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Day creates awareness of role of sanitation in reducing disease

Let's revive call for decent sanitation on World Toilet Day

In spite of promises, the families living in Vaalkamers in Kliptown still have no decent toilets.
In spite of promises, the families living in Vaalkamers in Kliptown still have no decent toilets.
Image: GroundUp/Chris Gilili

It is without a doubt that everyone must have sustainable sanitation alongside clean water and handwashing facilities to help protect and maintain our health security and stop the spread of deadly infectious diseases such as Covid-19, cholera and typhoid.

This Thursday the world commemorates World Toilet Day (WTD),an annual global event organised by UN-Water to raise awareness of the crucial role that sanitation plays in reducing disease and creating healthier communities.

By sanitation we refer primarily to the sanitation value chain in relation to human waste. A toilet is used for urinating and defecating and is designed in such a way that human waste does not get in contact with the user. Safe containment deals with how the human waste is stored, for example in a tank or channeled to a sewage network.

When toilets are connected to a tank we refer to it as onsite sanitation; human waste is collected until the tank is filled and then emptied – either manually or mechanically using tankers. In the case of a sewer system, the human waste is transported through a piped network to a sewage treatment plant where it is treated and where effluents are up to a standard for safe disposal or reuse. In most cases in rural areas onsite sanitation facilities are used.

The unsafe management of any of these aspects would consequently get human waste into the environment and in contact with people. However, WTD 2020 focuses on sustainable sanitation and climate change. Climate change is getting worse. Flood, drought and rising sea levels are threatening sanitation systems, from toilets to septic tanks to treatment plants. Sustainable sanitation systems also reuse waste to safely boost agriculture and reduce and capture emissions for greener energy.

But the question is how can anyone lift themselves out of poverty without proper sanitation? Our government needs to expand access to safe toilets. We need a diverse and adaptive set of solutions and interventions that tackle the various challenges confronting vulnerable groups.

Inequalities in relation to access to sanitation continue to persist. Individuals at a disadvantage are those in the rural areas in Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo for example. However, significant progress has been made in improving sanitation, especially in rural provinces with large traditional settlements.

There is a noticeable decline in the percentage of households who reported living more than 200m from the outside yard toilet facility. In Eastern Cape households’ access to improved sanitation facilities increased by 54.6 percentage points between 2002 and 2018, growing from 33.4% to 88%. Flush toilets that were connected to public sewerage systems were most common in the most urbanised provinces, namely Western Cape (89.1%) and Gauteng (88.6%). Only 26.5% of households in Limpopo had access to any type of flush toilet, the lowest of any province.

To ensure a more coordinated approach to water and sanitation management, planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation, the department of water and sanitation developed the National Water and Sanitation Master Plan, which points out the priority actions required until 2030 and beyond to ensure the water security and equitable access to water and sanitation services for all in SA.

Therefore, working together is imperative to achieve National Development Plan 2030 goals by involving the private sector and business to enforce operations and maintenance and intensify community participation.

Building toilets and sanitation systems that work in harmony with the environment its important. When nature calls, we have to listen and act.

Ngcobo is a communicator in the department of water and sanitation.

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