An Action Against Hunger worker brings digging supplies to a mother, who wants to build a latrine at home to help protect her family's health.
Lys Arango
Action Against Hunger, South Sudan

On World Toilet Day, Why Sanitation and Malnutrition Are So Interlinked

More than 3 billion people around the world do not have access to a standard toilet. As a result, communities globally are suffering from contaminated water, contaminated food, and diseases. Lack of sanitation has trapped millions in a cycle of poor hygiene services and illnesses like diarrhea, cholera, typhoid, and chronic intestinal inflammation. These diseases can prevent children from absorbing key nutrients and make them more susceptible to malnutrition and other health issues. This is especially worrisome in the Horn of Africa, where 70% of the population still lacks access to basic sanitation facilities.

On World Toilet Day, an international day to raise awareness of the importance of sanitation and toilets, we call on leaders to address this global problem. All people must have access to hygiene and sanitation services to ensure healthier families and communities.

 

In Tanzania, Action Against Hunger launched an initiative in to build toilets for adolescent girls and increase awareness about menstrual hygiene.

Action Against Hunger has tackled water and sanitation in the Horn of Africa and other regions for decades. Last year alone, we reached over 5.8 million people globally through these efforts, which include increasing access to toilets, ensuring dignity and health, and protecting ground water to provide safe drinking water.

In many areas, increasing access to toilets also improves safety for women and girls. For example, in parts of rural Somalia, women have no choice but to walk for miles, looking for a safe place to relieve themselves or wait until dusk to defecate in the open. These walks take time, and they often put girls and women at risk of violence.

“It is a dangerous affair for women. You are not sure who is out there at night,” says Fadumo Abdi, who lives in a displacement camp. Action Against Hunger volunteers have worked with local communities to build latrines using locally sourced materials, improving women’s safety and reducing disease.

 

Pit latrine toilet constructed by Action Against Hunger for public use in Isiolo, Kenya.

In Tanzania’s Mpwapwa District, Action Against Hunger is prioritizing initiatives that safeguard the dignity of adolescent girls. Over the past year, our team has built a series of separate toilets designed to ensure privacy. Before we launched the initiative many people in the Mpwapwa District lacked private toilets. When young girls were on their period, they often skipped whole days of school. Outside of their home, they did not have a safe space to change their sanitary pads. Some didn’t even have pads or other menstrual products at all.

Now, schools and families are teaching these young girls about reproductive and sexual health. They feel comfortable attending school and participating in their classes. They are taught how to make sanitary pads, and for the first time in their lives, they have a safe space to use them.

The toilets are a safe space for everyone—especially these adolescent girls and people with disabilities—and guarantee a private spot for hygienic use.

In Kenya’s Isiolo County, Action Against Hunger has partnered with local government officials to build public toilets. Typically, residents in the county get their water from nearby rivers, ponds, and canals. The water is often contaminated with human waste, making it unsafe to drink.

 

Community members in Isiolo, Kenya, digging a pit latrine for public use.

Ever since Action Against Hunger launched the project, fewer residents have contracted deadly illnesses like cholera. That’s because we—together with the community—are successfully protecting ground water. To prevent these diseases from returning, our staff is also training community health volunteers to share their knowledge on sanitation. They each teach their communities about maintaining proper hygiene and the importance of using clean toilets. In fact, the volunteers are even partnering with their neighbors to build more toilets for the whole community to use.

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals envision that all people have proper access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene by 2030. Without prioritizing this goal, communities across the world will be locked in a cycle of poor hygiene and malnutrition. Only by coming together can we confront this challenge. Everyone—regardless of where they live—should have access to clean toilets.

 

Action Against Hunger Community Health Volunteers training residents on toilet pit latrine in Isiolo, Kenya.

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