WaterAid Liberia calls for action as new report ranks country among the worst for urban sanitation

To mark World Toilet Day on November 19, WaterAid Liberia is calling on its government to keep its promise to deliver universal access to toilets,after new analysis ranks the countryfourth in the world for having the greatest percentage of urban dwellers practising open defecation. 

WaterAid’s Overflowing Cities: The State of the World Toilets report looks at the problem of urban sanitation and the health threats to our world, as the UN predicts by 2050 two-thirds of the global population will live in towns and cities.

The report highlights the plight of 700 million urban dwellers around the world living without sanitation. In Liberia 72% of the country’s urban populationhas no access to a toilet. The problem is so big that nearly a third of the urban population has no choice but to defecate in the open using roadsides, railway tracks and even plastic bags dubbed ‘flying toilets’.

The high population density of urban areas means that diseases spread fast in the absence of good sanitation. One child dies every two minutes from diarrhoeal diseases caused by dirty water, poor sanitation and hygiene. Globally 159 million children under five have their physical and cognitive development stunted; many of such cases are caused from repeated bouts of diarrhoea attributed to dirty water, poor sanitation and lack of hygiene.

Among the other findings:

  • India, the world’s fastest growing economy, ranks top for having the greatest number of urbanites living without a safe, private toilet— 157 million. It is also a world leader in having the most urban dwellers practising open defecation— 41 million.
  • War-ravaged South Sudan, theworld’s newest nation, is the worst country in the world for urban sanitation by percentage. 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.

Joe Lambongang, Regional Programme Manager Said:

“For the first time in history, more than half of the world’s population lives in towns and cities. By 2050, that’s expected to rise to two-thirds. But for many, particularly the poor, they’re arriving or being born in overcrowded and rapidly expanding slums which lack safe, private toilets and clean water sources. Diseases like cholera or Ebola can spread further and faster without sanitation and hygiene practices to block their path and an outbreak found in a slum can quickly become a city-wide, national or international epidemic. This World Toilet Day, we are calling on national leaders to deliver on their promises to meet the UN’s Global Goal 6 to bring water and sanitation to all, because everyone – no matter where they live – deserves affordable access to these life essentials.”

WaterAid’s senior policy analyst on sanitation, Andrés Hueso, said: 

“WaterAid’s latest ‘State of World’s Toilets’ report has exposed several countries for failing to make progress in providing urban sanitation, despite their rapid economic growth. Often politicians prefer to invest in roads and other visible infrastructure and neglect the dirty issue of sanitation. But good sanitation is the bedrock of public health. Every town and city in the world needs to prioritise providing safe sanitation services to all the population in order to create a healthier, more sustainable future.”

This World Toilet Day, WaterAid is calling for:

  • Everyone living in urban areas, including slums, to be reached with a toilet to ensure public health is protected
  • More money, better spent from governments and donors on sanitation, clean water and hygiene for the urban poor
  • Coordination from all actors in the sanitation chain including governments, city planners, NGOs, the private sector, informal service providers and citizens
  • Sanitation workers to be given the respect they deserve with stable employment, safety and decent pay. Without them healthy communities and cities are impossible.