Overflowing cities: WaterAid reveals the world’s hardest place to find an urban toilet

WaterAid/Poulomi Basu

India, the world’s fastest growing economy, is also the worst country in the world for urban sanitation, WaterAid’s State of the World’s Toilets 2016 report reveals. Despite the government’s campaign to make sanitation a priority, India’s towns and cities are growing at such breakneck speed that the number of urbanites living without sanitation is growing each year.

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WaterAid’s second-annual analysis of the world’s toilets, ‘Overflowing Cities,’ examines the state of city sanitation around the world, an issue becoming more pressing as two-thirds of the global population are expected to live in towns and cities by 2050.

India ranks top for having the greatest number of urbanites living without a safe, private toilet— 157 million – as well as the most urban dwellers practising open defecation— 41 million. The problem is so big that the daily waste produced on the streets of India’s towns and cities is enough to fill eight Olympic-sized swimming pools, or 16 jumbo jets, with poo, every day. As cities expand the numbers of urbanites living without basic sanitation has swelled by 26 million since the year 2000.

Among the other findings:
• War-ravaged South Sudan, the world’s newest nation, is the worst country in the world for urban sanitation in percentage terms. An estimated 84% of urbanites have no access to a toilet and every other urban-dweller there practises open defecation.
• Africa’s biggest economy, Nigeria, is falling furthest behind in reaching its urban population with a toilet. For every urban dweller reached with sanitation since 2000, two were added to the number living without, an increase of 31 million people in the past 15 years.
• Fast-growing China is making the most progress in reaching its urban population with sanitation. It’s managed to build toilets faster than the pace of new arrivals, reaching 329 million people since 2000, and outpacing population growth by 9 million.

The report examines the problems facing more than 700 million urban dwellers around the world living without decent sanitation. An estimated 100 million of these have no choice but to defecate in the open– using roadsides, railway tracks and even plastic bags dubbed ‘flying toilets’.

The high population density of urban areas means that diseases spread fast in the absence of good sanitation.

One child dies every two minutes from diarrhoeal diseases caused by dirty water, poor sanitation and hygiene. Globally 159 million children under five have their physical and cognitive development stunted; many of such cases are caused from repeated bouts of diarrhoea attributed to dirty water, poor sanitation and lack of hygiene.

WaterAid’s Director of Programmes & Policy, Avinash Kumar, said:
“India’s rapid and unplanned urbanisation has resulted in various developmental challenges. Today, 381 million people in the country live in rapidly expanding urban areas, of which 157 million have no toilets. WaterAid’s latest ‘State of World’s Toilets’ report showcases how India has failed to provide adequate urban sanitation. Current rates of urbanisation and meeting the increasing demand for basic services may make achieving Sustainable Development Goals a problem.

There is a vital need for an integrated approach towards urban planning that prioritises provision of basic services like clean water, safe sanitation and sustainable faecal sludge management by ensuring people’s participation. This is the only way to create a healthier and more sustainable future. The Swachh Bharat Mission and Smart Cities Mission are good government initiatives, but they need to take into account the ability of Indian cities to absorb and handle the projected population growth in urban centres.”

This World Toilet Day, WaterAid is calling for:
• Everyone living in urban areas, including slums, to be reached with a toilet to ensure public health is protected
• More money, better spent from governments and donors on sanitation, clean water and hygiene for the urban poor
• Coordination from all actors in the sanitation chain including governments, city planners, NGOs, the private sector, informal service providers and citizens
• Sanitation workers to be given the respect they deserve with stable employment, safety and decent pay. Without them healthy communities and cities are impossible.

Toilet Facts

44 per cent of the total population in India still defecate in the open.

Open defecation causes chronic diarrhoea that leads to stunting.