Sunday, May 03, 2009

The Politics of Toilets

Article originally posted on April 22, 2009, by Rose George on Newsweek's online section called Post Global.

On Earth Day, let's not forget the dirt. The planet is soiled with sewage, on land and sea. Our waste is the biggest marine pollutant there is, according to the United Nations Environment Program. In the developing world, ninety percent of sewage is discharged untreated into oceans and rivers, where its high nutrient content can suffocate the life out of seas, contributing to dead zones (405 worldwide and counting).

There are dead zones on land, too. Human waste contaminates environments all over the world, rich and poor. Imagine getting up at 4 a.m. in darkness, trekking to a nearby bush or field, and going to the bathroom out in the open. Imagine then being hit by a farmer who doesn't like you toileting in his field, or being raped by someone taking advantage of the dark, which you need to preserve your modesty.

The quarter of the world's population without access to sanitation - not even a bucket nor a box - don't have to imagine this. It's their daily reality. What's more, all that excrement lying around has deadly consequences. More children - up to 2 million a year, or one every 15 seconds or so - die of diarrhea, 90 percent of which is due to fecal contamination in food or liquid, than of TB, malaria or HIV/AIDS. Diarrhea is the world's most effective weapon of mass destruction.

That's the gloom. The good news is that it's solvable. And solving the world's sewage mess would be such a bargain that it should appeal to politicians holding the purse strings even in these straitened times. Investing $1 in sanitation reaps $8 in health costs averted and labor days saved. Look at it another way: not investing $1 in sanitation loses you $7.

Last year the World Bank calculated that poor sanitation cost Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam between 1.4 and 7.2 percent of their GDP. When Peru had a cholera outbreak in 1991, losses from tourism and agricultural revenue were three times greater than the total money spent on sanitation in the previous decade.

If numbers are too technical, let's get practical: Installing latrines and clean water supply in a typical village has dramatic effects. . .

Continue with the rest of the article here

If you would like to help support building toilets in a village in Cambodia, leave a note in the comment section with a way to contact you, and the author will give you all the information you need to make sure this project happens.

The Cambodia Village Development Organization is trying to raise $2,000 to build a set of toilets in a small village of rural Siem Reap Province.


  1. I have seen a nearly full latrine before. It wasn't pretty!

  2. Hey, I'm just checking out your blog from Swap-Bot. Clearly you care about the folks who need it most. Great blog. I've seen the slums of Central America and it always amazes me when I see a person on the poverty level in the US who is "struggling" to pay for cable TV and internet. We have no idea here what real poverty is. (Not that I don't feel for the US poor but it is a different matter entirely!).