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World Toilet Day…at first glance, this seems like an unlikely candidate for a holiday and more like some sort of joke, but the day is nowhere as trivial or humorous as it may seem. All in all, it strives to draw attention to various sanitation issues around the world and work towards resolving them.

Despite access to proper sanitation being declared a basic human right, one in three people across the globe, so some 2.5 billion people in total, do not have regular access to a toilet. Additionally, even amongst those who do have such access, unclean and unsafe toilets pose problems of their own, including contributing towards the spread of diseases like cholera, typhoid and hepatitis—in some parts of Africa, diarrhea is one of the main child-killers.

Open defecation is also responsible for increasing the number of sexual assaults perpetrated on women and children. Furthermore, when young girls begin menstruating, the lack of privacy forces them to stay home from school, thus limiting their chances of getting a basic education and, what comes after that, a decent job in the future. World Toilet Day’s ultimate goal is to allow everyone on the planet to take care of their most basic needs without having to fear for their safety.

History of World Toilet Day

World Toilet Day was created by the World Toilet Organization in 2001. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations said: “We have a moral imperative to end open defecation and a duty to ensure women and girls are not at risk of assault and rape simply because they lack a sanitation facility.”

He went on to talk about how having to defecate openly infringes on human safety and dignity, and how women and girls risk rape and abuse as they wait until night falls to relieve themselves because they lack of access to a toilet that offers privacy. Another issue is that toilets generally remain inadequate for populations with special needs, such as the disabled and elderly.

Since its inception, World Toilet Day has played a vital role in challenging governments, businesses and other groups to make changes. It has also worked towards breaking various taboos surrounding the topic, in order to facilitate discussion and lead to the creation of better, safer solutions.

World Toilet Day Timeline

3000 BC

Pipes carry waste

Even a few thousand years ago various people groups (in Scotland, India, Mesopotamia and more) would use pipe systems to carry waste out of their houses and into rivers or streams.[1]

100-200 AD

Group toilets for soldiers

Remains of Housesteads Roman Fort at Hadrian’s Wall in the UK reveals that perhaps 20 or more soldiers would all use a common ‘toilet’ (essentially these were long benches with holes in them) at the same time.[2]

Middle Ages (500-1500 AD)

Garderobes are used

Predating the toilet, “garderobes” were little rooms that hung over the sides of the castle. This little closet had a bench with a hole in it where the waste would drop into a moat or pit below.

During this time, many people would also use chamber pots, which would be kept in bedrooms or ‘chambers’ and then emptied (sometimes simply thrown out the window) when full. This function carried on for quite some time.[3][4]


Flushing toilet is invented

Although its widespread use did not arrive until a couple of centuries later, the first flushing toilet was described by Sir John Harington, an English courtier. This toilet was a pot that used gravity to feed water through it from a cistern that sat upstairs.[5]


First toilet patent issued

Scottish Inventor Alexander Cummings was the creator of the important pipe that ran in an S-shape below the bowl. This ingenious design used the water in the bowl to seal off the sewer gas from below and eventually led the way to mass production of the toilet.[6]


First toilets in a hotel

The Tremont Hotel in Boston, USA installed eight indoor water closets for its guests.[7]


World’s first bathroom showroom

Marlboro Works showroom is opened by English sanitary engineer Thomas Crapper (yes, that’s his real name). At a time when people didn’t speak much about their bodily functions, this public display of toilets was revolutionary.[8]


Thomas Crapper invents the ballcock

Toilets that have this invention, the “ballcock”, are less likely to overflow. Crapper created the floating valve as well as eight other patented improvements for plumbing and sewage. He also did a lot of plumbing for British royalty around this time. [9]


Elevated water tank

A similar design to today’s toilets, the closed water tank and bowl moves into common use.[10]


Sensor flushes introduced

In Japan, the first toilets with sensors that would flush on their own were used.[11]


World Toilet Organization is created

The World Toilet Organization moves to educate people about the sanitation crisis.  Even in today’s modern times, more than 2 billion people across the world still do not have access to a toilet.[12]


World Toilet Day made official by the UN

In an effort to raise awareness and support for places where people don’t have proper access to sanitation, the first UN World Toilet Day is celebrated on November 19, 2013.[13]

How to celebrate World Toilet Day

I think by now it’s been made abundantly clear that World Toilet Day is far from being a joke, dealing instead with the protection of one of humanity’s most basic rights. So how can you help? There are a number of things you could do. For starters, why not visit the World Toilet Day website, Facebook page or Twitter account and share the message across social media platforms?

This may seem like a tiny, unimportant gesture, but raising awareness about serious problems is one of the things social media does best, aside from bombarding you with pictures of babies and kittens. The more people know about a problem, the more money can be raised to fight it, as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge so perfectly demonstrated. So don’t think your clicking “share” means anything. It doesn’t.

Another thing you could do as a way of observing World Toilet Day Would be of course to make a donation, so if you have the means, know that every dollar helps.c

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