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Flushing Toilets: Beyond A Sustainable Development Goal

  • 4 min read

By Marion Wagner, CEO, Breadline Africa

On 19 November 2023, we recognised World Toilet Day – an annual calendar event that stands as a reminder of the global sanitation crisis, with an emphasis on flushing toilets. While the world remains painfully aware of the fact that there are currently still 2,2 billion people living without safe drinking water (according to the World Health Organization), 3,5 billion people remain without access to safely managed sanitation.

Every year, World Toilet Day garners the attention of the world, and in 2022 alone, generated 1,45 billion digital views in 147 countries. Last year’s theme, “Accelerating Change”, was a call to action to fight harder and with more determination to solve this humanitarian crisis. The latter is directly linked to the fact that we are currently behind on meeting our Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6: water and sanitation for all by 2030. In light of this, it is clear that there is still much work to be done to provide close to half of the world’s population with a basic human need: access to flushing toilets.

Closer to home, and across rural South Africa specifically, thousands of people are fighting another perilous and degrading battle when it comes to safe and manageable sanitation: pit latrines. For 30 years, Breadline Africa, a South African Public Benefit Organisation (PBO), has been fighting the country’s pit latrine crisis, which currently impacts more than 500,000 school children.

Pit latrines have claimed many lives, especially those of children over many decades, making it a national crisis. Together with corporate South Africa and sponsors, Breadline has set a goal to raise R156 million towards the cause over the next two years. This figure, while ambitious, will impact 120,000 children across 240 schools, and address 26% of the more than 900 schools that still have pit toilets in South Africa. But the battle is a long and hard one that cannot be addressed without the help of local government, businesses, and individuals.

While there are billions of people who have never even seen a flushing toilet, the stark contrast is that for those who are considered more fortunate, access to flushing toilets is something many might take for granted. However, it is worth noting that beyond the concept of simply granting billions of people across the globe access to safe sanitation, being able to readily use a flushing toilet is a matter of dignity. It is a matter of safety, health, and well-being. Using bathroom facilities should not be a source of embarrassment, anxiety, fear, or shame, but should provide everyone with the confidence that they have privacy, and that they will not be harmed in any way.

Beyond fearing for one’s life, the consequences of not having access to safe and clean toilets are far-reaching, and it has an impact on the health of children and communities as unhygienic conditions increase the spread of diseases, posing a particular threat to children’s health. It also exacerbates gender inequality as many young girls miss school when they’re menstruating due to the shame and stigma associated with it, and overall, poor sanitation leads to absenteeism and reduced concentration, impacting academic performance. Lastly, from a social and economic point of view, there is an increase in healthcare expenses, loss in productivity and educational setbacks when there is a lack of proper access to safe and clean toilets.

On the other hand, when one considers the positive impact one, 10 or 100 flushing toilets have within a single community, why we do what we do at Breadline Africa becomes clear, and its importance emphasised. Outside of World Toilet Day, we have installed 66 eco-friendly, low-flush toilet systems, 18 urinals and handwashing facilities at five primary schools in KwaZulu-Natal since June last year, and the impact that the new facilities have made has been nothing short of life-changing. Many of the educators and parents impacted believe that flushing toilets are a symbol of hope for the future.

When looking ahead, it is clear that we all need to do more and strive harder, day in and day out, if we want to solve the world’s toilet crisis. Beyond just a Sustainable Development Goal, a flushing toilet has the potential to not only change, but also save, a precious life.

To donate and give the ultimate gift this new year, contact Breadline Africa at today. Qualifying donations are tax deductible and Breadline Africa is a level one BBBEE socio-economic development partner. You can also visit, and find Breadline Africa on social media @BreadlineAfrica on Twitter, @breadlineafrica on Instagram and Breadline Africa on Facebook.