11/18/2016 07:26 EST | Updated 11/18/2016 11:04 EST

The Hardest Place To Find An Urban Toilet On Earth

By Nicole Hurtubise, CEO, WaterAid Canada

More than 700 million people live in urban areas without access to proper sanitation. Put into context, the line-up for people waiting for toilets in our cities and towns would stretch around the world 29 times.

WaterAid's second annual report on the state of the world's toilets. Overflowing Cities, examines the status of urban sanitation around the globe. With more than half of the world's population live in towns, cities and megacities, a number expected to rise to two-thirds by 2050, the state of urban sanitation is becoming an increasingly pressing issue.

As cities expand the numbers of urbanites living without basic sanitation has swelled by 26 million since the year 2000. An estimated 100 million of these have no choice but to defecate in the open -- using roadsides, railway tracks and even plastic bags dubbed 'flying toilets'. The report exposes several countries for failing to make progress in providing urban sanitation, despite rapid economic growth.

India ranks top for having the greatest number of urbanites living without a safe, private toilet-- 157 million - as well as the most urban dwellers practising open defecation--41 million. The problem is so big that the daily waste produced on the streets of India's towns and cities is enough to fill eight Olympic-sized swimming pools, or 16 jumbo jets, with poo, every day.


Men walk through the open defecation site outside the Safeda Basti slum, Delhi, India Measuring just 150 metres by 75 metres, Safeda Basti houses 3,000 people, crammed into 574 small homes. Many have no choice but to defecate in the open. Photo credit: WaterAid/ Eliza Powell

Among the findings:

  • War-ravaged South Sudan, the world's newest nation, is the worst country in the world for urban sanitation in percentage terms. An estimated 84% of urbanites have no access to a toilet and every other urban-dweller there practises open defecation.
  • Africa's biggest economy, Nigeria, is falling furthest behind in reaching its urban population with a toilet. For every urban dweller reached with sanitation since 2000, two were added to the number living without, an increase of 31 million people in the past 15 years.
  • Fast-growing China is making the most progress in reaching its urban population with sanitation. It's managed to build toilets faster than the pace of new arrivals, reaching 329 million people since 2000, and outpacing population growth by 9 million.

The statistics are alarming - but the one basic truth is that good sanitation is the bedrock of public health.

Everyone deserves access to a toilet, not only for personal dignity, but to avoid the many preventable health risks, such as cholera, associated with improper sanitation. We need to prioritize the provision of safe toilets for everyone for a healthier, more sustainable future.

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