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Current Situation

There are a lot of numbers out there about sanitation and the world - it can be confusing to understand what's really happening. FLUSH wants to help you feel less confused, so we created an infographic (left) to help you see how those numbers are related. 

As of 2018:

  • There are 7.2 billion people in the world.

  • 4.5 billion people don't have either a basic toilet, or have an unsafe toilet system

  • 2.3 billion people don't have a basic toilet system or latrine at all.

  • 890 million people defecate out in the open - in a field, or a lake.

The three countries with the largest number of people needing a toilet are:

  • India (522 million people)

  • Nigeria (46.5 million people)

  • Indonesia (32 million people)

842,000 people die annually because of poor access to water, sanitation, and hygiene. 33% of those people die annually just because of poor sanitation.

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  • Where in the world is there the most need right now?
    According to the JMP, the areas with the lowest levels of access to water and sanitation are in Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and the Pacific. Source: JMP 2017
  • Why don't people have access to toilets?
    • They don't have enough room to accommodate both their homes and a toilet • They live somewhere – like a mountain top, village or lake – where it is difficult to build a toilet • The communities have certain taboos about owning or using a toilet • Their beliefs and customs dictate where and how to go to the bathroom • They don't have enough money to build and maintain a toilet • There are no companies in the area who produce and sell toilets
  • Why don't people have access to safe drinking water?
    • The area does not have enough fresh drinking water to accommodate the number of people living there • Naturally-occurring water sources are contaminated with toxins like arsenic and E. coli • Without access to toilets, people are forced to go outside. This usually means they are going to the bathroom in the water sources (lakes, rivers) and therefore contaminating them, or they are going in an area that will eventually get washed into the waterways • There is a drought preventing water sources from being rejuvenated quickly enough for people to use • The owner of the water source is not willing to share with those who need it • The water is managed by an organization that charges unaffordable rates • The water source is not easily accessible – it’s often too far away or across dangerous terrain
  • How long did it take for the developed world to get access to these things?
    Many, many centuries...but it only took about a century once it became clear that having toilets prevents diseases from spreading. And we still see a lot of issues with toilets in higher-income countries. Check out the Toilet Timeline to learn more.
  • What are the biggest challenges for getting people safe drinking water and toilets?
    Population growth is one of the biggest challenges for improving access all over the world. Because, despite efforts to improve access to sanitation, the population is growing so fast, It is hard to keep up. Another challenge is climate change. With climate patterns changing and certain areas having increased cases of drought or rain, people are struggling to get access to clean water and working sanitation systems. Rain can flood toilets and contaminate water. Droughts reduce the water levels and make it hard to clean oneself after going to the bathroom. Lack of resources is another challenge. Those working in water and sanitation don't have the funds to get people access to water and toilets quickly or easily. Source: USA CDC Source: National Geographic Source: WaterAid Blog Source: GLAAS 2017 Report

WASH Sector Fails

Over the years, the WASH sector faces some challenges in getting people access to clean drinking water and safe toilets. At FLUSH, we have distilled some of the key failures and misconceptions we have witnessed in the sector that need to change.

"If they build it, they will come"

Building toilets for people and then leaving the scene has been a historically common way people in the world of water & sanitation have tried to improve access to sanitation.
Read more: The Last Taboo: (by Black & Fawcett)

Read more: Toilets & Taps Aren't Enough (by Casey & Crichton-Smith)

"Let's have a marathon training event"

​Training people with the skills to help others get access to clean water and sanitation takes time. Many training sessions are crammed into one or two 6-8 hour days. As a result, people don't remember what they were taught and are not confident in using the skills they just learned.

Read more: NGO Partnerships and Capacity Development in the WASH Sector (by Willetts et al)

Read more: Capacity Building in Cambodia’s Rural Local Governments for the Sanitation Market (by Worsham et al)

"Isn't there some silver bullet..."

What may be a successful solution for one community, may not necessarily work for another. Different terrains require different toilet structures and cultural differences must be accounted for in order for a system to prosper. 

Read more: Reinventing the silver bullet (by Smits at IRC WASH)

"Surely, we can fix this problem in 3 years..."

When you consider the significant amount time needed to set up and dismantle a project, there is very little time left to actually examine, analyze and execute all that is necessary to ensure the project is a success. Furthermore, expecting to change customs that have existed for generations in just a few short years can be unrealistic. Often times, slippage occurs and despite the best efforts of those involved, people go right back to their old ways.  

Read more: Understanding slippage: 8 ways going forward (WSSCC)

"Let's talk to the male leaders of this community for solutions..."

Sure, talking to the leaders about a sensitive topic like toilets is important, but often times the best people to talk to are the ones with the most to lose without access to clean water and toilets – the women, the disabled, the elderly, and the vulnerable. Including these groups in the project planning is crucial to ensuring its success.


Read more: Realizing Sanitation Access and Usage at Any Time, for Everyone and Everywhere (by SNV)

Read more: Gender Equality and Disability Inclusion within WASH (by WaterAid)


Note: Thanks to the CS WASH Fund for hosting resources.

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