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Kenya, 19 November 2016: Why World Toilet Day should matter

© UNICEF Kenya

By Diariétou Gaye
, World Bank Country Director for Kenya, and Werner Schultink, UNICEF Representative in Kenya

It has been more than 160 years since the link between sewage-polluted drinking water and cholera was first established. And yet from December 2014 to August 2016, more than 17,000 people were hospitalized due to cholera in Kenya. It is a stark reminder that inequalities persist, and that sanitation and clean drinking water are still of crucial importance if Kenya is to stand to achieve the new Sustainable Development Goals. World Toilet Day - which aims to push sanitation to the centre of the development agenda – is therefore key for Kenya and for accomplishing the country’s Vision 2030 ambitions.

Today some 5.6 million Kenyans have no toilet whatsoever, and only Busia County has been certified free of people defecating in the open, an indicator of extreme poverty. Other counties, including Isiolo and Siaya have made good progress towards becoming ‘open defection free,’ though there is work to do before the whole country achieves that status.

The cost of the lack of sanitation also cannot be ignored. A report entitled The True Cost of Poor Sanitation estimated that the economic losses for Kenya due to poor sanitation amount to Ksh. 57 billion per year. This report, launched during the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD), hosted by Kenya in August this year, based this estimate on the costs due to the loss of productivity from sanitation-related illness, coupled with the cost of treatment. Costs which are then borne by tax payers as well as patients themselves.

Coupled with the economic costs, is the reality for girls and women, where a lack of a private and safe toilet is both a matter of dignity and safety.

The lack of toilets is an issue that extends to schools, impacting attendance at schools. There now exists clear evidence that toilets keep children healthy and in school. Schools without private and hygienic toilets mean that many adolescent girls will choose to stay at home for several days each month during menstruation./p>

And women who deliver their babies at health centres which have no or poor sanitation put themselves -- and their newborns -- at risk of infection./p>

As such, now more than ever, we need to respond to Jan Eliasson, the UN Deputy Secretary General’s “Call to Action on Sanitation.” He urges all actors – government, civil society, business and international organizations – to commit to measurable action and to mobilize the resources to rapidly increase access to basic sanitation./p>

In rural areas the top priority must be to eliminate the practice of open defecation. It is critical that all county governments earmark dedicated sanitation budgets, and implement time-bound ‘open-defecation free’ action plans. The Counties of Garissa, Isiolo, Kitui, and Siaya are to be commended for taking these first steps./p>

Similarly, in urban areas: while there is no magic bullet to tackle this complex problem, there are examples of innovative solutions that show promise, such as pay-per-use public toilets, and collection and composting systems. Without prioritizing the necessary infrastructure, Kenya would be at risk of losing its sound footing towards continued economic development and prosperity./p>

For UNICEF and the World Bank, addressing the adequate disposal of human waste and improving sanitation facilities remain a high priority, and vital for Kenya’s success on the world stage and in achieving the SDGs. Along with other development partners we are committed to supporting the Government of Kenya to realize the health benefits, economic opportunities and – most importantly – the human dignity that proper sanitation provides.



For more information contact:

Daniel Oloo, Communication Specialist, UNICEF Kenya, Tel: +254 (0) 722416551; Email:

Edita Nsubuga, Chief of Communication, UNICEF Kenya, Tel: + 254 (0) 708989221; Email:



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