World Toilet Day

On the eve of World Toilet Day (Nov. 19), TIME’s Bryan Walsh explains why we shouldn’t take our toilets for granted:

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Toilets are a privilege that nearly half the world lacks. At least 2.6 billion people around the planet have no access to a toilet — and that doesn’t just mean that they don’t have a nice, heated indoor bathroom. It means they have nothing — not a public toilet, not an outhouse, not even a bucket. They defecate in public, contaminating food and drinking water, and the disease toll due to unsanitized human waste is staggering. …

But despite the horrific fate of the toiletless masses across much of South America, Africa and Asia, sanitation has never been high on the world’s development agenda. NGOs and governments focus on making sure the poor have access to enough clean drinking water, but comparatively little funding goes into sanitation, even though the two are sometimes inextricable: Untreated sewage often ends up poisoning the available clean water in developing nations.