Alarge 20 foot tall banner was proudly displayed at the beginning of the Inaugural General Assembly of the World Toilet Association (WTA). Included as decorations on the banner were many different names for toilets from around the world. "Throne," "Outhouse," and "Shitter" were prominently displayed in large, pastel colors behind the opening speaker. To the rhythms of a percussionist beating on toilets, dozens of government delegates and United Nations representatives began two days of talks in the South Korean capital Seoul on improving toilets for the 2.6 billion people worldwide who lack access to proper rest rooms.
Over the years, according to WTA materials, Korea has been heralded by the international press for having achieved a toilet revolution. The improved toilet facilities in Korea are said to have made toilet facilities in Korea enjoyable for all. The World Toilet Association is an international organization committed to building and developing toilet facilities and related technologies in order to eradicate suffering and infectious diseases caused by poor toilet conditions. At the same time, the WTA seeks to spark more toilet revolutions throughout the world. In order to do this, the WTA plans to collaborate with communities, local, regional, and national governments, international bodies, and the media. They even have an eight-fold plan.
But to carry out all that, the WTA needs leadership. The meeting of this Inaugural General Assembly was designed to select true toilet leaders for the international organization. The agenda included adoption of a constitution, election of a president, officials, and board of directors, and scheduling the second WTA general assembly. This is democratic bureaucracy at its finest.
There were many notable representatives from international organizations present at the conference, including Shigeru Omi, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific; Vanessa J. Tobin, Deputy Director for UNICEF Programme Division in New York; Chung Rae Kwon, Director of UNESCAP Environment & Sustainable Development Division; Hubert Gijzen, Director and Representative of the UNESCO Office in Indonesia; Murat Sahin, Water Sanitation and Hygiene Specialist for UNICEF; Don Rohrmann, Director of UNICEF Office of Asia and Pacific; Jun Hai Kyung, Fundraising Specialist of UNICEF in the Office for Japan and the Republic of Korea; and Darren Saywell, Development Director for the International Water Association.
The constitution of the WTA which was chosen included general principles about the organization, such simple facts as the name, objective and purposes. It also included decisions for the headquarters location and profit-oriented endeavors. The headquarters were specifically required to remain in the Republic of Korea. This is definitely a bid for Korean bureaucracy to control the toilets of the whole world. The constitution also included definitions of words associated with shitters, such as an official definition for Toilet Culture and Quality Toilets. For the curious, Toilet Culture is a term related to toilets which incorporates basic facilities for relief, cleanliness, quality of life, public health and sanitation, efficient use of water, and protection of the environment, and human dignity to be accorded to everyone.
The World Toilet Association is a truly international organization with three membership categories. First are association members which represent their respective countries and participate in national toilet associations. The second are government members which are involved in the governmental bodies of participating nations. The third are corporate members which are representatives from inter-governmental international organizations, civic organizations, academic institutions, and toiletry industries.
Altogether about 1,300 people from 60 countries participated in the Inaugural General Assembly. About 1,300 people pledged to start a toilet revolution to help spread a world relief movement that will help the 2.6 billion people around the world that live without toilets, according to a recent study by the World Health Organization. This is no laughing matter, because these people are exposed to disease due to the inadequate restroom and hygiene facilities that they are forced to use. In addition, inadequate facilities can cause contamination of drinking water, which leads to approximately 2 million deaths each year.
"It is regrettable that the matter of defecation is not given as much attention as food or housing," Sim Jae-duck, the association's South Korean head, told the meeting at its recently opened lavatory-shaped headquarters south of Seoul.
Sim, a lawmaker nicknamed "Mr. Toilet," said some 2.6 billion people worldwide do not have access to proper toilet facilities, with potentially fatal consequences. About 1.8 million people die every year from diarrheal diseases that are mainly blamed on inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene, the World Health Organization's regional director for the Western Pacific, Shigeru Omi, told the meeting. The majority of these deaths occur in Asia and 90 percent of the fatalities are children under the age of five, he added.
"Just imagine the number of children whose lives could be saved through simple low-cost interventions in sanitation and hygiene," Omi told the meeting. The United Nations has declared 2008 the "Year of Sanitation" and is calling for a renewed effort to improve sanitation and hygiene facilities, especially in developing countries.
Several charities also marked World Toilet Day on Monday by launching international campaigns for more hygiene awareness and investments in toilet facilities. "The funding needed is not overwhelmingly large, but the return is immense," said Vanessa Tobin of U.N. children's agency UNICEF. "Political support is extremely important. Advocacy for this issue is a high priority."
According to the United Nations, spending US$10 billion a year could halve the proportion of people without basic toilet facilities by 2015, and Tobin said this investment would net an estimated US$84 billion in savings from improved public health and better living conditions. In some cultures, the solution requires very little water, as is the case in sub- Saharan Africa where ash on top of a pit is often all that is needed, she said. "It is very important to remember most people who don't have access are poor people living in rural areas," Tobin added.
Living in the outhouse
Mr. Sim Jae-duck has taken his role as Korean head of the World Toilet Association seriously. So seriously, in fact, that he has built his house to resemble a toilet and be a museum of bathroomrelated advances and earned the name Mr. Toilet in the process. Sim Jae-duck called his toilet domicile "Haewoojae," which aptly means "a place where one can solve one's worries."
The two-storey, 418.72 square meter structure is made of steel and concrete and took US$1.1 million and six months to build. It boasts of posh amenities such as deluxe toilets and a whirlpool bathtub. It even has a grand staircase. The main entrance is through a roof balcony around the rim of the bowl. A unique showpiece bathroom is at the center of house. A motion sensor activates classical music when guests enter. Sim tore down his old home to put up the odd-shaped house, in his bid for better hygiene and sanitation not only in South Korea but also worldwide.
Only the moneyed can stay overnight at the toilet house. An overnight stay costs staggering US$50,000 but visitors can check out the facility for a minimal donation of US$1.00. All the proceeds will go to the Korea Toilet Association and will be used to fund the improvement of toilet facilities in developing countries.
The toilet was officially unveiled in the province of Gyeonggi-do on Sunday for the inauguration of the World Toilet Association "Toilets stand central to people's lives," said Sim, whose popularity has made him a legislator.