UNICEF's distribution of portable toilets in Tacloban helped limit the spread of disease after Typhoon Haiyan. © UNICEF/PFPG2013P-0293/KENT PAGE

World Toilet Day: Toilets to Tacloban

Before Typhoon Haiyan hit Tacloban, UNICEF had stocked supplies of a critical emergency item inside the Philippine city — portable toilets. In the aftermath of a natural disaster, toilets are true lifesaver. Today, World Toilet Day, is a good time to focus on that fact.

When homes are destroyed and sanitation systems collapse, sewage and water easily mix. Outbreaks of cholera, dysentery and other deadly diseases become serious threats. Portable toilets help keep this from happening.

But here's the untold story of Tacloban and toilets: 26% of the population in the Philippines lacked access to any sort of proper toilet even before Typhoon Haiyan hit.

The problem is not particular to the Philippines. Some 36% of the world's population — approximately 2.5 billion people — do not have access to toilets.

Sanjay Wijesekera, global head of UNICEF’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene programs calls the lack of toilets  "the unmentionable shameless secret for even some very prosperous countries." It's not just embarrassing; it's a global public health crisis.

Without toilets, people defecate wherever they can—in fields, in alleys, near streams. Their fecal matter contaminates drinking water sources. The consumption of polluted water leads to disease, lost workdays for adults and lost school days for children.

About 1,600 children die every day from diseases that are largely preventable through clean toilets, safe water and good hygiene. Just supplying toilets, however, won't eliminate open defecation and this cycle of pollution, disease and death.

UNICEF encourages entire communities to demand toilets and changes in hygiene practices through a movement called CATS (Community Approaches to Total Sanitation). Through CATS, 25 million people have abandoned open defecation.

What should you do to celebrate World Toilet Day? Watch the video above to see CATS in action, play Toilet Trek at unicef.org or support UNICEF's emergency relief efforts that are bringing badly needed toilets to Tacloban and elsewhere in the Philippines.