“I came [to go to the bathroom] and got [a seizure] and fell down in this position,” the girl explained.
Every day, Aalia had to walk some distance to relieve herself in a field because her family were some of 2 billion people without access to a toilet, latrine or other basic sanitation facility in their home.1 Every day, she risked having seizures along the road. This day, risk had become reality.
Abony explained the situation to her husband, and he visited Aalia’s home to find out more about the family’s circumstances.
A Common Danger: Poor Sanitation
Aalia’s father had passed away 10 years earlier, and Pamalla struggled to provide for her four children, earning less than $2 a day as a farm laborer. Being able to construct their own bathroom was an impossible dream, so the family had to relieve themselves out in the open.
In areas lacking toilets, people often go out to the fields or forests to relieve themselves. This practice, known as open defecation, is part of everyday life for approximately 673 million people,2 and it poses a huge health risk for people like Pamalla and her children. Poor sanitation, especially open defecation, increases people’s risk for diseases such as cholera, typhoid, dysentery, hepatitis A, polio and diarrhea.3 Diarrhea linked to poor sanitation kills approximately 432,000 people a year, many of them children under age 5.4
Open defecation threatens not only people’s health but also their safety. Many, especially women and girls, value their privacy and try to reserve their bathroom trips for the early morning or the night. However, this puts them at risk for harassment and assault. Studies from multiple countries have shown a significant increase in the risk of sexual assault among those who practice open defecation, and women and girls commonly fear sexual harassment when they go to relieve themselves.5 Pamalla and her daughters faced this risk every day, and Aalia’s recurring seizures caused an additional threat to her safety. Pamalla accompanied Aalia to the bathroom every morning, but then Pamalla had to go to work, and Aalia couldn’t always wait the whole day to go to the bathroom. Sometimes she had to go alone, as she did the day Abony found her.