Featured Organizations, Health

SDG 6: The secret to unlocking opportunity? Clean water and toilets

Goal6-2

By Carolynne Wheeler, WaterAid

As a 21 year old woman in rural Nigeria, Kadoon Tilenen faces a difficult choice each time she feels the urge to relieve herself.

When you’re pregnant, that urge comes even more often – and when the only toilet is a rudimentary pit latrine shared by your husband, small child and large extended family, sometimes the only option is to head for the field instead.

But doing so is uncomfortable and risks her health.

“It feels very uncomfortable but sometimes I have no choice. In my condition, my stomach hurts me sometimes when I am in the bush bending and the grasses help to cover,” she said. “At night, I am afraid so I don’t go very far from the house. There are thorns that prick and sticks that injure me. Defecating in the bush disgusts me and makes me vomit a lot, especially in my pregnant state.”

Kadoon is one of nearly 1 billion people in the world who have no choice but to relieve themselves in the open.

She understands that this contaminates the environment and spreads disease, putting her own health at risk, as well of that of her child. But there simply isn’t any choice.

Kadoon Tilenene, 21 , farmer by their community open pit toilet in Agaku. Agaku is one of the communities in Benue that lack clean water supply. Their main water source is the river and rainfall. Open defecation is widely practiced in Agaku. Photo by WaterAid/Andrew Siebo

Kadoon Tilenene, 21 , farmer by their community open pit toilet in Agaku. Agaku is one of the communities in Benue that lack clean water supply. Their main water source is the river and rainfall. Open defecation is widely practiced in Agaku. Photo by WaterAid/Andrew Siebo

“We don’t have clean water and many people don’t have toilets so we defecate in the bushes around our houses. … Dirty water is used to cook, wash, bath, for drinking and everything water is needed for. People fall sick a lot and the entire environment smells. The air is bad,” she said. “Clean water and a toilet will make people no longer fall sick. The environment will be clean and we won’t see feces in the open. It will also help us save money and not spend it on hospital bills. I think people would use latrines if they had them.”

Delivering safe water and toilets and promoting good hygiene in communities like Kadoon’s changes the life cycle of a girl. Provide this from the moment a baby comes into the world, and she’ll less likely to succumb to infection as a newborn, less likely to have chronic diarrhea and illness as a young child, more likely to attend and stay in school – even once she begins menstruating, if school has a private toilet and hand washing facilities so she can manage her periods. A better education means she’ll be more likely to marry when she’s ready and have healthier, better educated children.

A life transformed – all because of these three things those of us in the developed world take for granted.

In September, the world’s leaders got together and pledged to deliver a toilet to every household, everywhere by 2030 as part of the new Global Goals on sustainable development. These goals set out a plan to end extreme poverty, eliminate inequalities and address climate change.

All of these goals rely on delivering safe water, decent toilets and good hygiene, including hand washing with soap for all. Without these, new mothers will continue to die of preventable infections; newborns will succumb to infection acquired in surroundings that are not clean; children will continue to be stunted by malnutrition caused in part by chronic infection and entire communities will miss out on the opportunities that come when populations are healthy and productive.

The work of the Global Goals has only just begun; 663 million people in the world do not have access to clean water and another 2.4 billion do not have access to safe, private toilets. WaterAid is among the organizations calling for clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene for all. Help us make sure we keep that promise to Kadoon and her young family.

Illustrations for the SDG campaign have been made for Girls’ Globe by artist Elina Tuomi.