More focus needed to improve sanitation in developing world | Pacific Beat

More focus needed to improve sanitation in developing world

More focus needed to improve sanitation in developing world

Updated 19 November 2012, 13:17 AEDT

Some people see today as a highlight on the calendar.

It's World Toilet Day, a day to raise global awareness of the struggle 2.6 billion people face every day without access to proper, clean sanitation.

It causes health, emotional and psychological consequences for the poor, but once again it's women who bear the brunt of inadequate sanitation.


Presenter: Richard Ewart

Speaker: Jane Caro, Water Aid


CARO: The first thing that can help to improve the issue is in fact talking about it, bringing it out into the open and making people aware of it, because as an Ambassador for Water, I really had no, I hadn't thought consciously about how just the practical issues of toileting could so adversely affect women, in particular, and just how important it was that we talk it about, we understand it and we put pressure on governments to give aid specifically to help with this issue. I think Australia only gives about one per cent of its overseas aid towards sanitation and that's something that we could improve. But because as long as we keep it hidden, partly because it's such taboo, shameful kind of subject still ridiculously, there isn't the same sort of pressure for us to provide this kind of infrastructure as there is, perhaps for other things.
EWART: It is extraordinary, isn't it, how so many people still struggle with the idea of talking about something which they and everybody else on the planet does several times a day?
CARO: Exactly, and I think it is that silence that has allowed this to go on and to kind of avoid thinking about it and avoid therefore actually raising awareness, increasing pressure as I say and just being generally open about this issue, which I think is the first step towards doing something about it. And I think we are particularly shy about talking about these issues as women and girls. And, of course, they have an added problem, it's peeing and defecating that women and girls have to do. It's also managing menstruation.
EWART:  Now allied to World Toilet Day, is this Big Squat Campaign, as it's called. It seems to me there's an element of humour being injected in this. I mean is that part of the idea to try and relax people and get them to talk more about it and not be so squeamish and embarrassed about it?
CARO: Oh, absolutely and humours always really powerful. It's a much more powerful communication tool than outrage, for example. When you've got people having some sort of fun, yes, what you do is you take away the stigma immediately and also what you do is you connect people, so that their own personal experiences. As you say, we all do this several times a day for the whole of our lives, that creates a sense of. Humour can create a sense of connection between human beings in a way that almost nothing else can.
EWART: Now, I don't know whether they've got the giant toilets outside Parliament House in Canberra, which I think they did on this day last year. But I'm just wondering is there a danger, injecting humour is one thing, but I mean can this turn out to be a bit of a photo opportunity for politicians who then go away and forget all about it?
CARO: Look, that's always a danger. Politicians have an awful lot of things on their mind. But I think that it's important to raise awareness and there's an obvious way of getting people to talk about it and that is our natural tendency to have toilet humour, indeed, it is called as part of the way we joke with one another and in this world of competing for attention, you grab what you've got and make the most of it. Yes, there are always dangers with any form of communication campaign, but I actually think using some humour, getting people to pay attention to it and making people think, because that's what it did for me when I started to know about this, was actually to think about what it would be like to a woman in a country or in a village where there was no toilet or only one and where it was not only embarrassing to reveal my needs, but possibly dangerous. It made me think. That's a good thing.
EWART: You talked earlier about the percentage of aid, the Australian and overseas aid which goes towards sanitation. And do you think that the fact that they put so little towards this particular aspect of daily life is misguided, because plainly, if people have sanitary conditions, in which they live, then the charges of them catching other things, developing other health issues is surely reduced?
CARO: Absolutely. I think it's because it's been literally swept under the carpet. It's been the invisible problem, not really spoken about and as long as things remain invisible. I mean you were saying, we're competing for politicians share of mind, competing to get them to think about this and do something about, and if it's the unspeakable, the unmentionable, then obviously it's pretty easy for it not to have any share of mind, and therefore get very little of share of dollar.
EWART:  So from your involvement with water aid so far, I mean do you sense that things are improving and that mindsets are changing?
CARO: Eh, it' impossible for me to say at this stage whether that is actually happening and I think we'd have to see some harder evidence than just a few kind of sympathetic noises. But I do think that there is actually a World Toilet Day, that we are talking about it, that there are now gathering amounts of evidence of just how pervasive the impact of lack of a decent toilet has on peoples lives, people who already have extremely difficult lives. And the fact that we're less coy about the whole issue will have a positive effect.

Contact the studio

Got something to say about what you're hearing on the radio right now?

Send your texts to +61 427 72 72 72

Add the hashtag #raonair to add your tweets to the conversation.

Email us your thoughts on an issue. Messages may be used on air.