, so that they have the right attitude and practice when it comes to sanitation and using water.”

The Mongolian Red Cross Society recognised the public health risks associated with the growing water and sanitation problem, and the need to change traditional mindsets where people had a limited knowledge or awareness of health and hygiene issues. In response, they launched a programme with the Netherlands Red Cross to improve the welfare of Ger residents in four districts of Ulaanbaatar.

The project includes the construction of 18 water ‘kiosks’. Water is distributed by the central water supply pipeline system and taken by tanker trucks to the Ger inhabitants and sold at kiosks. Each kiosk serves 800-1,000 inhabitants. The project also focuses on training volunteers at ‘Ger training centers’ who conduct health and hygiene awareness activities among vulnerable communities. There is a strong focus on young people. The target is to reach 60,000 Ger district residents by establishing hygiene promotion clubs at schools and kindergartens. One of the biggest activities has been the rehabilitation of school toilets and restrooms of six secondary schools and three kindergartens in Ger areas.

“24 per cent of the Mongolian population is still without improved sanitation,” says Kathryn Clarkson, the IFRC’s water and sanitation coordinator for Asia Pacific. “The health consequences of poor sanitation are immense. Globally, diarrhoeal disease claims the lives of 1.6 million children annually and is responsible for the hospitalization of millions more."

The IFRC has recently launched an advocacy report that encourages donors to ‘get the balance right’ with prioritising funding for sanitation programmes in equal balance to funding that is focused on providing safe water.

You can see the rest of the images here.