The UN General Assembly adopted a new resolution urging Member States and stakeholders to call for an end the practice of open-air defecation

The United Nations has dedicated November 19 to World Toilet Day to focus attention on a critical health need for 2.5 billion people in developing countries including India – for sanitary toilet conditions.

While the UN General Assembly adopted a new resolution urging Member States and stakeholders to call for an end the practice of open-air defecation, which it deemed “extremely harmful” to public health, a report titled “We Can’t Wait” was published by the UN-hosted organisation Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, international development organisation WaterAid and Unilever’s leading toilet brand Domestos.

The UN’s action on this front came even as the World Bank unveiled a report which said that over 600 million people in India or 53 per cent of Indian households defecated in the open, and the absence of toilet or latrine was one of the important contributors to malnutrition.

Explaining the paper titled 'Effects of Early-Life Exposure to Sanitation on Childhood Cognitive Skills' lead author Dean Spears, lead author said, "Our research showed that six-year-olds who had been exposed to India's sanitation programme during their first year of life were more likely to recognise letters and simple numbers on learning tests than those who were not.”

The UN report especially highlighted the “stark consequences for women and girls of the lack of access to toilets or use of good hygiene practices, pointing out that one in three women worldwide risk shame, disease, harassment and even attack because they have nowhere safe to go to the toilet and 526 million women have no choice but to go to the toilet out in the open. Women and girls living without any toilets spend 97 billion hours each year finding a place to go, the report added.

In addition to the staggering number of people – 2.5 billion – without access to adequately sanitary toilets, World Toilet Day events also sought to throw light upon the fact that diarrheal diseases are the second most common cause of death in young children in developing countries and in many countries girls stay home during menstruation days because of the absence of a safe place to change and clean themselves.

Using the Twitter hashtag #WeCantWait, the UN-linked World Toilet Day website explained that it was “not just about toilet humor, or an attempt to make toilets sexy. World Toilet Day has a serious purpose: it aims to stimulate dialogue about sanitation and break the taboo that still surrounds this issue.” Speaking on the subjects recently UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said, “We must break the taboos and make sanitation for all a global development priority."

On the sidelines of events held for World Toilet Day at the UN in New York City, Jean-Laurent Ingles, Unilever Senior Vice President Household Care commented on the role that private-sector organisations could play in improving toilet access and hygiene conditions, saying, “We need a concerted effort that combines the experience, knowledge and resources of both public and private sector organisations to bring safe sanitation to hundreds of millions of people. Domestos has over 90 years of experience in toilet hygiene and germ protection and is committed to working in partnerships to help build a ‘clean, safe toilet for all’.”

A year ago the Bill And Melinda Gates Foundation held a “Reinvent the Toilet” competition, which saw the advent of new innovations in toilet mechanisms, including one that used microwave energy to transform human waste into electricity, another that captured urine and uses it for flushing and still another that turned excrement into charcoal.