Consider the assets that you are able to call your own. For me, these include the clothes on my back and the screen on my computer; for you, they could range your coffee cup to your breakfast table to your home and its plot of land. When there is ownership, there is access to opportunity, and this opportunity is part of what the Solid Ground campaign advocates for in its efforts to improve access to land around the world. 

On November 19, we recognize World Toilet Day, a day to motivate the global community to raise awareness on issues of sanitation. In the spirit of the Day’s call to action, we challenge you to consider the relationship between sanitation and security of tenure, one of the campaign’s four tenants. Might investing in sanitation also mean investing in increased security of tenure? Is it possible that one could inform the other?

My access to the toilet that I use is in part linked to my ability to securely reside in the apartment I call my own. The same is likely true for you. In other contexts, when a resident lacks one type of access, they might also lack the other. Traditionally, when informal communities and slum dwellers lack documentation to the land they occupy, government and development partners have denied them of basic sanitation. In her book, On the Right Track: Good practices in realizing the rights to water and sanitation, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation writes that “[a]uthorities frequently resist allowing people with insecure tenure to connect to the water and sanitation networks because such connections can confer legal rights over the land that they occupy, and thus be seen to encourage the development of informal settlements.” This is the norm that these communities face; without secure tenure, governments often assume that granting sanitation services will foster the growth of informal settlements. The lack of sanitation services in turn makes these communities vulnerable to the health and environmental risks that come with open defecation. These include high mortality rates for children, high probability of diarrheal disease and intestinal parasites, and greater likelihood for unhygienic public spaces. Without security of tenure, it becomes easy for communities to become trapped in a cycle of receiving little to no government recognition, lacking access to basic facilities, and then facing even less likelihood of garnering the support they need.

I am alarmed by UNICEF’s statistic that reports one in ten people as having no choice but to defecate in the open; this means that the hazards associated with open defecation are realities for communities all over the world; however, there are glimmers of hope. For example, within several urban areas in Maharashtra, India, housing societies in the area have begun initiatives that allow an informal settlement’s residents to apply for formal recognition upon the installation of private toilets; thus instead of being told that insecurity of tenure is an obstacle to gaining sanitation facilities, they are told that installing private toilets can be a stepping stone on the road to security of tenure. When slums gain access to private toilets, they are more likely to be able to apply for formal recognition from the government and thus residents are able to secure tenure rights and access other services. The negative implications of the connection between sanitation and security of tenure are exchanged for positive ones, and these initiatives reverse the norm that prohibits governments from paying proper attention to a community without formal land rights. This World Toilet Day, we celebrate innovative solutions like this one, urging all actors to explore connections between sanitation and security of tenure in this more positive light.

Think again about the assets that you own, and ask yourself if there might be a relationship between your ability to feel secure where you live and your access to a toilet. I know the connection may seem odd, but we believe that these factors both play a role in a person’s ability to enjoy adequate, safe, holistic housing, and we support World Toilet Day’s plea for us to take action around these issues. Solid Ground is working to mobilize this very kind of support, and by actively participating in the campaign, you are able to do the same.