On World Toilet Day (19 November), SAT-7 Development Officer Phil Hilditch answers why the global community dedicates a day to this convenience, what it means to live without it, and why Christians should care for those who do.

The john; the privy, the loo; the can. The lavvy, the thunder mug, “the facilities”, or even the porcelain throne. Whatever you call this device of convenience, it is difficult to overstate the part the humble toilet plays in all our daily lives. In fact, we who take our hygienic plumbing for granted – temporary blockages and breakdowns aside – may not often contemplate a life without it. But for 4.2 billion of the world’s people, life without proper sanitation is a daily reality.

On UN World Toilet Day, we recognise the importance of safely managed sanitation and the needs of those who struggle without it. Did you know that three billion people have no basic handwashing facilities in their homes? Or that more than 800 children under five die every day from preventable diarrheal diseases, due to unsafe drinking water, lack of sanitation, or poor hygiene?

Access to safe, clean water is a challenge for millions across the world

In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), where SAT-7 works, ill health caused by poor sanitation is all too frequently linked protracted conflict as well as lack of development. Whether it is the 250,000 people affected by bombing of water facilities in Syria, the devastating 1.2 million suspected cases of cholera in Yemen, or the many Afghan girls marginalised in education and society because of poor access to safe, private toilets – it is clear that life for countless people is much more difficult than it ought to be. Compounding matters is the fact that the MENA is the most water-stressed region on earth. This means as the demand for water increases, prompted by rising global temperatures and urbanisation, the supply remains limited. This, in turn, could lead to further conflict.

And this is all without the unknown number of COVID-19 cases that might have been prevented by better access to handwashing. As many of us now find ourselves in a “Lockdown 2.0” world, the importance of good sanitation has only increased.

What can we do?

You may be thinking that all of this sounds miserable, and that there is not much we can do to help. Well, yes – and no. These conditions can be miserable for those living in them, but there is plenty we can and should do, especially as Christians. The Bible is filled with references to water and the importance it holds to life. Water is the primordial stuff over which the Spirit of God hovers at the dawn of creation, and it covers the face of the earth to bring forth life (Genesis 2:5-8). Water is what gushed out of the rock at Horeb, proving to the people of God that He was among them in the wilderness (Exodus 17:7). It is to the waters that the needy are told to come to quench their thirst (Isaiah 55:1).

It is also water that Jesus requests from the Samaritan woman at the well, beginning the discussion in which she learns that in Him, her thirst can be quenched forever (John 4:1-26). Jesus will later say, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink” (John 7:37); it is new life in God that satisfies our deepest thirst. The Christian vision for this life culminates in the beautiful scene found on the last page of the Bible, when the river of life flows from God into a renewed creation, bringing life everywhere it goes.

So as a Christian on World Toilet Day, how might you participate in God’s mission for a renewed creation by helping improve water access, sanitation and health today?

You can help , perhaps by sharing this blog, or you can partner with groups such as TearfundLutheran World ReliefCRS, or World Vision. You can also support SAT-7 as we work to highlight the importance of good hygiene across the MENA. A key part of reducing the spread of sickness is the efficient spread of accurate information, and SAT-7’s Arabic channels aim to do this, especially in light of COVID-19. Most recently, SAT-7 ACADEMY has been helping children learn about the importance of hygiene, while the SAT-7 ARABIC program You Are Not Alone highlighted the devastating water crisis in Hassekeh, Syria.

Syrian Pastor Firas Farah, from Hassekehh, prays for the water crisis in that region with Presenter Sirene Semerdjian on You Are Not Alone

Lastly, you can pray. Pray for access to sufficient clean water. And yes, pray for toilets. Pray for facilities that provide privacy and safety from sexual harassment: especially for girls, who need them to participate in education and make their valuable contribution to society. Pray that women and men will be afforded the dignity each one of us deserves. Pray for health and freedom from sickness, that many lives will be saved – and pray that the whole world will come to know life in all its fullness (John 10:10).

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