It may sound like a joke, but the United Nations is drawing attention to a serious global issue by declaring November 19 World Toilet Day.
According to the UN, approximately one-third of the world’s population lacks access to adequate sanitation. Every year, millions of people—mostly children—die from diseases linked to poor sanitation, unhygienic living conditions, and lack of clean water. A lack of facilities also poses special safety risks for women and children.
This year, the theme of World Toilet Day highlights the link between sanitation and nutrition. In an announcement, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon noted that the 2030 Agenda [link] acknowledges the critical role sanitation plays in advancing sustainable development. “In that spirit, this year’s observance of World Toilet Day focuses on the vicious cycle connecting poor sanitation and malnutrition,” he stressed.
A number of researchers and students at MIT are working to improve the health of people around the globe. Among them:
- Recent graduate and D-Lab alumna Elaine Kung ’15 is improving the design of compost toilets in El Salvador, where more than 52% of the rural population lack access to adequate sanitation. By reducing the costs of materials and labor needed to produce the toilets, they become more affordable to local communities.
- MIT spinout Sanergy is impacting the “sanitation value chain,” from clean toilets to waste management. By franchising their low-cost Fresh Life Toilets to residents of Mukuru, a Kenyan slum that’s home some 500,000 people, the company is helping the community stay clean and earn a living.
- Ana Cristina Vargas SM ’14 is empowering residents to take ownership of their public spaces in locations such as Mumbai, India. Her project, Tracing Public Space, creates tools that can be used by adults and children to improve their communities.
- Susan Murcott, a research scientist in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning, is creating jobs and curbing disease around the globe by producing and distributing ceramic water-filtration filters. Her nonprofit, Pure Home Water (PHW), has built and operates a water filter factory in Northern Ghana. PWH also installs hand-washing and sanitation facilities.