In case it's not marked on your calendar, today is World Toilet Day — and it's no joking matter.
An estimated 2.5 billion people, 37% of the world's population, do not have access to a clean and safe toilet. One in three women worldwide risk shame, disease, harassment and even attack because they have nowhere safe to go to the toilet. Sanitation would make 1.25 billion women's lives safer and healthier, which is why people are being asked to petition governments to provide safe toilets and clean water for the world's poorest people.
As the Gates Foundation tweeted today, "The annual gain in economic productivity if everyone had a toilet is $225B." Putting things in perspective, Matt Damon, co-founder of Water.org, wants it to be known that more people have a mobile phone today than a toilet: “Six billion people have cell phones, but only 4.5 billion have access to improved sanitation.” Bill and Melinda Gates, in case you missed it, are putting serious funds toward reinventing the toilet as part of the foundation's water, sanitation and hygiene platform.
GE sponsored (as part of its Focus Forward three-minute short film series on world-changing ideas) the "Meet Mr. Toilet" documentary by Oscar-winning director Jessica Wu, which debuted this past January at the Sundance Festival earlier this year. It features the late Jim Sim (aka "Mr. Toilet"), who founded the World Toilet Organization and the annual World Toilet Day.
Named a TIME Hero of the Environment in 2008, Sim — who died in 2009 — was frank and enertaining about extolling the need for better sanitation and breaking the taboos about talking, well, shit. In fact, the former mayor of Suwon, South Korea, inspired a toilet museum in his former hometown, which opened earlier this year.
Sim's legacy lives on in the annual World Toilet Day, launched in 2001 during the World Toilet Summit as an “international day of action [that] aims to break the taboo around toilets and draw attention to the global sanitation challenge…No invention has saved more lives than a toilet. More than 80% of sewage in developing countries is discharged untreated, polluting rivers, lakes and coastal areas.” (Click here for our 2011 World Toilet Day look.)
Each day between today and November 24th, the World Toilet Organization (yes, WTO) website ToiletDay.org will post a message on your Twitter or Facebook account showing your support of solutions to the world sanitation crisis if you add the #talksh_t hashtag; others are using #IGiveaShit. Both are encouraged.
Unilever’s Domestos toilet cleaner is the official brand partner this year, citing ‘open defecation’ as is one of the “biggest health related causes left to resolve in the World today, and it can improve the health and well-being of billions.” (Not familiar with Domestos? It's powerful enough to convince Harvey Keitel to lend his acting chops to the voice of a germ.)
As an extension of the brand's Billion Better Lives platform, teaching women and children basic hygienic practices and habits, the latest focus is on applying that approach to the sanitation crisis at scale through business models such as the Domestos Toilet Academies & Sanishop in collaboration with partners and World leaders in sanitation such as WTO, UNICEF and WSSCC.
To bring the issue to life, Domestos sponsored an activation in London, overlooking the iconic Tower Bridge, called The Public Toilet. The Description:
This year, Domestos continued their partnership with the World Toilet Organisation and is working with Unicef to improve access to basic sanitation for hundreds of thousands of people. The taboos of this subject have led to many ignoring what is an urgent humanitarian issue, so this year the team decided to raise even greater awareness by commissioning the artists greyworld to create a huge interactive sculpture called The Public Toilet. Having no privacy on the toilet is a shocking thought and the sculpture playfully explored this by allowing everyone to be seen 'going' in one of the most public and iconic places - right in front of Tower Bridge.
Made from porcelain and squatting four metres high, thousands of people put their face on the sculpture and shared videos of their experience. By appearing on The Public Toilet, people got behind the cause and made the world take notice of a problem that causes the death of millions each year - a gesture proudly shared by Domestos and World Toilet Organisation as they continue a bigger commitment to improving sanitation by helping to provide sustainable, long-term solutions through the Toilet Academy initiative.
Below, learn more from Sanitation Steve and other potty-mouthed advocates for better sanitation: