U.N. event hits lack of toilets in 39% of the world

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

Three toilet stalls were at the center of attention Tuesday in a park in Tachikawa, west Tokyo, as the United Nations tries to raise awareness of the lack of basic sanitation infrastructure in many parts of the world.

The Japan Committee for UNICEF held the event to mark Nov. 19 as World Toilet Day, which the U.N. officially designated in July, by setting up an “invisible toilet” in Showa Kinen Park.

Sandwiched by two normal stalls, the middle room had no lavatory fixtures. Instead, there was only a shallow depression in the soil floor suggesting the shape of a toilet. A message on the wall reads: “Don’t you consider having a toilet a given?”

The set of stalls is UNICEF’s way of symbolizing the little-known fact that 39 percent of the world’s population lives without decent access to toilet infrastructure.

This lack of basic sanitation leaves many people highly susceptible to germs, with children in particular left vulnerable to malignant types of fever and diarrhea. UNICEF says diarrhea-related diseases claim the lives of as many as 1,600 children a day worldwide.

“Toilets are something we Japanese totally take for granted, but that’s not the global norm. We enjoy this easy access to toilets only because we happened to be born in Japan,” said UNICEF spokeswoman Ayako Uragami.

This widespread unavailability of toilets, UNICEF says, casts doubt on the feasibility of achieving the Millennium Development Goals, under which the United Nations aims to reduce the percentage of people without basic toilet facilities from 51 percent in 1990 to 25 percent by 2015.

India in particular poses a challenge. It has the greatest number of people without access to toilets, at about 800 million, a situation the Indian government acknowledges as an “embarrassing” threat to its image as a rapidly growing economy, Uragami said.

She said she hopes events like this will change the public mindset and make people stop to think about the less privileged in the global community.

“Having lived in an urban, sophisticated area like Tokyo for a long time, I found it a total eye-opener that there are people out there living in such conditions. I never knew this,” said a 70-year-old visitor to the park.

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