Sustainable Development Goal 6 aims to ‘Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all’. In particular, target 6.2 is to ‘End open defecation and provide access to sanitation and hygiene)’.
When the Sustainable Development Goals Report 2020 was published, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said, ‘Today, Sustainable Development Goal 6 is badly off track’ and it ‘is hindering progress on the 2030 Agenda, the realization of human rights and the achievement of peace and security around the world’.
World Toilet Day exists to inform, engage and inspire people to take action toward achieving this goal. The UN General Assembly declared World Toilet Day an official UN day in 2013, after Singapore had tabled the resolution before the UN's General Assembly. Prior to that, World Toilet Day had been established unofficially by the World Toilet Organisation (a Singapore-based NGO) in 2001.
UN-Water is the official convener of World Toilet Day. UN-Water maintains the official World Toilet Day website and chooses a special theme for each year. In 2019 the theme is 'Leaving no one behind', which is the central theme of the Sustainable Development Goals. World Toilet Day is marked by communications campaigns and other activities. Events are planned by UN entities, international organisations, local civil society organisations and volunteers to raise awareness and inspire action.
Toilets are important because access to a safe functioning toilet has a positive impact on public health, human dignity, and personal safety, especially for women. Sanitation systems that do not safely treat excreta allow the spread of disease. Serious soil-transmitted diseases and waterborne diseases such as cholera, diarrhea, typhoid, dysentery and schistosomiasis can result.
World Toilet Day events and public awareness campaigns increase public awareness of the broader sanitation systems that include wastewater treatment, fecal sludge management, municipal solid waste management, stormwater management, hygiene, and handwashing. Also, the UN Sustainable Development Goals call for more than just toilets. Goal 6 calls for adequate sanitation, which includes the whole system for assuring that waste is safely processed.
Worldwide, 4.2 billion people live without ‘safely managed sanitation’ and around 673 million people worldwide practise open defecation. Having to defecate in the open is especially difficult for women and girls. Women tend to resort to the cover of darkness to give them more privacy, but then risk being attacked when alone at night.
It has been estimated that 58 per cent of all cases of diarrhea worldwide in 2015 were caused by unsafe water, poor sanitation and poor hygiene practices, such as inadequate hand washing. This resulted in half a million children under the age of five dying from diarrhea per year. Providing sanitation has been estimated to lower the odds of children suffering diarrhea by 7–17 per cent, and under-five mortality by 5–20 per cent
The Human Right to Water and Sanitation was recognized as a human right by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in 2010. Lack of access to sanitation (toilets) has an impact on public health, dignity, and safety. The spread of many diseases (e.g. soil-transmitted helminthiasis, diarrhea, schistosomiasis) and stunted growth in children is directly related to people being exposed to human feces because toilets are either not available or not used.