Advocating Sustainable Sanitation on World Toilet Day

  • 2020/11/23     Dresden, Germany

    Image: Unsplash/Waldemar Brandt

    By Zeynep Ozkul and Serena Caucci

    World Toilet Day, celebrated annually on 19 November, reminds us of what we often take for granted: safe access to toilets and sanitation. Under this year’s theme of Sustainable Sanitation and Climate Change, the international day reflects on the relationship between climate change and our adaptation and use of sanitation systems. The Day urges the global community to tackle the global water and sanitation crisis and rapidly improve progress on SDG 6 – ‘to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030’.

    Access to safe water and sanitation is an internationally recognised human right. However, the facts are concerning. Globally, 1 in 3 people do not have access to a toilet, and 4.2 billion people, or 55% of the world’s population, do not have access to safely managed sanitation services. The UN World Water Development Report 2020 warns us that climate change is transforming the water cycle and will affect the provision of sanitation services for all. Amid the global fight against COVID-19, World Toilet Day draws attention to the sanitation crisis and climate change to help protect our health security and ensuring the sustainability of ecosystems.

    UNU-FLORES has been working together with local and international partners to address the sanitation problem around the world. The SludgeTec project is an outstanding example of how the co-design of sustainable wastewater treatment and management system options have improved solid waste management in two pilot regions: Panajachel, Guatemala, and Tepeji del Rio, Mexico, and promoted sanitation strategies in the rural area of the Mezquital Valley. UNU-FLORES sets a blueprint for further development of tailor-made solutions to cope with water sanitation, water reuse, and health challenges. These efforts contribute to both the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as well as actions to tackle the global sanitation crisis.

    In conjunction with World Toilet Day, Dr Serena Caucci, Associate Programme Officer at UNU-FLORES, presented her research pitch in the webinar ‘Making the World Open Defecation Free: Possibility or Dream?’ organised by UNU-MERIT in collaboration with Friend In Need India. The online event provided a platform for academics and doctoral students to share their research pitches and engage in sanitation topics in diverse parts of the world.

    Dr Caucci works closely with international partners to develop transdisciplinary collaborations in the field of sustainable water management. In her presentation ‘The Large Benefits of Small Changes: The Tipping Point-Sanitation for the Mezquital Valley, Mexico’, Dr Caucci discussed the impacts of poorly treated wastewater reaching the agricultural district of Mexico on the ecosystem and public health of the local communities. The presentation stressed the key role of the Nexus Approach in fostering public-private partnerships as a solution between locals, municipalities, and farmers. The on-site provision of decentralised plants via the safe use of wastewater for the agro-system services of the region can increase sanitation and promote the local economy.

    Sanitation, wastewater, and sustainability are interrelated. Sustainable sanitation systems and the safe use of wastewater contribute to the global shift towards sustainable development. The agricultural use of wastewater in semi-arid regions helps save water, reduces and captures greenhouse gas emissions, and increases crop yield with a reliable source of water and nutrients. However, the unsafe management of excreta and wastewater causes many environmental, sanitary, and social issues at the same time. Gaps in access to functioning sanitation, water, and hygiene services point out the urgent need for mitigating water stress and achieving water security.

    “Without proper urban water services in peri-urban settings, we cannot achieve healthy living conditions. My research seeks to illuminate the connections between urban growth and sanitation, and to provide sanitation to all while pushing for resource recovery and recycling.”

    – Serena Caucci

    World Toilet Day inspires the international community to step up efforts to improve the provision of durable, climate-resilient water and sanitation systems. Shifting the world onto a sustainable development path requires a radical change in the perceptions about wastewater and the recovery and reuse of this valuable resource.

    UNU-FLORES has been advocating for the safe use of wastewater since the inception of its research and capacity development agenda, pioneering research to improve the current understanding and to produce new knowledge. By promoting the Resource Nexus for all environmental resources: water, soil, waste, energy, and more, UNU-FLORES advances the application of an integrated and sustainable approach to managing environmental resources particularly in developing and emerging economies.

    Read the full coverage of the event ‘Making the World Open Defecation Free: Possibility or Dream?’