The challenge of lack of water and proper toilets that is experienced by many communities in South Africa, and especially the poor, is one of the key areas of need that require investment to obviate the burden of diseases and to improve the lives of those who bear the brunt of life threatening illnesses.

It should be conceded that the lack water and proper sanitation amenities is a problem that beset mainly communities on the periphery of the economy; those that on a daily bases face an unenviable choice of using their meagre resources either to put something to eat on the table or build themselves decent toilet facilities.  This is one of the many realities that these communities have to confront each day.

Therefore, there is a need for the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6, the aim of which is to ensure the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all, permeates all sectors of society. And, business and civil society organisations should carve out for themselves a part in tackling issues that affect communities and hamper their social and economic development.

The financing of water and sanitation infrastructure still comes predominantly from public sources. However, this is inadequate and thus requires a package of financing from different sources, including from the private sector. Whilst we cannot take away the importance of government, the role of private sector needs to be intensified as public finances become more strained as other competing responsibilities increase, placing a burden on many infrastructure projects.  With the correct framework conditions, including good governance and a strong enabling environment for private sector participation in water and sanitation infrastructure, private sector will provide more funding in the future.

In this regard, everyone should put focus on championing the goal of SDG 6 to ensure that the goal is concretely realised. Thus, the SDG 6 must be elevated to a point where all partners can work together to devise ways to implement it.

Despite being constrained by limited resources, the Department of Water and Sanitation has made reasonably significant strides to progressively realise that the rights to access to water and sanitation becomes a reality.

To this end, since the dawn of the democratic order the department has improved water and sanitation services, putting up the necessary infrastructure for people to lead healthy lives. However, the department is acutely aware of the significant number of communities that are still without any water and sanitation services.

Thus, the annual celebration of the World Toilet Day on 19 November and throughout the month raises the importance of access to toilet facilities as one of our core rights that are enshrined in the Constitution.

The role of this important amenity has been trivialised to an extent that it occupies a position of least importance. The shock reaction on the part of the public at the mention of World Toilet Day is an indication of how inconsequential we think of this facility.  We have become so accustomed to its inaccessibility so much so that we have begun to take it for granted.

Yet this is a facility that has a detrimental impact on the lives of so many people. It is precisely because of the recognition of the need for this amenity that the United Nations (UN) designated the 19th November as the day to mark the importance and the need to provide toilets to those that desperately need them.

Having access to a toilet could easily engender a sense that those who still do not enjoy this right  and hence make noise about accessing it are an irritation. But the reality is that those in need of it are seriously affected by its lack and their lives are a daily struggle.

The department therefore puts emphasis on the incontrovertible fundamental rights to restore human dignity by providing access to water and sanitation services to communities.

Failure to deal with challenges in the water and sanitation sector in a decisive manner would erode other achievements that have been made. This is so because providing houses without the basic needs that go with it restore human dignity amounts to nothing. Accordingly, providing the basic necessities of water and sanitation will concretely give effect to the Constitutional core value of human dignity.


Hosia Sithole is a communicator at the Department of Water and Sanitation (Gauteng Region). 

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