IT is almost unthinkable that something as basic as going to the toilet can be potentially life-threatening - but that is the reality for people living in areas of the world with little or no access to clean water or adequate sanitation.
According to the charity Toilet Twinning, 2.5 billion people - that's 40per cent of the world's population - don’t have somewhere safe, clean and hygienic to go to the toilet. This leads to nearly one in five child deaths each year due to diarrhea.
Bad sanitation is one of the world’s biggest killers; hitting women, children, old and sick people the hardest. Figures released by the charity show that every minute, three children under the age of five die because of dirty water and poor sanitation, and more than 50 per cent of hospital beds in developing countries are filled with people suffering from an illness caused by poor sanitation or dirty water.
The lack of adequate toilet facilities doesn't just have an impact on the health of communities. According to the charity, in Africa half of young girls who drop out of school do so because they need to collect water - often from many miles away - or because the school hasn’t got a basic toilet. Women and girls are a target for sexual assault when they go to the toilet in the open, late at night, and many get bitten by snakes.
In 2008, 189 countries across the world signed up to the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, with the aim of working together to end extreme poverty by 2015. But with little action taken so far, the deadline is likely to be extended by many more years.
Toilet Twinning is raising funds to improve facilities in some of the world's poorest countries by urging people to "link their loo" with a toilet in Africa. It is working with charities Cord and Tearfund to enable people living in poor communities to have clean water, a decent toilet, and to learn about hygiene - a vital combination preventing the spread of disease, reducing the number of deaths among children, and bringing hope for the future.
For a £60 donation, people can 'twin' their toilet at home, work, school or church with a latrine in countries such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burundi, Cambodia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Liberia, Nepal and Uganda. Those who twin their toilets receive a certificate and a photograph of the latrine they have sponsored.
Since 2009 the charity has built more than 1.500 toilets in the Rutana Province of Burundi, helping more than 9,000 people. By twinning a toilet, fundraisers are helping communities access safe sanitation, clean water and hygiene education.
This month the Shine Youth Gospel Choir will be busking in aid of the charity - and will be taking a toilet with them to raise both funds and awareness.
"Every year the church we attend, Burley and Wharfedale Methodist Church, raises money for a charity and this year it's Toilet Twinning. We're raising funds for a new toilet block," says Marjorie Parker, who runs the choir with Jan Millard. "Going to the toilet is something we take for granted in this country, but one in three people across the world don’t have somewhere safe to go to the toilet. Bad sanitation is a huge health issue, and children are particularly vulnerable. When it comes to the personal safety issue, it's women and girls who suffer the most. There are cases of women being raped when they go to the toilet in the open.
"Providing people with clean water and basic sanitation is one of the best ways to release people from poverty. For every £1 spent on water and sanitation, £8 is returned through saved time, increased productivity and reduced health costs."
Shine Youth Gospel Choir is comprised of youngsters aged eight to18. They will be busking on The Grove in Ilkley on Saturday, July 19 from 2pm to 3pm, combining entertainment and family fun with a serious message.
"Someone I know ripped out their bathroom so I took the toilet and have cleaned it up. We'll be taking it along while we busk - the children love the idea of pushing a toilet around - and whenever anyone puts any money in it there will be a 'flushing' sound between songs."
Adds Marjorie: "The children in the choir have been learning about the charity, they have been shocked at discovering that a huge percentage of people in the world don't have access to something as basic as a toilet. Finding out about the devastating impact of lack of sanitation on whole communities, including children of their own age, has brought it home to them how much they take basic facilities for granted."
The choir, which was set up four years ago, has a membership of children in Burley-in-Wharfedale and surroundings areas, including Baildon and Ilkley. "We're not a church choir but we rehearse in the Burley church, and we perform around the district," says Marjorie. "It's a gospel choir, open to any child who wants to sing. There are currently about 20 in the choir. Singing in a choir is great for young people's confidence and team spirit; several parents have said it has really boosted their child's assertiveness and motivation levels. We have performed with a swing band and other choirs. The busking session this month marks the end of our year of performing.
"Last year we busked to raise funds for mosquito nets for Africa - we took a net along which caught people's attention and we raised more than £100 in an hour. Hopefully we'll attract the same interest with our flushing toilet!"
*For more information about the choir visit email@example.com.
For more about toilet twinning visit toilettwinning.org