Sunday, December 02, 2007

Long Live Toilets!

Modernity has it's advantages, in spite of what one might hear from the ecology fanatics worrying about global warming and holes in the ozone layer due to industry, machinery, and technology. Next time you use the toilet try thinking what you'd do if your home didn't have one. Imagine how you'd live if no one in your whole city had one. What would you do? And what would others in your city do around you? Now, dear reader, close your eyes and pray for forgiveness for any time in your life that you have cursed the Modern world.

sewer graphic

I've written recently about toilets and sewers, many times recently, and many times over the course of the years this blog has been in existence. Based on that you'd be surprised to find out just how seldom I think of toilets and sewers. Then today in the local paper I saw an article part of which is below. None of this is about toilets per se. All of it is about Modernity and respect for the Human. I hate ecology. I do not care a whit for Mother Nature. I might be the writer of the essay so pithily entitled, "Mother Nature: Rape That Bitch-- With a Chainsaw!" People count. We can mine the Earth till it looks like an apple core hanging in space for all I care, and we can move on to do the same to Mars and the Moon. But first we had better take care of people. And the way to do so is to keep them clean and healthy. That will never come about by allowing vain and silly hippies to control our attitudes toward the valuable: not Mother Nature but Mom and the kids in the Third World, for a late start. You want to do good deeds in the world? Then forget about pot in every chicken, like some idiot hippie: a pot for every butt! No, it's not romantic. You won't impress your friends at cocktail parties. But if you never do anything else, don't stand silent when a fool talks about the joys of simple living, not when he's referring to people who don't live in the Modern world. Sentimentalizing people who don't have toilets should be a capital offense. At least tell people who do so to shut their filthy mouths. Why be so blunt? Read on:

How not to sh-- in the woods
The UN just declared 2008 the International Year of Sanitation. Funny perhaps until you consider that 2.6 billion people in the world lack access to a basic toilet. As Chris Cobb reports, it's a difficult problem to fix... because the worst-off countries won't acknowledge the problem. ...

Chris Cobb
The Ottawa Citizen

Sunday, November 25, 2007

George Yap [in] Kampala's slum neighbourhoods. 'I was walking with the children doing a sanitation survey and here we had to jump over an open ditch/sewer,' he explains. 'It was full of oil, garbage, flies and excrement. A nearby latrine likely empties its contents into this ditch. During the rainy season it overflows, flooding nearby homes.' Many poor neighborhoods are located on low-lying flood-prone area, he says. This coupled with the lack of proper drainage networks means this is a very common problem in Kampala's slums.


Enter Zakir Khandker.


Khandker helps to co-ordinate Bangladeshi community sanitation for WaterAid, a British aid agency. It's his job to convince people to practise safe sanitation. Lesson One: "The fecal-oral contamination chain."


"We ask men whether they want to expose their women to others," Khandker explains. "With open defecation, that's what happens." When talk turns to handwashing, he points an accusatory finger: "Are you interested in eating the shit of others?" The question may get a laugh, "but eventually they take it seriously." Despite piling evidence, governments in the worst affected countries often refuse to acknowledge the ravages of poor sanitation. Aid workers say such denial is reminiscent of the early days of HIV-AIDS.

If the comparison sounds overblown, consider that the UN estimates 6,000 children die every day from such diseases as chronic diarrhea associated with unsafe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene. Eighty per cent of illnesses in developing countries are linked to the same conditions.

In Ethiopia, one of the worst affected sub-Saharan African countries, only six per cent of the population has access to safe sanitation. The child mortality rate -- children under five years old -- is 169 deaths per 1,000 live births. In Kenya, one of the region's better off countries, the figure is 123. In Canada, it is six.

Canadian Clarissa Brocklehurst heads a UN task force on water and sanitation. The water supply and sanitation engineer calls safe sanitation the "poor cousin" of water supply.

"It's the last taboo," she says. "People get all shy and tipsy when sanitation comes up. We need to work on changing behaviour. We need to sell sanitation like products are sold and convince people of the dangers of open defecation -- shitting in the bush, basically." The key is to get communities and governments to acknowledge the need for proper sanitation. The type of toilets is almost irrelevant as long as they get used and can be maintained.


"It's puzzling," says George Yap, program director for WaterCan, the Ottawa-based aid group. "I guess it's an indication of the relative importance the government puts on it." Yap argues that water and sanitation should be a priority. "The current government is looking to get more bang for its aid bucks. We would argue that if you're looking for the greatest bang for the buck, water and sanitation will give you a concrete result. That's not to say it will be easy." The UN's Millennium Development Goals include improving sanitation facilities to half of the 2.6 billion people in need by 2015. By its own estimates, they will miss that target by half a billion people.

"It's mind-boggling," says Alan Etherington. The Ottawa sanitation specialist, who has worked worldwide, says the challenge of providing cheap sanitation to the world's poorest people is daunting.

