World Water Week 2013: Open Defecation Must No Longer Be Taboo Topic

A woman and her child walk between shacks, past a communal toilet in Khayelitsha township on the outskirts of Cape Town, Sout
A woman and her child walk between shacks, past a communal toilet in Khayelitsha township on the outskirts of Cape Town, South Africa, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2009. South African President Jacob Zuma says mayors need to clean up corruption and stop political squabbling in the face of sometimes violent protests over lack of city services. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

The fact that 2.5 billion people don't have access to a toilet is pretty shi*ty.

As World Water Week gets under way, advocates are drawing attention to some well-known devastating facts, including that more people have access to phones than toilets and 2,000-plus children die each day from preventable water-related diseases such as diarrhea. But in Stockholm, advocates, policymakers and scientists are working hard to bring to light the often overlooked issue of open defecation.

“We must break taboos. As was the case for the word ‘toilets’ a few years ago, it is time to incorporate ‘open defecation’ in the political language and in the diplomatic discourse,” Jan Eliasson, UN deputy secretary-general, said at a World Water Week event Monday, Thomson Reuters Foundation reported.

Eliasson called upon governments to invest more in water, sanitation and hygiene at the annual event. This year's theme “Water Cooperation, Building Partnerships” encourages participants to devise new solutions for water equity and sustainability.

Despite its efforts, access to sanitation ranks as the most off-track of the international community’s Millennium Development Goals, which aims to drastically reduce world poverty by 2015.

"Access to sanitation facilities around the world, more than any other service, provides a window into the vast difference between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots." Catarina de Albuquerque, UN Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, said in a press release.

The key to improving sanitation, advocates say, is introducing innovative technology.

Bill Gates is one such innovator whose approach mirrors the UN's. The philanthropist and mogul is calling for partnerships among governments, the private sector and scientists to improve sanitation worldwide. Last year, he issued a challenge to universities to develop a "next-generation" toilet that would deliver safe and sustainable sanitation.

“Innovative solutions change people’s lives for the better,” Gates said in a press release. “If we apply creative thinking to everyday challenges, such as dealing with human waste, we can fix some of the world’s toughest problems.”