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ACTIVISTS demonstrating outside the foreign affairs and cooperation ministry pretended to defecate on the street this week.

Their controversial action was to call for Spain to do more in the world fight for the human right to proper sanitation – not in Spain, but in third-world countries where people have no toilets.

And this apparently tasteless spectacle was in fact entirely in keeping with the fact that it was World Toilet Day on Wednesday.

A taboo subject in the west, it is in fact a very real problem in developing and underdeveloped countries, according to the United Nations, particularly in India and many African States.

With no pipework or even portable conveniences, a total of one billion people worldwide have no choice but to defecate in the open air on streets, in fields and deserts, or in or around their own makeshift homes, often huts or shacks.

Where this is the norm due to toilets only being seen in hotels in their capital cities, it is not questioned and does not produce the same revulsion it would in the first world.

As a result, the excrement gathers flies and is a focal point for infection, can contaminate water, and spread disease.

“This brings about tragic consequences for human health, dignity and safety, as well as the environment and social and economic development,” says the UN.

And the situation flies in the face of the United Nations having recognised sanitation as a basic human right in 2010.

Some 2.5 billion people worldwide have no access to suitable lavatories, or even latrines, says the charity ONGAWA, which organised the symbolic demonstration outside the ministry.

After pretending to relieve themselves in the street, the activists presented an open letter to foreign affairs minister José Manuel García-Margallo calling for Spain to take ‘an active role internationally’ in helping to comply with the UN’s Human Right to Sanitation by funding facilities and education in the third world so that these billion people did not have to defecate in the open air and would know the consequences to their health of doing so.

The recognition of sanitation as a human right, and international cooperation in ensuring access to it where it is lacking, forms part of the United Nations’ ongoing sustainable development objectives.

Elsewhere in the world, other actions took place to raise awareness of the problems of lack of sanitation in poorer countries.

Sulabh International Social Service Organisation, a charity based in India, made a huge cake in the shape of a toilet (pictured) and shared it out between school children.

Charity chairman Bindeshwar Pathak says 120 million homes in India do not have any kind of sanitation, but that the prime minister of the country supported the cause and was offering tax cuts and benefits to anyone who helped in a nationwide toilet-building exercise, for which they need a quarter of a million people on board.

As well as the unappetising-looking cake, which nevertheless was thoroughly enjoyed by the children who got a share of it, Sulabh International awarded the ‘Villa Toilet’ prize to the town of Hirmathla, close to Delhi, for its having recently installed lavatories in 100% of homes.

The most recent national census for India, from 2011, shows that around 53% of the country’s 330 million households do not have any sanitation, meaning 60% of the population has to relieve itself in the open air.

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