"Can you imagine the anxiety of defecating in a plastic bag and when it's full throwing it over your fence onto a neighbour's roof or a communal pathway? Or imagine defecating into a smelly open pit where there are insects or snakes? Or lining up with your neighbours at a community toilet to use a disgusting, smelly space?" He adds that in many societies, women and girls can only use washrooms before dawn or after dusk. "Women don't defecate outside in daylight," he explains. "So they have to manage their bowels and bladder to control when they defecate. They get constipated and they get urinary tract infections.

"It's a huge daily stress for most poor people in the world and with increased urbanization and growing slums, it is only getting worse." Getting communities in the developing world to buy into the concept of safe sanitation is complex, he adds. "Africans and Asians don't buy toilets for health reasons," he explains. "They buy them for all the other reasons: status, convenience and privacy." Aid programs must understand these motivations, he says. "We have to work with local tradespeople to help them build better, affordable toilets. It might only be a crude $5 toilet that won't last a year, but at least it gets people into the habit of defecating in a safe, hygienic manner." In densely populated slums, the problem is complicated by the fact there are no sewers. Homes are often one-room shacks constructed from discarded materials. So installing toilets is not an option.

In some cases, there are communal sanitation areas, perhaps 20 units used by 50 people every day. "That's 1,000 uses," Etherington explains. "That's 400 kilos of fecal matter a day, every day that has to be disposed of." The sanitation block could be linked to a sewer, if one were available, or to a septic tank. "How do you empty the septic tank that gets full so quickly?" asks Etherington, who also has the answer: "In some parts of the world they are emptied by removing the cover when it rains and allowing a portion of the contents to be washed away and flood into the community." Dirty habits are hard to change -- especially when people don't understand that open defecation can spread deadly diseases. …

Etherington says the introduction of composting toilets -- "the recycling of fecal matter" -- has been a breakthrough.


One of the less obvious ramifications of poor sanitation is the devastating affect it can have on the lives of adolescent girls. Many abandon their education at the onset of their periods rather than deal with the embarrassment of sharing school facilities with boys.

"Leading agencies around the world now realize there has to be separate toilets for boys and girls," says Etherington.

And then there are the many social and cultural quirks that aid groups must acknowledge. For example, one agency in western Kenya was shocked to learn it is taboo for families to share a toilet with their in-laws.

... Talking about toilets was a disaster, says George Yap.

"Pooping in the fields is a common and ingrained practice," he explains. "If you tell a Maasai herdsman to poop in the same spot all the time, they respond by saying they have all this land, why would we want to put ourselves into a little outhouse that stinks when we can poop under the stars.

"Maasai sleep with their cattle who pee and defecate right next to them. It's awfully difficult to deal with hygiene promotion in that context. You learn from your mistakes, Sanitation is about behaviour change." …no system could work because of widespread ignorance about hygiene.

From these early errors, a strategy evolved that incorporates clean water, practical toilets and hygiene campaigns.

Last week UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon declared 2008 the International Year of Sanitation. Perhaps it is to make up for its shortsightedness in 2000 when the UN announced its millennium goals without a mention of sanitation. (It was included two years later in response to vigorous lobbying led by the British agency WaterAid.) Since then, there has been much talk. …

"Sanitation often involves several departments (of government) but not to the extent that one department takes charge," Yap explains. "If one department doesn't take charge, nothing gets done." By some calculations, every dollar spent to improve sanitation creates a $9 economic benefit for communities. A small investment yields great rewards, Yap says.

"You build one toilet and health will improve," he says. It makes sense, but governments are not convinced.

"We've got to talk about it. If you don't talk about it, how can you do anything to solve the problem? Sanitation is the elephant in the room. You can't ignore it."

1.1 billion people, about 20 per cent of the world's population, lack access to safe drinking water

2.6 billion people, about 40 per cent of the world's population, have no access to sanitation facilities

2.2 million people, mostly children under five, die every year from problems associated with the lack of water and sanitation

At any one time, half of the world's hospital beds are occupied by patients suffering from water-borne diseases
One litre of water weighs one kilogram.

In developing countries, it is common for water collectors, usually women and girls, to walk several kilometres every day to fetch water.

Filled pots and jerry cans weigh as much as 20 kilograms

More than 6,000 children die every day from diseases associated with lack of access to safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene

In developing countries, about 80 per cent of illnesses are linked to poor water and sanitation conditions

A person in sub-Saharan Africa uses 10 to 20 litres of water a day; on average, a Canadian uses 326 litres a day
© The Ottawa Citizen 2007
You don't have to do anything about the story above. You might like to think about it. it won't cost you any money. You need expend no effort. What matters? It's a matter of attitude in the West that glorifies the primitive and excuses all manner of evil in the name of philobarbarism. So long as we tolerate this kind of sentimentalizing of people in primitive conditoins, so longas we romaticize their lives for our own vanity, they will never have our advantages because we'll forever deny it to them for their own supposed good. Stand up for Modernity. Stand up for colonialism. Shout "Hurrah! for Imperialism." When you hear some simpering hippie talk about the oneness of Third World peasants living in harmony with Mother Nature, think about this story above. In the quiet of your own mind, if nowhere else, shout: Long live toilets!

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