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November 22, 2019

Realities of life


November 22, 2019

Some of the most basic aspects of life for many of us are something we rarely think about. As the world, and Pakistan, marked November 19 as World Toilet Day, it surfaced that in Pakistan two million households and 13.2 million individuals have no access to toilet facilities. In urban areas, access to toilets is available to 99 percent of people. We do not often think about the wider implications of this. According to the UN, globally 4.2 billion people have no access to safe sanitation. This results in millions of deaths and a huge burden of disease. The UN holds that providing toilets to people is not only a sanitary requirement but also one that is fundamental to human rights and dignity. Prime Minister Imran Khan has already launched the ‘Clean and Green Pakistan’ initiative. We hope that within it the issue of toilets for all will come under consideration.

In addition to the fact that some people still lack toilets, there is also the issue of public facilities especially for women. These are rarely available even in major cities, causing considerable hardship in some situations. The lack of toilets at schools meanwhile holds back girls from acquiring an education and from meeting their basic needs. An associated problem is the entry of faecal material in drinking water which is responsible for millions of cases of stomach disease and gastroenteritis. For example, in Lahore affluent from sanitation systems is discharged into the environment or into nonfunctional sewerage systems. When sewerage affluents mix with drinking water it creates diarrhoeal disease especially for children. The burden of such disease, which includes cholera and typhoid as well as polio, also carried by water, is extremely high in Pakistan. More than twenty-two percent of infant deaths in the country are caused by diarrhea. The problem is more common in households which lack basic sanitation.

The absence of safe sanitation and consequent disease also leads to children being stunted or being under-weight. Toilets are important for every individual in the nation, but especially for the elderly, for children, for women and for those who are sick. Other countries had launched major initiatives to reduce open defecation by teaching communities how to build toilets. In some cases, at least these campaigns have been a success. Pakistan needs to follow such examples and learn from them.

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