by Sara Tucker
"There are lots of problems with public toilets in New York City," began a recent Times editorial, "starting with the fact that there aren't any."
The scolding, posted by the Gray Lady on The Board, went on to point out that while "New Yorkers have long been promised relief in the form of high-tech European toilets that take coins and clean themselves," the city's small number of demonstration models "have never been able to multiply to critical mass the way, say, fiberglass cows and Duane Reade drugstores have."
The situation is no better in Paris, where "hygiene workers have to clean an average 56,000 square metres of urine-splashed surfaces a month" and "the sight of dozens of men urinating on the walls of the Paris town hall" during last year's rugby World Cup so incensed Mayor Delanoe that he ordered the installation of 'anti-pipi' walls to fight back.
And in Britain, whose public toilets were once the envy of Europe, "hailed as marvels of Victorian municipal design," as many as 5,000 public lavatories have closed in the past decade, halving the number of conveniences. "There could hardly be a more urgent need for public money," groused the Daily Telegraph.
Indeed, the problem is so widespread that bloggers have been driven to wonder: "Are public toilets viable?"
Absolutely, says Jack Sim, founder of the World Toilet Organization. Not only viable, but imperative, and we had better do something about their sorry condition if we want to hang around the planet much longer. That's why Sim has made it his mission to "raise the social status" of toilets and toilet attendants in all parts of the world.
According to the WTO, some 2.5 billion people, or 40 percent of the world population, lack basic sanitation. And of the billion or so people lucky enough to have sewerage systems, only about 30 percent have their sewage "treated in an environmentally acceptable way." The rest flows straight into gutters, rivers, or lakes.
We deserve better, says Sim, which is why the WTO has declared November 19 World Toilet Day, its purpose "a call to action for people to demand clean toilets for all." It is the organization's hope that the public and the "restroom community-at-large" will mark the day "to practice toilet etiquette" and make "a new declaration for the forthcoming year." A declaration, that is, to elevate the status of the toilets in our lives.
This is no joke. "If those systems go down," says a trustee of The Plumbing Museum in Watertown, Massachusetts, "civilization rapidly deteriorates. The day water stops coming out of the tap is the day civilization starts to crumble."
For ten ways to celebrate World Toilet Day, read on.