The UN Thinks You Should Give a Crap

That was the message sent by the General Assembly when the designated today–November 19–as the first-ever World Toilet Day.

Puns aside, the lack of proper sanitation is no joke. There are now about twice as many people on the planet who own mobile phones (5 million) as lack access to proper toilets and sanitation (2.5 million).

This defecation deficit is key instigator of poverty and misery around the world. Diseases that spread through fecal matter, like diarrhea, are huge killers. It is a leading cause of death for children under five years old, taking the lives of 1,400 children each day according to UNICEF. Illnesses keep people away from work, are a drain on families’ resources, and impose burdens on entire communities.

There are no magic bullet solutions to this problem and a number of organizations are working to find ways to help. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is trying to re-invent the toilet, Water for People and PSI take a community-based whole market approach to durable water and sanitation solutions; UNICEF promotes grassroots support for local sanitation solutions, to name a few.

Access to proper sanitation is one of the singularly important issues of our era. It’s received a great deal of focus form the development, health and aid communities that intuitively recognize the connection between toilets, health and economic development. However, the issue has not captured the attention of a general global audience and policy makers to a degree that is commensurate with the scale of the challenges.

That’s why toilets are deserving of their own internationally recognized “day,” and why the UN wants you to give a crap.