How Toilets Save Lives

November 19, 2014 By Ashley E. (Chandler) Chang

Happy World Toilet Day! If you’re wondering why toilets are a cause for celebration, look no further. The United Nations created the commemoration in 2012 to educate policymakers and key stakeholders on the global need for more toilets and safer sanitation options. “No other invention,” according to the Kansas City-based, “has saved more lives than a toilet.”

The numbers are staggering. The United Nations estimates that 2.5 billion people do not have access to safe, clean toilets. Around 15 percent of the world’s population lives without one, and most are forced to defecate in the open.

Where there are no clean toilets, you find diarrhea is the second largest killer of children under five. The Center for Disease Control estimates that diarrheal diseases kill 2,195 children every day—roughly equivalent to 32 full school buses — and are responsible one-in-nine child deaths worldwide. 

The fact of the matter is most diarrheal deaths could be prevented by using simple, low-cost interventions, and increased access to toilets provides a big return on investment.

Take the Massachusetts startup company Sanergy, Inc., which designed a low-cost, high-quality sanitation solution called Fresh Life Toilets to turn waste into energy. In 2011, USAID’s Development Innovations Ventures provided Sanergy with a $100,000 grant to create a network of 60 latrines operated by local entrepreneurs in Nairobi’s Mukuru slum, home to around 70,000 residents with no working sanitation infrastructure.


After proving their model worked on a small scale, the company won the chance to expand the franchise service with a larger Stage 2 grant of nearly S1.5 million in 2013. As of October 2014, more than 550 of Sanergy’s Fresh Life Toilets were being used over 26,000 times per day. The sanitation system has successfully removed nearly 3,650 metric tons of waste, and they’re just getting started.

World Toilet Day highlights the tremendous impact that access to toilets can have on saving the lives of children, and it celebrates creative solutions to a global challenge. “By working together,” as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted last year, “we can improve the health and well-being of one-third of the human family. That is the goal of World Toilet Day.”