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Lack of toilets dangerous for everyone, UNICEF says

© UNICEF Pacific/2013/Allen
Toilet innovations in Kiribati, Improved latrine with ashes, cover, soap and water

NEW YORK & SUVA, 19 November 2014 – Slow progress on sanitation and the entrenched practice of open defecation among millions around the world continue to put children and their communities at risk, UNICEF warned on World Toilet Day.

Some 2.5 billion people worldwide do not have adequate toilets and among them 1 billion defecate in the open – in fields, bushes, or bodies of water – putting them, and especially children, in danger of diseases such as diarrhoea.  In 2013 more than 340,000 children under five died from diarrhoeal diseases due to a lack of safe water, sanitation and basic hygiene – an average of almost 1,000 deaths per day.

“Lack of sanitation is a reliable marker of how the poorest in a country are faring,” said Sanjay Wijesekera, head of UNICEF’s global water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programmes. “But although it is the poor who overwhelmingly do not have toilets, everyone suffers from the contaminating effects of open defecation, so everyone should have a sense of urgency about addressing this problem.”

UNICEF Pacific Representative, Dr. Karen Allen said “In the Pacific open defecation rates are high especially in Kiribati (37%) and Solomon Islands (18%).”

She added that “World Toilet Day reminds us each year of the need to improve toilet and sanitation conditions. A toilet that is clean and safe ensures health, dignity and well-being. Access to water and sanitation in schools varies among Pacific Countries with it being 100% in Niue and Palau and only 2.5% in Kiribati. ”

The call to end the practice of open defecation is being made with growing insistence as the links with childhood growth stunting become clearer. Countries where open defecation is practices typically have high rates of diarrhoea and stunting. UNICEF’s ‘Take Poo to the Loo’ campaign in India also works to raise awareness of the dangers associated with open defecation.

“The challenge of open defecation is one of both equity and dignity, and very often of safety as well, particularly for women and girls,” Wijesekera noted. “They have to wait until dark to relieve themselves, putting them in danger of attack, and worse, as we have seen recently.”

UNICEF’s Community Approaches to Total Sanitation addresses the problem at the local level by involving communities in devising solutions, and has led to some 26 million people across more than 50 countries abandoning the practice of open defecation since 2008.

In terms of sanitation coverage, there has been very little progress (1% increase in improved sanitation coverage) in the Pacific since 1990. This rate of progress is slower than any other region in the world. At 30 per cent, the Pacific is tied with the Sub- Saharan Africa region as having the lowest level of improved sanitation coverage in the world.


Note to Editors:

For more information about global levels of sanitation please see Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation 2014 Update


UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do.  Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere. For more information about UNICEF and its work visit: 

For further information please contact:

Rita Ann Wallace, UNICEF Media, Tel +1 212 326-7586, Mobile: +1 917 213-4034, 

Donna Hoerder, UNICEF Pacific, Tel +679 3236 100 Mobile: + 679 926 5518,



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