IWA marks World Toilet Day 2022 with call for SanitAction

The International Water Association (IWA) marked the UN World Toilet Day on November 19, held annually to raise awareness of the 3.6 billion people living without access to safely managed sanitation worldwide. The Association is a formal supporter of the awareness day promoted by UN Water. It has been an annual United Nations Observance since 2013.

This year’s theme focussed on making the invisible visible, highlighting the connection between safe sanitation and groundwater protection. Building on this theme, IWA has published a blog series exploring the issues and opportunities around sanitation.  

The theme aligns with IWA’s recently-launched Inclusive Sanitation initiative. Far too many people in towns and cities around the world still lack access to safely managed sanitation. The initiative aims to reshape the global urban sanitation agenda focusing on the need for an accelerated and inclusive approach to expanding safe service coverage – beyond just technology advancements and infrastructural development.

We face a global sanitation crisis. Today, 3.6 billion people are still living with poor quality toilets that ruin their health and pollute their environment. Inadequate sanitation systems spread human wastes into rivers, lakes and soil, contaminating the water resources under our feet.

Safely managed sanitation protects groundwater from human waste pollution. Everyone must have access to a toilet connected to a sanitation system that effectively removes and treat human waste. The link between sanitation and groundwater cannot be overlooked.

The initiative is being promoted through a dedicated campaign – SanitAction – to gather the support and collaborative action needed to secure progress. The initiative will draw up a framework with wide practical applicability to define global goals and fundamentals of a public service approach to outcomes that can advance inclusive urban sanitation, especially in low- and middle-income countries. 

Suresh Rohilla, Inclusive Urban Sanitation Programme Lead at IWA, added: “We are thrilled to see a rise in support for inclusive WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) globally. Our initiative will draw up a framework with wide practical applicability to define global goals and fundamentals of a public service approach to outcomes that can advance inclusive urban sanitation, especially in low- and middle-income countries. Achieving safe, inclusive sanitation service outcomes requires dynamic governance and public service systems that incentivise delivery of public good outcomes.  This initiative on ensuring that sanitation is inclusive encompasses resilience to climate change and adoption of circular economy principles – covering sanitation as an integral element of urban water sustainability.” 

IWA’s activity on sanitation also includes a dedicated IWA Specialist Group on Non-Sewered Sanitation (NSS), and other Specialist Groups with sanitation as a focus, such as those on: Efficient Urban Water Management, Resources-Oriented Sanitation, Sanitation and Water Management in Developing Countries, and Health Related Water Microbiology.

Jay Bhagwan, chair of the NSS Specialist Group, recently participated in a short online film that is part of the Beneath the Surface series produced by BBC StoryWorks showcasing examples of innovation taking place across the world of water. The film features just one of the growing numbers of innovative on-site sanitation technologies which can advance the provision of safe sanitation for all.  

We are seriously off track to ensure safe toilets for all by 2030. That is the promise of Sustainable Development Goal 6.2. With only eight years left, the world needs to work four times faster to meet the target.

Sanitation and how it protects groundwater will be discussed at the UN-Water Summit ON Groundwater on Dec 7-8 in Paris.

The Summit aims to bring attention to groundwater at the highest international level and will deliver a joint message to the UN 2023 Water Conference, urging policymakers to fully recognize the importance of groundwater and accelerate progress on sanitation as a means to safeguard this precious resource.