What Is World Toilet Day? It’s More Serious Than You Think

A bathroom door opened, with a toilet in the background.
Pshevlotskyy Oleksandr / Shutterstock

Upon first seeing that it’s “World Toilet Day,” many may be tempted to make a joke about the device used by billions of people around the world on a daily basis.

But for a huge portion of the globe, access to proper sanitation, including toilets, is a luxury that should not be made light of.

World Toilet Day is an attempt to highlight the plight of billions of individuals in some of the world’s poorest countries who don’t have regular access to a toilet or other sanitation needs, according to reporting from TIME. The day is also meant to serve as a campaign push to governments, urging them to take seriously the need to provide their people with such access.

An estimated 4.5 billion people around the world don’t have access to proper sanitation methods. Of that number, around 2.5 billion don’t have access to a toilet.

The areas that are hit hardest by the lack of access are poorer nations, namely those in Africa and Asia, where high population growth is also contributing to the problem.

The issue affects children in ways some may think are unimaginable. Statistics from nonprofit groups dedicated to improving the world’s sanitation needs demonstrate that only one in five primary schools across the globe even have a toilet in their buildings. For older students in secondary education, that number is one in eight schools.

Lack of access to proper sanitation is demonstrably detrimental to communities around the world. Improper sanitation practices lead to the spread of diseases like cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid, and even polio, according to a World Health Organization report.

“Half the world needs toilets. They don’t have them because the infrastructure is too expensive for governments,” said Cheryl Hicks, chief executive of the Toilet Board Coalition. Her organization is urging commercial investment in addition to government spending to address the shortcomings of what public expenditures can afford to provide.

The problem of access to toilets is especially concerning for girls and women throughout the world. Many toilets in poverty-stricken countries are designed without considerations for their needs, including lacking a place to place sanitary pads or cloths, having lights on inside them when it’s night, or even having a lock on the door to protect them from intruders, News Deeply reports.

World Toilet Day was created in 2013 (and acknowledged every November 19) by the United Nations to recognize how vital access to sanitation — including proper toilets — is to people around the world, according to Global Citizen.

So if you hear someone making a joke about it, do them a favor and get them to understand what’s really behind World Toilet Day.