It was a milestone for Jack Sim. Since 2001, the entrepreneur from Singapore has been leading the struggle for what he and his World Toilet Organization (WTO) call “basic sanitary care”: hygienic toilets for everyone, everywhere around the world. Initially sneered at for his dedication, Sim managed to attend the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly on July 24, 2013. On this day, the council’s 193 member states unanimously declared November 19 to be UN World Toilet Day. Since that time, public attention has focused once a year on the fact that, in many countries, only the wealthy have access to sanitary facilities. According to the WTO, around 2.5 billion people in the world lack adequate basic sanitation. As just one example, some must defecate out in the open.
With perseverance and a lot of dedication, Jack Sim and the WTO got this issue onto political radars and agendas, a topic that most people usually only speak about behind closed doors, if at all. All the same, the elimination of feces and urine is as essential to human existence as breathing, eating and drinking. And, just as breathing polluted air or eating spoiled food makes a person ill, the inadequate hygiene caused by a lack of toilets is also dangerous: feces can contaminate groundwater and cause illnesses. A study by the World Health Organization estimates that there are around 800,000 fatal cases of diarrheal diseases annually, particularly among women and children. According to the WTO, more children die every year of diarrhea—which is often a direct consequence of poor sanitation— than of AIDS, malaria and measles combined. The United Nations thereby demands that every person should be able to afford access to clean sanitary facilities by the year 2030.