In 2001, the World Toilet Organization (WTO) declared November 19th as World Toilet Day. From then onward, every year, November 19th is commemorated as World Toilet Day emphasizing the importance of access to toilets or rather lack thereof. Irregular to no access to proper toilets and sanitary facilities has not only resulted in health problems but also crossed into the domain of crime mostly exposing women to sexual assault and rape.
Access to a toilet is thus advocated today as a Human Right. A human right to safety, cleanliness & hygiene and above all good health.
Lack of toilets has hazards not only for individual health and safety but also for the environment. Observations from the ICZMP (Gujarat) report that open defecation has adverse impact on marine biodiversity as human waste runs off into the sea and oceans. This is true of coastal zones as well.
In a project such as the ICZMP where public health and sanitation is not an explicit objective, building toilets became an inevitable process and goal to achieve the larger objective of socioeconomic development and natural resource management which required active community participation.So why build toilets? The answer is simple: if people suffer from acute urinary problems, certainly planting mangroves- a vital natural resource for coastal conservation- is not an endearing prospect for them.
Secondly, building toilets was an initiative by the implementing agencies to build rapport with the community members and motivate them to play an active role in the project to achieve project goals as well as environmental sustainability and community development. PRA exercises in several villages revealed the need for private toilets in each household. Several women openly demanded for better toilets without being coy or embarrassed.
Therefore, under the auspices of the ICZMP, several toilets were built in project villages an example of which is Mungani village, Jamnagar district. In Mungani, private toilets were built for 60 families with support from project funds as well as contribution by community members and their households; poor financial conditions was one of the reasons preventing community members from building toilets. A septic tank was provided for every toilet to establish an On Site Sewage Facility (OSSF) to prevent sewage from entering the sea. Beneficiaries reported immense satisfaction at having private access to toilets.
Not having access to a toilet can have a debilitating effect on people’s lives and communities as a whole. Today the right to a toilet is being advocated as a human right with utmost urgency and rightly so. However, from the ICZMP initiatives to build toilets, an important lesson learned is that public sanitation-related interventions could be very important for development to progress and achieve sustainability whether or not sanitation is included in the project context and framework of goals and objectives.