Almost a third of the people worldwide do not have access to proper toilets. But Jack Sim has risen to the challenge of spreading awareness on the issue
“I ask people how many times they eat in a day, and they know the answer. But no one knows how many times they go to the toilet. It is so basic and so very important. Yet, the stigma around toilets makes it difficult to discuss about it,” ‘sanitation soldier’, Jack Sim, the founder of World Toilet Organisation, told Time magazine.
But he is changing it slowly, in fact, even making toilet owning a matter of ‘prestige’ and a ‘business proposition’, what with November 19 being first proposed by him, and now adopted by a very worried World Health Organization (WHO), as World Toilet Day!But why is the WHO ‘worried’? Naturally, because it says 3.4 million people die annually because of water borne diseases. The most common killer is diarrhea, which affects around 1.7 billion of us annually, mostly due to contaminated groundwater.
Roughly 2.4 billion people across the world do not have proper toilets. Perspective? India’s population is half of that, 1.2 billion, which suggests that at least two-thirds of Indians would not have toilets.
But this Singaporean sanitation hero, Jack Sim, a retired construction and real estate entrepreneur, has brought into play a different card for spreading his social message. “It’s a question of marketing toilets as a status symbol,” he says, adding, “Plenty of poor people buy cell phones as soon as they’ve saved enough money. I want people to aspire to owning a toilet, just like others aspire to own a Louis Vuitton bag.”
Sim has a two-fold approach for marketing sanitation. One is advocacy. “What we don’t discuss, we can’t improve, so we turned sanitation into a subject of aesthetics and a viable business option.” He even organises the World Toilet Summit, and runs the World Toilet College to push sanitation to the forefront of global developmental agenda.
The second approach is action-oriented. “We don’t believe in providing communities with free toilets. We believe in creating a sustainable sanitation ecosystem and establishing community ownership,” he explains. Their SaniShop model achieves this by creating jobs for local entrepreneurs and sales agents who become agents of change in their communities. “We also train janitors and sanitation providers to increase the quality of service in the sector,” Sim sums up.
Initially, the idea did not go down well with anyone, understandably... toilet is a smelly thing to swallow anyway. From policymakers to politicians, everyone took a run. Which one could expect, but even humanitarian activists failed to catch up with Jack. But, slowly, the organisation is succeeding in its proselitisation.
It is the dogged determination of organisations that resulted in WHO / UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme last year saying that between 1990 and 2015, the use of improved sanitation facilities rose from 54 per cent to 68 per cent globally. Arguably, achieving a world 100 per cent free of open defecation is still a far horizon, but people like Sim are leaving no stone unturned to bring the world closer to that dream.
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