World Toilet Day 2022: Sanitation and Groundwater

When is the last time you celebrated your toilet and its important role in your life?

If you live in a developed country, like the United States, it’s easy to take your toilet for granted. But there are billions of people around the world who live without access to toilets.

So, in 2013, the United Nations General Assembly designated November 19 as World Toilet Day to raise awareness about the people around the world who lack access to sanitation. Their goal is to provide safe toilets for all by 2030.

Each year since, the campaign has focused on a different topic. The World Toilet Day 2022 campaign is Making the Invisible Visible. It focuses on the impact of poor sanitation on groundwater, and it explores how inadequate sanitation systems pollute underground water resources by spreading human waste into rivers, lakes, and soil.

Groundwater is water found underground in aquifers, which are geological formations of rocks, sands and gravels that hold water. It accounts for about 99% of all liquid freshwater on the planet, and it provides the drinking water for most of the world’s rural population.

The global sanitation crisis

According to the U.N., nearly half of the world’s population lives without a safely managed sanitation system, also known as a “safe toilet.” That means a toilet that isn’t shared among many households, and that treats or disposes of human waste on site, stores it safely to be emptied and treated at another site, or connects to a functioning sewer and treatment plant.

Safe toilets are vital to protect groundwater – and the citizens of the world – from the pathogens found in fecal waste.

How does inadequate sanitation impact groundwater?

The U.N. says there are five main areas of concern.

Pit latrines and septic tanks: In a densely populated community, pit latrines as well as poorly constructed and managed septic tanks can pollute shallow aquifers and nearby bodies of water.

Fecal sludge disposal by landfill: Groundwater pollution can happen where human waste is taken from pit toilets and septic tanks and disposed of with other solid waste in landfill sites.

Irrigation with untreated wastewater: If farms use untreated wastewater for irrigation, that’s a risk for farmers and consumers of leafy vegetables irrigated with this wastewater.

Sewerage outfall: In places where sewers are used to take away wastewater, this could mean pollution risks for the aquifers under land or in the rivers where the sewage is dumped.

Climate change: In areas with increased rainfall, pit latrines, septic tanks, and open sewers can flood easily, spreading human waste into soil and surface water. In areas where droughts are a growing problem, sanitation systems such as pour-flush latrines may become unusable, forcing people to defecate outside.

Progress made

While we have a long way to go, we’ve also made a lot of progress.

According to the World Plumbing Council, the global population of people using safely managed sanitation services increased from 28% in 2000 to 39% in 2015. And also between 2000 and 2015, the number of people defecating in the open declined by an average of 22 million per year.

If you’re interested in some ways you can raise awareness, WorldToilet.org has some suggestions for you.