The need for good toilet science

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BY MAHALETCHUMY ARUJANAN

AS we live in the era of Industry 4.0 (IR4.0), IoT, cloud computing, 5G, gene drive and synthetic biology – in some parts of the world and quite pointedly in Asia and Africa, domestic and public sanitary systems remain derelict, dirty and disgusting.

Today, November 19, is World Toilet Day. This specified day recognises the global sanitation crisis and supports Sustainable Development Goal 6 (clean water and sanitation). World Toilet Day was first established in 2013.

Today in some parts of the world, human excrement is disposed of manually by scavengers or night soil carriers from traditional pit latrines. These menial labourers are exposed to a host of health issues, suffer social stigma and are discriminated as untouchables.

Lack of proper toilet facilities, access to clean water, soap, cleaning services and community and hygiene education are still major problems, with 26 per cent of the global population living without access to basic sanitation facilities.

Open defecation is still practised in many parts of the world. Such a practice can cause the spreading of infectious diseases and the harmful impact of this primitive practise is seen during environmental disasters like flood, earthquake, landslide and typhoons.

Malnutrition is caused by food security? Think again. Toilet and sanitation crisis also cause malnutrition that stunts children’s growth and development. Diseases like diarrhoea prevent absorption of nutrients from food consumed by children.

There is more to this crisis. It not only leads to chronic public health challenges and spreading infectious diseases, it is also a matter of human dignity, women’s wellbeing and access to education.

Imagine a school without toilet and clean water and this is particularly more difficult for girls during their menstruation. In Africa, good sanitation facilities increase the attendance of girls in schools. The dearth of safe and private spaces for girls to manage their sanitation needs during their menses leads to a high drop-out rate among girls in most parts of Africa. In India, many brides are forcing their future husbands to build proper toilets before they accept the nuptial.

Pit toilets have caused many deaths among children due to accidental falls and also pose a danger to cleaners.

In Malaysia, the common pet peeves are wet toilets, low maintenance, no toilet paper and poor civic consciousness among the public. But globally, innovations in engineering are a driving force to solve sanitation issues, with even Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation chipping in.

A Nano Membrane Toilet is being developed to enable those without plumbing to have access to safe and hygienic facilities. This innovative solution uses nanotechnology to convert human waste to water and ash. A solar-powered toilet is another hope for 2.5 billion people without access to clean water.

What may seem a basic need for most of us with too many options is a luxury for many or something they have never seen in their life.

Aromatherapeutic essential oils, beautiful tiles, gold plated faucets, glass doors, shower curtains are something they would never even imagine.

For those who love luxury, engineers and architects are also innovating toilets to glamorise toilets with lavish designs and modern finishings.

One household item that separates the haves and have-nots is certainly a toilet.

Key facts about sanitation (World Health Organisation)

• In 2017, 45% of the global population (3.4 billion people) used a safely managed sanitation service.

• 31% of the global population (2.4 billion people) used private sanitation facilities connected to sewers from which wastewater was treated.

• 14% of the global population (1.0 billion people) used toilets or latrines where excreta were disposed of in situ.

• 74% of the world’s population (5.5 billion people) used at least a basic sanitation service.

• 2.0 billion people still do not have basic sanitation facilities such as toilets or latrines.

• Of these, 673 million still defecate in the open, for example in street gutters, behind bushes or into open bodies of water.

• At least 10% of the world’s population is thought to consume food irrigated by wastewater.

• Cropland in peri-urban areas irrigated by mostly untreated urban wastewater is estimated to be approximately 36 million hectares (equivalent to the size of Germany)

• Poor sanitation is linked to transmission of diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid and polio and exacerbates stunting.

• Poor sanitation reduces human well-being, social and economic development due to impacts such as anxiety, risk of sexual assault, and lost educational opportunities.

• Inadequate sanitation is estimated to cause 432 000 diarrhoeal deaths annually and is a major factor in several neglected tropical diseases, including intestinal worms, schistosomiasis, and trachoma. Poor sanitation also contributes to malnutrition.