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Why sanitation matters

It’s the little things that make a big difference – and on World Toilet Day we are reminded of the importance and impact sanitation has on health, livelihoods and privacy and security.

For most of us, the idea of not having a toilet is something we’ve never considered. In Australia, it’s such a given that we would have access to a toilet that it’s hard to think of what life would be like without one – in fact, it’s almost a laughable prospect.

But in the world’s poorest communities, other families aren’t so lucky – and without a toilet their privacy, security and health is compromised.

Water and sanitation is a critical component of poverty alleviation. Access to clean water and sanitation reduces instances of illness and also saves households time and money. The results are healthier and stronger communities and brighter futures.

However, many families simply cannot afford sanitary and private toilets. Furthermore, taboos around “talking toilets” in many parts of the world, results in lack of awareness, inadequate facilities to meet the needs of women and girls and contributes to poor health.

This year’s theme for World Toilet Day, focuses on how sanitation, or the lack of it, can impact on livelihoods. Toilets play a crucial role in creating a strong economy, as well as improving health and protecting people’s safety and dignity, particularly women’s and girls’. Here’s how Habitat is making a difference with the help of our supporters.

A healthier future

Bhajjo lives in Nepal and like most households in her community, she did not have a toilet or proper sanitation. This meant Bhajjo’s family had to defecate along the riverbank and often fell ill due to improper sanitation. Bhajjo describes defecating outside as “humiliating” and “unbearable.”

Many women and children describe open defecation in this way, and also express concerns around their safety and privacy as a result of having to walk long distances, sometimes unaccompanied and at night in order to go to the “toilet.” Can you imagine having to do this?

However, with the help of our supporters, Bhajjo and other families in her community have been able to build a toilet in their homes.

“Getting a toilet has saved me and my family from a lot of shame we otherwise had to face,” said Bhajjo. “We are now aware of how having a toilet makes the environment clean and reduces the risk of diseases.”

A total of 437 toilets have been built for Bhajjo and families like hers and 777 community members have been trained on water, sanitation and hygiene. Habitat also addressed water-related issues in the community by building 157 wells and training 437 households in well installation.

A safe, private and sanitary toilet makes a world of difference for women and girls.
A safe, private and sanitary toilet makes a world of difference for women and girls.

Skills development and job creation

Improved sanitation also impacts livelihoods and the ability of people to earn an income. In Northern Bangladesh, our Water, Sanitation and Hygiene program supported by Australian Aid, is improving access to facilities for the poor and vulnerable.

As part of the project 189 labourers were trained on sanitary toilet and tube well construction. The purpose was to create a skilled workforce to construct facilities to a safer and more sustainable standard.

One of the apprentices, Ripon said since attending training, he has a better understanding of the risks of an unhygienic toilet and safe construction techniques.

Previously, Ripon’s customers would ask for pit toilets. However since the project started, each month he now constructs 10 to 15 toilets, all of which are sanitary.

Along with transformative training and skills development, Habitat also helped community members build 163 toilets and install 21 tube wells in the past year.

Improved sanitation in a community can also postively impact livelihood and income generating activities.
Improved sanitation in a community can also postively impact livelihood and income generating activities.

A safer place for women and girls

Poor menstrual hygiene is a serious health issue for adolescent girls and women in Bangladesh. Strong taboos around menstruation and lack of awareness results in inadequate facilities, unsanitary practices and consequently, increased female student drop out rates.

In Bangladesh, Menstrual Hygiene Management has been introduced as part of Habitat’s water and sanitation program within schools. We are working with teachers and students in School Hygiene Groups to engage them as change agents to deliver hygiene messaging in schools.

Along with this, we are working to ensure clean water supply for menstruation management, provide disposal bins and facilities, improve privacy and safety and behavioural change of boys within schools, families and the wider community. The result is improved awareness and management practices within the school and community which creates a safer, more comfortable and more private place for women and girls.

Learning about sanitation and breaking taboos means a healthier future.
Learning about sanitation and breaking taboos means a healthier future.

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