GFA’s Work to End Toilet Poverty

One of the less glamorous aspects of addressing poverty around the world is solving the issue of toilet poverty, the main symptom of which is open defecation. Open defecation (OD) refers to the practice of defecating in bodies of water or other open spaces such as fields or bushes. Despite falling numbers, more than 5 percent of the world’s population still practiced OD in 2020, and nine out of ten people practicing OD lived in one of two regions: Central and Southern Asia with 233 million people practicing OD, and sub-Saharan Africa with 197 million people.[1]

A GFA World Special Report says,

“Open defecation is a disease-producing practice that contaminates drinking water and spreads diseases such as cholera, dysentery, and diarrhea, which is particularly fatal among children. The incidence of such disease can disrupt young people’s education. In addition, females who engage in open defecation are more vulnerable to sexual violence.”[2]

Crude toilets are dangerous, causing disease and possible violence. Some 1.5 million people die globally from polluted water and disease alone.[3] They are also potential traps for small children. A three-year-old boy drowned in a pit latrine in South Africa, which was only possible because most pit toilets are made from cheap metal, and they shoddily built and left uncovered. This was in the same region where a five-year-old boy had drowned in a school toilet just four years earlier.[4]

Duke’s WaSH-AID team focuses on providing onsite waste treatment solutions to disadvantaged communities around the world and in parts of the United States, including North Carolina, which often struggle with limited resources. Photo by Duke University, Center for WaSH-AID

Because of these issues and their tragic effects, many people are working to solve the toilet crisis. This includes Gates Foundation’s investment in Duke University’s Center for Water, Sanitation, Hygiene and Infectious Disease (WaSH-AID), which is testing “reinventing toilets” and other hygienic technologies.[5] This stipend is part of the Gates Foundation’s “Reinvent the Toilet” challenge, which asked inventors to create toilets that can sanitize human waste with no water, electricity, sewer, or septic system.

The goals also include reclaiming the water to safe drinking standards and using the nutrients for other purposes. Meeting this challenge fully would be a game-changer for those suffering from OD. Over the course of the first seven years of the challenge, the Gates have invested $200 million in possible solutions.[6]

India has also started a five-year-long Swachh Barat Abhiyan (“Clean India”) campaign, which had installed 110 million latrines by October 2019.[7]

Habitat for Humanity conducted a pilot project in Dimbroko, Cote d’Ivoire to end open defecation. The organization, with the help of government, private sector, and community representatives, successfully implemented sanitation facilities and promoted proper hygiene to improve living conditions for those living in poverty. Photo by Habitat for Humanity, Ending Open Defecation in Cote d’Ivoire

In 2015, China’s president declared a “toilet revolution” with the goal of local governments addressing sanitation poverty in hopes of attracting more tourism, and in 2018, the city of Beijing hosted the “Reinvented Toilet Expo.”[8] Nigeria launched an action in 2016 to address the problem of OD in their country. Three years later, the government had not released the funds, and with high levels of water-borne illnesses, the Nigerian president declared a state of emergency as the nation’s problems persisted.[9]

Even with all these efforts and people working to stop toilet poverty, it is still a rampant issue, even in parts of the world closer to home.

The United Nations reports, “some 2.2 billion people around the world do not have safely-managed drinking water, while 4.2 billion go without safe sanitation services and three billion lack basic handwashing facilities.”[10] And about 15. 5 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean are forced to practice OD.[11] There is still much work to be done; UNICEF helped almost 19 million people gain access to clean drinking water and 10.8 million people with basic sanitation.

