The Joint Monitoring Programme report, "Progress on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene: 2000–2017: Special focus on inequalities", examined the state of open defecation and progress in eliminating it across the world.

It found that almost one billion people are still practising open defecation, a harmful habit that aids the transmission of deadly diseases like cholera, dysentery, hepatitis A, and typhoid. This is as recently as 2015. 

This is better than in 2000 when 21 per cent of the global population - 1.3 billion people - were defecating outdoors.

As a result of the United Nations' efforts to stop this popular practice, several countries have seen a reduction in the open defecation. Central and South Asian countries recorded the largest reduction (496 million).

Progress on open defecation (UN)
Progress on open defecation (UN)

Eastern and South Eastern Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean both achieved reductions of 97 million and 36 million respectively. Sub-Saharan Africa also reduced open defecation by 5 million people.

Despite the obvious reduction in open defecation between 2000 and 2017, 49 million people in 39 countries still experience increases within the same period. 

According to the report, the majority of this increase can be found in Sub-Sahara Africa. The following African countries still practise open defecation:

  1. Chad 
  2. Benin 
  3. Mauritania 
  4. Ethiopia 
  5. Angola 
  6. Zimbabwe 
  7. Nigeria 
  8. Côte d'Ivoire 
  9. Ghana 
  10. Sierra Leone 
Open defecation in Africa (UN)
Open defecation in Africa (UN)

Majority of the people who still practise open defecation can be found in rural areas while only one per cent are part of the urban population. 

Meanwhile, 4.2 billion people still lack access to safe sanitation services while 3 billion lack basic handwashing facilities and about 2.2 billion people do not have safely-managed drinking water.

Reacting to the findings of the report, UNICEF's Kelly Ann Naylor, Associate Director of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) said, "Mere access is not enough. If the water isn't clean, isn't safe to drink or is far away, and if toilet access is unsafe or limited, then we're not delivering for the world's children".

Maria Neira, WHO Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health added, “If countries fail to step up efforts on sanitation, safe water and hygiene, we will continue to live with diseases that should have been long ago consigned to the history books. Investing in water, sanitation and hygiene is cost-effective and good for society in so many ways”.