7 fast facts about toilets

Find out how these humble fixtures are saving lives around the world.

A boy sits on an abandoned toilet near a destroyed family home, Fiji
19 November 2018

It’s unclear who first invented the toilet. Early contenders include an ancient settlement in Scotland dating back to 3000 B.C. and a palace on Crete that was built around 1700 B.C.

Fast forward to today: around 60% of the world – 4.5 billion people – don’t have a toilet that safely manages human waste at home. Here’s why it matters:

  1. Toilets save lives! Without toilets, deadly diseases spread rapidly. Over 750 children under five die every day from diarrhoea caused by unsafe water, sanitation, and poor hygiene.
  2. Would you show up if there were no toilets at your school? Globally, 1 in 3 schools do not have adequate toilets, and 23% of schools have no toilets at all.
  3. Schools without toilets can cause girls to miss out on their education. Without proper sanitation facilities, many are forced to miss school when they’re on their period.
  4. Toilets are a great investment. Every dollar spent on sanitation has a return of US$5.50, according to WHO research.
  5. But still, 892 million people worldwide practise open defecation, meaning they go outside – on the side of the road, in bushes or rubbish heaps.
  6. It’s often a matter of where they live: 90% of people who practice open defecation live in rural areas.
  7. It’s time to make a stink! In order to get everyone in the world using toilets, we need to triple our current efforts. That doesn’t just mean more toilets, but creating the desire for people to use them.

UNICEF works in more than 190 countries and territories, and over the last four years has helped more than 70 million people gain access to basic toilets in their homes, and improved sanitation services in over 51,000 schools.