By JULIA DAY, STEPS Centre member

Nevermind the headline, what’s important about the 19 November is that it’s World Toilet Day – a day to focus on the humble, yet vitally important, toilet, and to raise awareness of the global sanitation crisis. (Photo: CLTS, Bangladesh)

And crisis it is: 2.6 billion people – half the developing world – lack even a simple ‘improved’ latrine. One person in six – more than 1 billion people – has little choice but to use potentially harmful sources of water (UNICEF/WHO). The repurcussions are could not be more severe -disease, death, gender inequality…No act of terrorism generates devastation on the scale of the crisis in water and sanitation.

Meanwhile sanitation problems are escalating in the booming peri-urban and urban centres of the developing world where more and more of the world’s population live. The countries of the world pledged, as one of the Millennium Development Goals, to reduce by half the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. But we are nowhere near achieving the sanitation part of the equation.

Water and sanitation is one of the three key areas of the STEPS Centre’s research, where we are investigating the challenges for sustainability in water and sanitation, the subject of a new paper, called Liquid Dynamics. One of our first projects is investigating urbanisation in India, the shifting disease ecologies linked to overcrowding and inadequate sanitation, changes in urban farming affected by pollution and contestation over limited land and water.

Meanwhile, the Community-Led Total Sanitation project, affiliated to STEPS, successfully advocates self-help, not subsidy as a solution, with facilitators encouraging communities to carry out their own appraisal and analysis of community sanitation and take appropriate action to eliminate open defectation. You can read about examples of CLTS in action, written by practitioners around the world here, and you can find more resources about CLTS at Livelihoods Connect.

And while you are thinking about sanitation, why not have a go at Water Aid’s new online game, Turdlywinks. Based on the old favourite Tiddlywinks, with a not-so-subtle difference!