World Toilet Day 2020: Examining The Sanitary Conditions Of Sub-Saharan Africa

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A bon mot said, “cleanliness is next to godliness”. Therefore, there is no possible way to overemphasize the importance of good hygiene. So, while toilets are important, the sanitary conditions of toilets cannot be overlooked. World Toilet Day draws global attention to the need for clean toilets. Africa still faces challenges regarding the availability and sanitary conditions of its toilets. This article reveals interesting statistics, impacts, and improvements in Sub-Saharan Africa, ahead of World Toilet Day 2020.

About the World Toilet Day

The United Nations inspired the World Toilet Day celebration set for 19th November every year. Basically, it aims to improve global accessibility to well designed and regulated sanitation. As a result, this will positively impact general health and social standards. The push for awareness and development has not been fruitless. Several regions across the globe, including Africa, are making necessary efforts.

The World Toilet Day 2020 Theme

World toilet day 2020

The Theme for World Toilet Day 2020 is ‘Sustainable sanitation and climate change‘. Obviously, this theme perfectly fits the current global situation. Man’s actions over the years have promoted global warming and rising atmospheric temperature—and poor sanitation is a huge part of the problem. Open defecation, for example, leads to the accumulation of methane which is a greenhouse gas. Eventually, it contributes to climate change. 

Also, the majority of sub-Saharan African countries struggle with waste management. Consequently, street corners and drainage channels filled with waste is often a common sight. Eventually, some of these wastes get into water bodies leading to the death of aquatic lives. Subsequently, there comes algal bloom with its putrefying odor. In essence, sustainable sanitation is a key step towards tackling climate change.

Toilet Facts and Figures in Sub-Saharan Africa

According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), 46 of the 54 countries in Africa are described using the term ‘sub-Saharan Africa’. The list of Sub-Saharan African countries is based on their geographical location south of the Sahara. The only exceptions are Algeria, Djibouti, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Somalia, Sudan, and Tunisia. When it comes to sanitation, there is so much more to be done in sub-Saharan Africa. Below are some interesting facts regarding the toilets in this region. 


Sanitation is a global medical concern especially since it affects human health and determines the spread of infections. The 2008 WHO report describes four sanitation practices prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa. This includes open defecation, unimproved, shared, and improved facilities. Unimproved facilities create poor hygiene conditions since it doesn’t safely guarantee zero human contact with excreta. An example is hanging latrine. Improved facilities are just the opposite. Flush or pour-flush toilets having piped sewer system, pit latrine with slab, and composting toilets are examples.  

Technology distribution

A 2017 research article describes the ineffective distribution of advanced sanitary technologies in Sub-Saharan Africa. According to the article, the widely used pit latrine with slab could easily lead to underground water contamination. Its ubiquity is based on a 21% prevalence. On the other hand, the flush/pour-flush toilet is usually connected to a septic tank. It requires flushing water which is often not readily available in remote areas. This constant need for water explains why its usage in Sub-Saharan Africa is only moderately increasing. The composting toilet appears least prevalent at 0.6%. 

Innovation Statistics

To solve the sanitation problem in Africa, the continent needs to leverage innovative technologies. Sadly, Africa largely relies on the west for technologies. However, the 2020 Global Innovative Index shows great hope in Africa and lists the continent as having numerous rising economies. Britterbridges presents comprehensive 2020 technology innovation maps covering the African continent. Two of these maps are relevant in examining the sanitary conditions in Sub-Saharan Africa.

One of the maps shows solid waste management in Africa, and statistics from over 140+ waste management startups. The report analyzed services like handling generic and household wastes, organic and industrial waste. Sub-Saharan African countries like South Africa, Nigeria, and Kenya are top on the list. The outbreak of COVID-19 helped in promoting awareness on proper hygiene like hand washing. Hopefully, this practice will continue long after the virus is gone. 

Illiteracy Plays a Role in Poor Sanitary Conditions

Illiteracy is one of the most common reasons for poor sanitary conditions. Its impact, whether direct or indirect, leads to compromise and inefficient hygiene processes. Below are a few scenarios that explain how illiteracy results in poor sanitary conditions.

  • In the construction of septic tanks, for example, unprofessional workers occasionally end up with design flaws. These flaws either cause air pollution through poorly designed vents, or land pollution through leaking tanks, or both. 
  • Treatment plants, if handled by unprofessional workers, could lead to environmental pollution. This scenario usually produces poisoned water bodies. This affects any fishing cultures, agricultural activities such as irrigation, and reduces the usability of water bodies.   
  • Illiteracy in the use of toilet facilities promotes the spread of infections. For Sub-Saharan African countries with developing health systems, this is a huge concern especially for women and children who are more susceptible. 

Achieving the World Toilet Day 2020 Goal

Achieving the World Toilet Day 2020 goals of sustainable sanitation and climate change require improvements and conscious efforts, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. In general, the points below will help bring positive results.   

Awareness Campaigns

Getting the public to understand and adhere to sanitary practices can be achieved through awareness campaigns. Whether in schools or healthcare centers, posters, stickers, and signs that promote good hygiene and proper use of toilets might just work the magic. Integrating proper sanitary practices into education curriculums in Sub-Saharan Africa will also help to raise awareness.   

Good Infrastructures

So many instances of land pollution and poor sanitary conditions can be attributed to floods. Building infrastructures that support any geographical weakness is necessary. Dams and proper drainage systems should be one of the top priorities of the governments of most African countries. Apart from preventing floods, it holds water for irrigation and sanitary practices. 

Supporting Government Policies

The government should provide public toilets in strategic places. Also, every government establishment should have modern toilet infrastructures. This can help to provide jobs as cleaners for the teeming young populations who will work to keep the toilets clean. Also, the building of good water supply systems can encourage more people to embrace modern toilets. When the right infrastructure is available, the government can come up with a legislature to punish those who still practice open defecation. 

What Can You Do to Make a Difference?

Little drops of water make the mighty ocean. In the same vein, little personal efforts from you will go a long way in helping the world’s sanitary conditions. Let’s say you are an African mother and have children, teaching them proper sanitary practices like defecating in a toilet rather than in open places will go a long way. Also, you can promote the 2020 World Toilet Day theme by maintaining a hygienic toilet facility.

As an African in the diaspora, you can opt to build modern toilet facilities in public places like markets and motor parks. Besides helping solve Africa’s toilet deficit problems, it will create jobs for the people that will be in charge of cleaning them. Alternatively, you can support non-profits like Sanitation Frist and Build Africa that are already working on similar projects.

On no account should you ever feel like you cannot make a difference. Using your social media platforms to spread the importance of sanitation will help draw attention to Africa’s toilet deficit. Perhaps, your voices may eventually become loud enough to force those in authorities to take action. Never underestimate the power of social media.


Obviously, poor sanitary and toilet conditions negatively impact health. In addition, a poor health condition impairs all aspects of one’s life. One thing is certain, poor sanitation leads to poor health and this puts pressure on the already poor healthcare systems in most Sub-Saharan Africa. Improving the sanitary condition of Sub-Saharan Africa will also lead to improved quality of life. We need a healthy society to positively change every other sector of the economy. 

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