Tackling the global sanitation crisis
03 April 2018
Being reunited with our bathroom back home is always a welcome relief – however clean the facilities we use when we are out and about. But 2.3 billion people worldwide – one in three people on the planet – do not have a safe, clean toilet. Fresh appreciation of the bare essentials that we take for granted is prompting many people to ‘twin’ their toilets through a charity campaign called Toilet Twinning. Its CEO Lorraine Kingsley explains more
The Toilet Twinning initiative encourages people to ‘twin’ their loo at home or work, and so sponsor a latrine for an impoverished family in Africa, Asia or Latin America. In return for a one-off £60 donation, you receive a certificate of your toilet twin, complete with a colour photo and its GPS coordinates.
In the seven years since Toilet Twinning started, 88,000 toilets have been twinned – providing safe sanitation for more than half-a-million people in over 20 countries. Its projects focus on hard-to-reach communities in often volatile regions – places which are well off the state radar and under-served by development agencies generally.
Many ‘twinners’ are individuals wanting to twin their smallest room at home. But many businesses in the UK and overseas are also now coming on board with the campaign too, including cleaning companies as diverse as Axis Cleaning and Support Services and several members of the Independent Washroom Services Association.
Companies are not only twinning their office toilets but spreading the word about what others can do to engage with the global sanitation crisis – for example, by twinning clients’ toilets too.
Sustainability and ownership
Toilet Twinning’s approach is to work closely with poor communities to ensure that sanitation projects are culturally appropriate and sustainable. In other words, toilets that are built are still being used one year, five years later.
There’s a strong emphasis on hygiene education before toilet-building starts – to ensure that communities who have never had toilets before understand their importance and ‘own’ the project.
Then, families are generally encouraged to build their own latrine – though Toilet Twinning’s partners provide training and sometimes materials. This ensures families have the dignity of providing for themselves and ownership of what they’ve built. Crucially, it means they will use their toilet…and never be without one again.
For many, understanding the connection between poor sanitation and poor health is a light-bulb moment – as it was for Bishwo, a teacher in the Himalayan foothills of Nepal. His daughter, Mira, fell seriously ill with typhoid and dysentery as a teenager. She spent a month in hospital and missed a great deal of school. The taxi journey to hospital took five hours.
The family had a simple pit latrine – but it was built close to the stream where they sourced their drinking water. They didn’t realise that their waste was contaminating their water.
When Toilet Twinning partners taught Bishwo how to build a proper toilet in the right place, he sold two of his goats to pay for the materials. He was so proud of his new loo that he invited all his neighbours to try it out. Many villagers have since built a toilet for themselves.
Finally, Bishwo understood why his family were frequently ill and why attendance in his school halved during the rainy season. "This latrine is my guarantee of old age," he says.
In the Nepalese context – and in every community where Toilet Twinning works – toilets represent far more than a simple amenity. They protect families from disease, increase their capacity to work and earn, and help them take a big first step out of generational poverty.
Importantly, they help change people’s outlook on life. A pit latrine is a very basic construction. But if you’ve built it yourself, believing that you can improve life for your family, a toilet represents something powerful. It’s concrete proof that you can shape your future, and that’s a pretty good definition of hope.