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Sharda lives in a village in western India, with four walls and a roof over her head. And yet Sharda still did not have a decent place to live.

Like nearly half of her country’s residents, she lacked access to a sanitary toilet.

To raise awareness and inspire action, the United Nations has designated Nov. 19 as World Toilet Day, a day to motivate the global community to address the tremendous needs of families like Sharda’s.

Safe sanitation is something that every family should have access to. When they don’t, it creates major challenges, leading to disease, unhygienic public spaces and citywide environmental risks. Countries where families lack the access they need “are the same countries with the highest mortality rate of children under five, high levels of undernutrition and poverty, and large wealth disparities,” according to the United Nations.

At Habitat for Humanity, we believe in helping families build healthier lives, and we recognise that the definition of an adequate, decent place to live includes the structures that promote safe and sanitary living environments.

In India, for example, Habitat collaborates with a coalition of diverse public, private and non-governmental organisation partners through an initiative called “Sensitise to Sanitise.” This effort seeks to educate people about health and environmental risks and to install toilets in homes, with priority going to homes with women, widows and girls. Females without facilities in their homes or in safe public spaces can be particularly vulnerable to harassment and assault.

The work of Habitat for Humanity India and its partners encourages the creation of “self-help groups,” where families and communities can pool their resources to have toilets installed. Sharda is part of one such group. She banded together with 20 other women, and she has even gone so far as to sell her wedding necklace to contribute to funding for the installation of toilets.

Coming up with strategies like this one in India is part of Habitat’s ongoing effort to support the policies of governments aligned with the New Urban Agenda, an action-oriented document agreed upon by the leaders of 167 countries in October 2016 to guide the development of cities that are inclusive, safe and resilient places. One of the commitments included in the New Urban Agenda is “universal access to safe and affordable drinking water and sanitation.”

This World Toilet Day, Habitat encourages you to consider what having a decent place to live means — and to join us as we partner with more individuals like Sharda and more governments, peer organisations and entrepreneurs, all of whom play such an active role in fighting for the health and well-being of families around the world.

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