Sandwiched between think-tank lecture notices and State Department press advisories was an email today from the United Nations that announced the speakers' lineup for its "commemorative event for World Toilet Day."
Yes, today is World Toilet Day.
And while jokes abound on social media (where people are showing off their thrones under #CheckOutMyToilet), the health issue behind the event is no laughing matter for international activists. The World Toilet Day website explains:
World Toilet Day is not just about toilet humor, or an attempt to make toilets sexy. World Toilet Day has a serious purpose: it aims to stimulate dialogue about sanitation and break the taboo that still surrounds this issue. In addition, it supports advocacy that highlights the profound impact of the sanitation crisis in a rigorous manner, and seeks to bring to the forefront the health and emotional consequences, as well as the economic impact of inadequate sanitation.
According to the UN, some 2.5 billion people don't have access to adequate sanitation, and more than 1 billion practice open defecation - a problem that contributes to countless deaths from preventable diseases. Each year, the UN says, more than 800,000 children under 5 die from diarrhea, many of them because of poor sanitation.
“We must break the taboos and make sanitation for all a global development priority,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said upon announcing the inaugural World Toilet Day.
The facts are downers, for sure, but sanitation activists are using, er, cheeky humor to highlight the health concerns for the millions around the world who don't have access to the clean, porcelain bowls we take for granted in the developed world.
You can check out Toilet Trek, a UNICEF game in which users go on a journey to find a toilet. You can "sign" the virtual toilet wall at this site, which heralds the good old loo as "the most underappreciated hero in history." Or rock out to this singing toilet: "For a quiet moment/I'll always be there..."
Also in honor of World Toilet Day, several online publications are offering lists of "the most unusual" and "the most extreme" and "most expensive" toilets in the world.
CNN even advises you where to celebrate World Toilet Day (a toilet-themed restaurant is among the options), but the news channel adds the cold, hard facts to the potty humor:
2.5 billion people -- one in three people in the world -- do not have a toilet or access to sustainable sanitation Diarrheal diseases are the second most common cause of death in young children in developing countries
They kill more than HIV/AIDS, malaria and measles combined
In many countries girls stay home during menstruation days because of the absence of a safe place to change and clean themselves, and many drop out altogether