So I am reading an excellent book if a slow read, “The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters” by Rose George.
It’s bizarre shit is considered a curse or bad word when it is such an important function of our bodies.
Often considered shameful and something to do in private.
But, it’s incredibly important. Safe places to go lead to cleaner water, lead to less disease, more education, better lives.
Chapter 8 in the book is titled “Open Defecation-Free India”. It’s an important if challenging goal in a nation of a billion people which includes some very wealthy people and a lot of very poor people.
In fact worldwide according to this UNICEF piece: “On the brink of the 21st century, half the world’s people are enduring a medieval level of sanitation. Almost 3 billion individuals do not have access to a decent toilet, and many of them are forced to defecate on the bare ground or queue up to pay for the use of a filthy latrine. This unconscionable degradation continues despite a fundamental truth: Access to safe water and adequate sanitation is the foundation of development. For when you have a medieval level of sanitation, you have a medieval level of disease, and no country can advance without a healthy population.”
And it can be a challenge to move from open defecation, which can be considered normal to toilets which people aren’t used to. And if there isn’t community support the move can fail, even with large subsidies.
One more successful model is from Indian agricultural scientist Kamal Kar who wen to Bangledesh and wondered not how to get subsidies but. “Let’s find out instead why people are shitting in the bush.” (George, 187). On the same page he bluntly states “You can’t be a doctor and be scared of blood, and you can’t work in sanitation and be scared of shit. Anyone, no one understands you when you say sanitation.”
So instead of a top down approached he worked for Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS). Which works for community support to work for 100 percent of people using toilets and clean sanitation rather than the major dangers of open defecation.
A lot of times in India there would be subsidized latrines that weren’t used. When CLTS people showed people what they were doing outside their villages and towns and how much shit was involved, things changed. Disgust is powerful. Seeing flies go between shit and food and water. Seeing the smells, realizing how much shit can be involved.
It’s powerful and far less expensive than a lot of clean water projects we work for. Unfortuntely if these projects get taineted by poor sanition and human waste the water is dirty again. And also having a cleaner place and having water access can allow people to worry less about their basic needs. In another part of the chapter (182), they stalk about how children’s attendance shoots up in school because they are sick less often and how school attendance can go from 10% to 80% for girls in one town. It’s just fascinating stuff and incredibly important.
Fascinating book and incredibly important chapter. I hope we work for cleaner toilets. Which includes more access to public bathrooms in the United States. And also better access for all, which can include unisex toilets especially when there is simply a toilet and a sink.
It shouldn’t be so hard sometimes in places like New York City to find a clean place to go.
And it really matters.
Shit is important. Having it be disposed of cleanly is incredibly important.
And as of 2014 still, “just under half of India’s total population — 595 million people — do not use a toilet.” We can and must do better.