Break the Taboo: A Call for Access to Clean Water and Sanitation Facilities for All

We all take things for granted. Take a second and think about the daily activities that occur or exist without thought, or with scant attention being paid to them. This might be the ability to flip a switch in a dark room, immediately illuminating it. Or the fact that when you are thirsty, all you need to do to solve this problem is turn on your faucet. These amenities exist without much fanfare. But have you imagined what life would be like without them?


In that vein, each year the United Nations celebrates World Toilet Day on November 19th to call attention to the billions of people globally, who lack access to proper sanitation.[1] This is among the most overlooked issues, and it has a tremendous impact on so many people’s lives. For many, access to running water and indoor restroom facilities is a fantasy, leaving them unable to lead healthy and productive lives. World Toilet Day seeks to draw attention to this issue, noting that approximately 2.4 billion people around the world lack access to proper toilet and sanitation facilities,[2] usually resulting in public defecation and the spread of disease. More than just an inconvenience, it is a public health crisis. Furthermore, access to sanitation is defined by the United Nations as a human right. Now is as good a time as any to turn our attention to this important issue and how continuing to ignore it will further perpetuate the devastating consequences for both people and planet.


The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) seek to address this very issue. Goal 6 recognizes the issue by noting that water and sanitation are vital to human health and development, yet billions around the world lack access to it.[3] Among the 2.4 billion without proper access are 946 million people who lack any facilities at all, causing significant public health and environmental problems. Moreover, diarrhea caused by poor sanitation facilities and unsafe water results in 315,000 children dying each year.[4] Additionally, 17% of all workplace deaths are caused by poor sanitation and hygiene practices. This Goal cannot be fully realized as long as people are forced to drink, bathe, and wash clothing in waters that are polluted or shared with animals.


So what can be done about this epidemic? According the SDGs, by 2030, the UN seeks to achieve access to safe and affordable water for all and to provide people with clean and healthy sanitation facilities. To achieve this, however, we will all have to shift our thinking of the right to water.


One way to start is an end to open defecation, which causes diseases to spread and environmental harm. This leads to unnecessary death as well as loss of economic productivity.[5] Next, in order to reduce pollution and physical harm, the dumping of hazardous materials into water sources must stop. And finally, there must be an increased emphasis on water as an infrastructure factor. While significant time and resources are rightly spent towards the traditional matters like roads and bridges, in many countries, attention on water and sanitation is negligible. Many countries do not adequately treat and monitor the quality of their water. They allow for chemicals and waste to be dumped into water sources, leading to health problems and environmental degradation.


The tagline for this year’s World Toilet Day is to ‘Break the Taboo,’ a direct call from  UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s 2013 commemoration and an explicit reference to the fact that while this problem persists, many do not want to talk about it, further exacerbating the problem. We often go through life taking advantage of the basic things that occur without ceremony, yet are crucial to living a healthy life with dignity. In order to solve this significant problem, we must be willing to talk about its existence and acknowledge that we all have a right to clean water and sanitation facilities.


#faithmatters #water #sanitation #world toilet day #breakthetaboo


Anthony Balouris is a Fellow at the UN for the Department of Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (

The Archdiocese is an accredited Non-Governmental Organization at the United Nations through the Department of Public Information (UN DPI) and has General Consultative Status under the Economic and Social Council of the UN (ESOSCO). It has been actively working at the UN for 30 years.