• Anna Collard

World Toilet Day and Resilience

Friday Thursday 19th November is World Toilet Day

Image credit: Lavo.co.za

Last Sunday we’ve come back from a trip with a group of other parents and kids from my son’s school. And while we really enjoyed the outdoors, we didn't use the communal backpacker like showers very much. The only “baths” the kids had during those 3 days were a few swims in the river. So after a weekend of roughing it, I really looked forward to a hot bath and cleaning the dirt from under the kid's nails and their hair.


Only we arrived home to taps that didn’t work. Being used to the occasional water outage we resigned ourselves to wet wipes and Portuguese showers using bottled water hoping that things would be back to normal the next day.


A quick check online confirmed that there was a water outage due to a burst pipe on Saturday and that water would be restored by Monday. As it turns out, today – Thursday– marks day 6 without water in our area.


And although it’s a real nuisance we are still very privileged because we can use buckets with pool water for toilets, we can shower at friends and family, or in my case the yoga studio. (My yoga practice really picked up this week...).


While we often complain about the frequent power outages (load shedding as it is called here) not having access to water is just so much worse. Running water is one of those essential necessities that we only properly appreciate when it’s gone.


And what about the majority of people who don’t have access to pools or cars? With small children? Currently, the city provides water tanks people can go to and collect water in buckets and water bottles, but really, what a nightmare.


We’ve previously been made aware of the preciousness of water when we had a bad drought in Cape Town and were urged to save water. And during my childhood sailing with my dad meant washing up with seawater and conserving fresh water at all costs.

However, as soon as one gets used to opening the tap we quickly forget what a luxury running water is. And how absurd it is that we use drinking water to flush our toilets with.


Yet according to the Water.org foundation 771 million people in the world - 1 in 10 - lack access to it and 1.7 billion people – 1 in 4 – don’t have a toilet. These people, in particular women and children, must spend time getting water or access to sanitation instead of working or going to school. There are millions of poor families spending a large portion of their income on temporary water and sanitation access. And this expense traps them in a cycle of poverty.


According to a report by the World Economic Forum, the water crisis is the #5 global risk in terms of impact on society.


While thinking about this situation and trying to keep my irritation levels in check (more or less successfully), I found that this might be an opportunity to teach our kids a much-needed skill: resilience.

The Oxford Dictionary defines resilience as “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness” something that is one of the most important life skills to obtain.


Coupled with another really important life lesson: appreciation. Especially appreciation and gratefulness for the little things. Well, access to water is not at all a little thing, just something we take for granted easily. (To be honest, our kids don't really mind too much. For them skipping a bath or showering at their grandparents is a treat anyway, but at least it gives me something to write this post about it.)


In the digital world, cyber resilience is the ability of an organization to adapt to known and unknown crises, threats, adversities, and challenges by preparing for, responding to, and recovering from cyber threats.


The analogy I’m trying to take away from this experience could easily be applied to any situation – even organizational resilience:


1. Maintenance is key:

The reason it is taking so long for the water to be restored is that the infrastructure has not been maintained adequately. If one valve breaks and they switch off the water it means that when it comes back, the difference in pressure causes additional breakages in these old pipes and valves elsewhere, so it’s a bit like a whack a mole game. More proactive maintenance surely would prevent this.


2. Prepare for failure:

We can’t take anything for granted anymore, including access to basic services – this means we should probably appreciate things when they work and at the same time prepare backup and contingency plans and try to become more self-sufficient.


Getting frustrated about things we don't have control over is just a waste of energy. Sometimes life sucks. Or stinks. It’s not perfect. And we just have to get on with it.


Did you know that November 19th is World Toilet Day? I had no idea that something like this even exists, but it’s a day to remember that running water in your home and a toilet is a luxury that many still don’t have access to. I get it now.


The water.org foundation has empowered more than 40 million people with access to safe water and sanitation through affordable financing and enabled families to get out of extreme poverty. Check them out, it’s really cool what they do.


Oh, and if you live in SA, just keep a few 5 liter water bottles at home, just in case.

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