Don Foster MP writes… It’s time we talked about toilets!

Here in the UK, a toilet is a necessity that we are lucky enough to take for granted – a subject for humour, or something we’d prefer not to talk about.

Yet for billions of people around the world, sanitation is a serious issue. With a staggering 2.6 billion – nearly 40% of the world’s population – living without basic, safe sanitation, it’s time we talked about toilets. It’s a shocking fact that diarrhoea, caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation, is the biggest killer of children under five in Africa. In fact, globally it kills more children every year than AIDS, malaria and measles combined.

This is a crisis that reaches beyond health. It traps communities in poverty as the diseases it causes put a constant strain on health services and prevent adults from working and earning a living. In total the lack of water and sanitation costs Africa 5% of its GDP each year.

When it comes to education, the lack of safe water and sanitation throws up barrier after barrier, with illness, the burden of caring for sick relatives, the hours spent walking to find water for the family and poor or non-existent toilet facilities at school all conspiring to keep children, especially girls, out of the classroom.

Yet all this can be prevented.

Solutions don’t have to be hi-tech or expensive. Something as basic as a clean, properly designed pit toilet can make a huge difference – saving lives, helping more children stay in school and giving adults the good health they need to go out and earn a living. In fact, providing clean water and improving sanitation are two of the most cost-effective development investments we can make – it’s estimated that for every £1 invested in these services, £8 is generated – and these fundamental necessities must be in place if investments in education and health are to be as effective as they can be.

The UK Government has already achieved much through its own investment in water and sanitation, and the UK’s commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI on aid is something we should all feel very proud of.

Sadly, there is still a long way to go. At the current rate of progress, the UN Millennium Development Goal to halve the proportion of people living without basic sanitation by 2015 will be missed by a billion people. If we are to stop this growing crisis, we need to take action.

To mark World Toilet Day today, 19 November, international charity WaterAid is launching a campaign, Water Works, to highlight the life changing impact of sanitation and safe water ahead of next April’s High Level Meeting on water and sanitation in Washington DC. High level involvement from the UK Government is critical to the success of this meeting. I’ll be putting my support behind the campaign, and you can too at

* Don Foster (pictured above with Peter Bottomley) is Lib Dem MP for Bath.

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This entry was posted in Europe / International and Op-eds.


  • The Intermediate Technology Development Group – “Practical Action”
    is doing good work to improve sanitation in the third world
    Self sustaining solutions are needed, not one off western projects.
    It should be remembered that in the UK outdoor “privies” were still in use in many areas until the 1970s and 1980s when they were replaced by indoor toilets with help from government grants.

  • Re Toilets, sanitation worldwide is important,lack of it is a source of desease. However closer to home Public Toilets are being made extinct as no Public authority has been earmarked to provide them. The Government could stop this very negative approach by making Local authorities, District and County councils responsible in providing Public Toilets in all public places at the rate of so many per head of local population.The elderly and handicapped are greatly disadvantaged and even restrict their outings if no toilet is avilable.With an aging population this is becoming a major problem to the elderly.

  • helen dudden 25th Nov '11 - 7:58pm

    Of course there are very few toilets in Bath, that are clean and safe. they were closed to prevent drug users. When a tourist asks me for a toilet nearby, it is hoped that the shops are open, or a pub will let you use them.

    Don think a little more about those who live in Bath. I think that you should consider your constituants a little more.

    I have great sympathy for the poor in the world and also trafficked children, there is much wrong in our own backyard.
    I have written much on the subject of children, and there is still much to write on our children. Helen Dudden.

  • Helen Dudden 14th May '12 - 9:51pm

    The class system, poor children, what is that meant to mean, children that live in our society without enough to bring them above poverty. Well what can I say?

  • Helen Dudden 3rd Aug '12 - 3:22pm

    I wish to add that I feel my comments have been on line for long enough. It would be a good idea if they were now taken in the context of the time they were made, and removed. I clearly have no comment on the article. But I feel the contents of the comments should be excepted as constructive critism. I wonder if this will be printed?

    Of course I should accept that if Don Foster MP, wished to meet on the comments then of course there is not a problem. Perhaps this could be arranged with the others who have made the comments too.

  • Helen Dudden 16th Aug '12 - 11:38am

    Bill Gates is going to donate 2.2 million pounds on looking for new ways on the subject of use in countries as above, toilets without water. I understand that it will be a green issue, and I feel that this man does so much for the world.

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