Sunday is World Toilet Day: A global initiative that aims to raise awareness about the importance of sanitation and advocate for access to clean, safe toilets. These toilets are supposed to promote health, dignity and overall well-being.
However, the toilet situation in South Africa is dark and ominous.
The civil rights organization AfriForum launched its blue and green drop report this week and revealed that of the 140 tested sewage wastewater treatment plants in South Africa, a mere 19% meet the minimum standards.
A census survey conducted recently in the country further indicates that only 70.8% of the inhabitants have access to flushing toilets, while 2.6% use a chemical toilet. Around 9% of South Africans use a ventilated pit toilet while 12.5% still only have access to a regular pit toilet. Furthermore, 2.1% of the 17.8 million households use buckets, while 1.6% have no access to any form of toilet.
Bronwyn Ragavan, brand manager for the hygiene product *Organico, says access to clean and safe sanitation is a basic human right that promotes dignity, health and hygiene.
“It is also a necessity to create a safe and conducive learning environment where academic excellence can be achieved.”
Ragavan refers to an incident earlier this year where a five-year-old learner drowned in a pit toilet, and says that the government’s undertaking to declare pit toilets a thing of the past by 2025 is simply an extension of previous empty promises. Meanwhile, learners are constantly put at risk at schools where pit toilets are the norm.
“There is also a greater chance of physical danger for younger children and an increased possibility of diseases being spread through contaminated groundwater.
“Groundwater is the world’s largest source of fresh water, supporting drinking water supplies, sanitation systems, farming, industries and ecosystems. When it is polluted, there is a domino effect that leads to diseases, lack of clean drinking water and the destruction of ecosystems.”
Dr. Jo Barnes, senior lecturer in the Department of Global Health at Stellenbosch University, agrees that the government needs to do much more to promote safe access to toilet facilities and clean water.
She says that although sanitation is a global crisis, it is an acute problem in South Africa, which in some cases has already passed the tipping point.
Moreover, it is amazing to her that so many people in the country have a mobile phone, but do not have access to a toilet.
Barnes believes one of the major problems in South Africa is a lack of proper government management, budgeting and reporting. She also does not trust the figures from the government’s census surveys and says that where the government indicates in statistics that access to toilets has improved, it does not take into account whether these are working toilets.
“Inadequate sanitation and faulty sewage and water systems have far-reaching consequences. Defective sewage systems lead to pollution, which in turn leads to other diseases among people. Diseases in turn lead to unemployment because people cannot go to work and in many cases lose their jobs.
“Furthermore, water in some areas is so polluted that it prevents the export of vegetables and fruit, for example, and thus further hurts the economy.
According to her, dirty water sources such as rivers eventually also pollute the drinking water of towns that depend on those water sources.
However, Barnes says there are no easy solutions to the massive problem at hand. She encourages the public to put increasing pressure on the government to prioritize sanitation and access to safe water and toilets – especially in the run-up to the upcoming elections.
“Now is the best time to put pressure on politicians and also involve local politicians.”