Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

One Fact of Life: Everyone Needs a Toilet

November 15, 2012

Words can barely describe the experience. It is something none of us living in the developed West will likely ever have to do. Two and a half billion men, women, and children living elsewhere do it every day of their life. I'm talking about open defecation - the practice of relieving oneself out in the open, without the privacy of a toilet.

Just before dawn a few months ago, Water.org visited a slum in central India. Many of the homes in the area surrounded a wide open space, about the size of five or six football fields. This field is low-lying and often floods during the rainy season. We came to visit the community to learn about their hardships caused by a lack of safe water, but we also came to document something few in the West have ever seen - the "morning routine" for every member of the families of this slum.


 
Solving the toilet crisis is critical for improving the health for millions of people around the world.


One by one, people would walk out into the field and squat down. While you couldn't see what was happening, you knew exactly what they were doing. Men, women, the elderly, and even children were visiting the field in those pre-dawn hours.

Sadly, they are not alone.

One in three people in the world lack a toilet. In India, over 600 million people practice open defecation each day. It's not a cultural issue; it's an infrastructure one. Without modern sewer systems, people simply have no other choice. Fewer than 200 years ago the people living in places like New York City and London had no choice either. Unfortunately, conventional flush toilets require a lot of water and waste water treatment plants are expensive capital investments -- creative solutions for waste should work for everyone, not only the poor.

Solving the toilet crisis is critical for improving the health for millions of people around the world.  But we can’t begin to take on this challenge unless we first  stand face-to-face with the problem and accept how it impacts peoples' safety, health, opportunity, and as important their dignity.

Please understand the context of this video is simply to show a fact of life. One fact of life we witnessed one morning outside one slum in India. While words can hardly describe what we saw, donating your voice can inform others about this shocking issue. Visit us now through November 24th to learn how you can get involved.


 
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