“I have a new toilet, and I don’t need to go to the bush anymore,” A woman in a village in Laos said.[12]

GFA World also continues to address the issue and has helped to install 32,000 toilets in some of the most remote and difficult-to-reach places in South Asia. In 2019 alone, GFA installed more than 5,200 toilets.[13]

Beyond providing new toilets, GFA World works with people to meet their other hygiene poverty needs. GFA has programs to raise awareness of proper hygiene practices; we instruct people on how cleanliness can protect their health. GFA’s medical ministry works to treat the illnesses already contracted and prevent future sicknesses by sharing the knowledge that hygiene is important and making maintaining that standard easier. This is a major focus of GFA’s Child Sponsorship Program as well, which instructs children in poverty dental care, handwashing and other basic hygienic practices they’d never known about before.[14]

Join this effort and support our work against toilet poverty around the world. These people don’t choose the indignation of open defecation on their own; it is forced on them by their impoverished circumstances. It takes on average $540 to construct an outdoor toilet,[15] so they cannot afford it without outside help. GFA is working to install more and more toilets to help people, so consider donating toward that cause, as every little bit helps, and please pray as we work in these messy, tough situations.

Learn more about global poverty

[1] “Open Defecation.” World Health Organization Unicef: JMP. https://washdata.org/monitoring/inequalities/open-defecation. Accessed November 8, 2022.
[2] Walker, Ken. “Taking the Toilet Challenge.” GFA World Special Report. https://www.gfa.org/special-report/open-defecation-outdoor-toilets-improve-sanitation. May 18, 2021.
[3] Burton, Karen. “Fight Against Open Defecation Continues.” GFA World Special Report. https://www.gfa.org/special-report/open-defecation-outdoor-toilets-improve-sanitation/#fight-against-open-defecation. December 15, 2017. Edited November 14, 2020, by Ken Walker.
[4] “South African Boy of Three Dies in Limpopo Toilet.” BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-44736772. July 6, 2018.
[5] “Duke Awarded $4.5 Million to Advance Global Research Technologies in Sanitation, Public Health.” Duke Today. https://today.duke.edu/2020/11/duke-awarded-45-million-advance-global-research-technologies-sanitation-public-health. November 12, 2020.
[6] “The future of sanitation: 10 years of reinventing the toilet.” Gates Foundation. https://www.gatesfoundation.org/ideas/articles/sanitation-reinvent-toilet. July 29, 2021.
[7] “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan: Achieving an Open Defecation Free Country through the Clean India Mission.” Yale Institute for Global Health. https://medicine.yale.edu/yigh/students/case-competition/2020yighcase_final_376305_46325_v1.pdf. January 24, 2020.
[8] Walker, Ken. “Taking the Toilet Challenge.” GFA World Special Report. https://www.gfa.org/special-report/open-defecation-outdoor-toilets-improve-sanitation. May 18, 2021.
[9] Adepoju, Paul. “Why Nigeria’s Campaign to End Open Defecation is Failing.” Devex. https://www.devex.com/news/why-nigeria-s-campaign-to-end-open-defecation-is-failing-95448. August 13, 2019.
[10] Burton, Karen. “Fight Against Open Defecation Continues.” GFA World Special Report. https://www.gfa.org/special-report/open-defecation-outdoor-toilets-improve-sanitation/#fight-against-open-defecation. December 15, 2017. Edited November 14, 2020, by Ken Walker.
[11] Walker, Ken. “Taking the Toilet Challenge.” GFA World Special Report. https://www.gfa.org/special-report/open-defecation-outdoor-toilets-improve-sanitation. May 18, 2021.
[12] Ferguson, Sarah. “Saving Lives, One Toilet at a Time.” UNICEF. https://www.unicefusa.org/stories/saving-lives-one-toilet-time/35145. November 22, 2019.
[13] Walker, Ken. “Taking the Toilet Challenge.” GFA World Special Report. https://www.gfa.org/special-report/open-defecation-outdoor-toilets-improve-sanitation. May 18, 2021.
[14] “Monthly Prayer Focus.” GFA World. https://www.gfa.org/pray/pray-for-gfa-worlds-sanitation-initiative. Accessed November 8, 2022.
[15] “Protect People’s Health.” GFA World. https://www.gfa.org/donation/health-bundle. Accessed November 8, 2022.