For most of us at IBA, our toilet is not much more than an afterthought, despite being the first and last place to visit for many. However, this flush and forget mindset isn’t the norm for 94 million Pakistanis who live everyday without access to proper sanitation facilities. Not having adequate sanitary facilities leaves them with all but one option: open defecation – excreting in public.
This is why November 19 is celebrated as World Toilet Day – to create awareness about this pressing issue. It may sound like a joke, or even disgusting for some, but it is deadly serious.
52% of Pakistanis do not have access to proper washrooms – this results not only in formidable diseases but also public defecation by more than 40 million people. But is it really their fault? Pakistan is amongst the bottom ten countries in the world in terms of sanitation, lacking toilets, especially public ones, to facilitate its vastly growing urban population. In the city of Lahore, which houses millions, there are only 21 public washrooms, a startling figure considering the rapid growth in infrastructure and development – with little to no focus on toilets, one of the basic necessities of life.
Forcing individuals to seek out places to defecate leads to stool withholding behavior, constipation, and stunting. Children who grow up withholding their stool for longer have trouble with their bowel movements which can result in them soiling their undergarments. Constipation also leads to an imbalance in this bacterial flora giving rise to unfriendly strains of bacteria and impaired gut health. Stunting, evaluated by calculating a child’s height for age as a percentage of the population median is highly affected by public defecation as well; when children are unable to adequately wash themselves, a bacterial contamination of water ensues. This leads to chronic diarrhea and malabsorption states in children. Such chronic malnutrition leads to cognitive deficiencies and insufficient brain development. All of this is pretty harrowing and we, as Pakistanis are not doing much about it.
The lack of basic sanitary facilities affects millions every year in Pakistan, taking hundreds of lives and leaving thousands with a lifetime legacy of poverty and disease. Many are affected with conditions such as diarrhea and hepatitis, which have caused countless deaths amongst those from the lower strata. Failing to provide children with the basic necessity for living is inhumane and detrimental to their well-being. As university students who can work towards bringing a change, we are, quite frankly, not doing enough. While we sit in halls and auditoriums discussing global issues, we conveniently overlook the issue of public defecation and the lack of public toilets right here in our own country.
In order to help those who are forced to resort to open defecation, massive efforts must be implemented to create behavioral change, provide adequate facilities, and increase awareness about overall hygiene. Learn more about the issue and spread the word through public campaigns both on-street and online, and donate to causes such as the World Toilet Organization to ensure everyone has the right to go, just like you.