Saturday, November 19, 2011

A holiday flush with need: World Toilet Day op-ed

Palo Alto, CA (CNN) -- It does not make for pleasant dinner conversation. But we have a global sanitation crisis. More than 40% of the world's population does not have access to a toilet. These 2.6 billion people, most living in low- and middle-income countries in Asia and Africa, face the daily challenge of finding a bush, train track or empty lot where they can urinate and defecate in relative privacy.

Between 1990 and 2008, the share of the world's population that had access to basic sanitation increased only 7%, to 61% of the world's citizens. In many developing countries, mobile phone penetration is expanding at a faster rate than sanitation. In Tanzania, for example, half the country's citizens have mobile phones, but only 24% use an improved sanitation facility.

Saturday marks the 10th anniversary of World Toilet Day, a day set aside not simply as a celebration of this most venerable and useful of technologies, but as a way to draw attention to the crisis and some possible solutions.

This sanitation crisis is not only an affront to dignity. It results in the release of hundreds of tons of feces and urine each day directly into rivers, lakes, landfills and oceans, creating an immense human and environmental health hazard. Every day more than 4,000 young children die from sanitation-related illness. Fully half of the hospital beds in the developing world are occupied by people whose ailments can be traced to poor sanitation.

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