When nature calls, where do you go?

When you get that feeling … when you can’t hold it any longer and you just have to go … where do you do it?

I grew up in Australia and remember spending summers in the outback. When nature called, I would have to use an outhouse — a long drop toilet in a tiny shed in the backyard. I would go as quickly as possible, terrified that a snake lived in the toilet and would attack me if I took too long. Now, living in New York City, there are plenty of places to go when nature calls.

But not everyone has that luxury. 4.5 billion people around the world don’t use safe sanitation, which is a toilet that prevents contact with human waste and a system that disposes of that waste.

Around 892 million people use no toilet at all, and when nature calls, they go out in the open. That means children are growing up with human waste in their environment, putting them at risk of deadly diseases.

To mark World Toilet Day, we decided to look around the world to see where children go when nature calls on them.

In Totorenda, Bolivia, Mateo who is only three years old, uses his family’s toilet. His mother is still training him in how to use a toilet and wash his hands.

A lady looks at a little boy looking up at her from the toilet in an outdoor shed.
© UNICEF/UNI189326/Gilbertson VAidi Panoso toilet trains 3-year-old Mateo Visalla, one of her twin sons, at home in Totorenda, a Guaraní community in Chuquisaca, Bolivia.

In Afghanistan, Fatima’s two children Alicina and Sohaila go in a community-built toilet. Fatima volunteered with the village health committee to generate support for toilets to be built in their area. She says her children don’t get sick now because “no one is pooping out in the open”. Read more here.

A lady looks on as a young boy and girl wash their hands at a faucet from a container of water.
© UNICEF/UN0142769/FrickerMercia, 20, checks that her daughter Sohila, 5, and son Alisina, 3, wash their hands properly outside their home in Chaw village, Nili district, Daikundi province, Afghanistan.

In Ghana, when nature calls, children in the village of Gbandu use a latrine in a mud hut, built as part of a community-led sanitation project. Each homestead in the village has one of these toilets.

Two children outside a thatched-roof hut display the yellow jerrycan of water they are holding.
© UNICEF/UNI194597/QuarmyneChildren help each other wash their hands with water and ash in the village of Gbandu in the Northern Region of Ghana.

In India, 7-year-old Eriam goes in a toilet on stilts near her home in Mumbai. This isn’t safe at all, as the waste flows straight into the Rafiq Nagar river. But things are changing here, and children like Lavanya are turning things around.

A young girl walks out of one of two small makeshift wooden cabins on stilts and overlooking a large drain.
© UNICEF/UN055381/RomanaEriam Sheikh,7 year old comes out after using the toilet on stilts or floating toilet built over a drain passing by Rafiq Nagar in Mumbai.

When nature calls for Lavanya, she goes to the toilet her father built in their home. But that wasn’t always the case. Lavanya went on a two-day hunger strike last year to force her dad to build a toilet for their family to use. She recounts her story in the video below.

In Cambodia, a 6th grade student from Serey Pheap Primary School proudly told us that she stopped pooping outside when the school built new toilets. Before the toilets were built, about 10 per cent of students would go outside. Now, she not only uses the toilet but also washes her hands afterwards. Read more about toilets in Cambodia here.

A small school girl washes her hands at a communal tap while an older doing the same watches on.
© UNICEF Cambodia/2018/LlauradoA 6th grade and pre-primary school girl of Serey Pheap Primary School in Cambodia washed her hands after using the toilet.

In Madagascar, girls at the Lohanosy Primary School queue up for toilets. They take it in turns to go and then wash their hands at the taps nearby.

Two queues of children await their turn outside three outdoor wooden bathroom doors.
© UNICEF/UNI180146/MatasGirls wait in line to use latrines at Lohanosy Primary School in Lohanosy Village in Analamanga Region. Other children who have already used the latrine are washing their hands at taps nearby.

When nature calls, where does this woman in Mozambique go?  We don’t know, but we hope she has a toilet that is clean and safe.

A young lady jumps across a large muddy puddle of water as she uses a fence of corrugated iron as support.
© UNICEF/UN0139437/PrinslooA girl crosses a puddle on the flooded road outside Yvonne Antonoia Mathe’s home in Maputo, Mozambique. Her open informal latrine is separated from the road by a single sheet of corrugated iron.

For too many people, nature calls and there is nowhere to go. Or sometimes, there are toilets but they aren’t safe. On 19 November — World Toilet Day, join UNICEF and make a stink for the 4.5 billion people who don’t have a safe toilet to use when nature calls.


Philippa Lysaght works in advocacy for UNICEF’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene team.


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