New Book on Sanitation Released: The Big Necessity

A new book by Rose George is raising awareness of the shocking state of global sanitation. The Big Necessity is a humorous and thought provoking look at one of the most basic of human activities.
At the time of her writing, 2.6 billion people (currently 2.5 billion, according to the Joint Monitoring Programme) did not have access to improved sanitation. Anyone familiar with the issue of sanitation will know this figure well, but Ms. George adds something else to the figure, she translates it, she tells a wider audience what not having access to improved sanitation actually means. The following is an excerpt that Ms. George published on Slate, an online daily magazine;

“This is why the Liberian waiter laughed at me. He thought that I thought a toilet was my right, when he knew it was a privilege.

It must be, when 2.6 billion people don't have sanitation. I don't mean that they have no toilet in their house and must use a public one with queues and fees. Or that they have an outhouse or a rickety shack that empties into a filthy drain or pigsty. All that counts as sanitation, though not a safe variety. The people who have those are the fortunate ones. But four in ten people have no access to any latrine, toilet, bucket, or box. Nothing. Instead, they defecate by train tracks and in forests. They do it in plastic bags and fling them through the air in narrow slum alleyways. If they are women, they get up at 4 a.m. to be able to do their business under cover of darkness for reasons of modesty, risking rape and snakebites. Four in ten people live in situations in which they are surrounded by human excrement, because it is in the bushes outside the village or in their city yards, left by children outside the back door. It is tramped back in on their feet, carried on fingers onto clothes and into food and drinking water.”

It is not only the developing world that has issues with sanitation. Ms. George highlights the huge waste of valuable drinking water that is the flushable toilet. She examines various cultural relationships with the latrine, asking why do some cultures sit, when is it acceptable to use excreta as fertilizer, or as a fuel source?

The Big Necessity was published in October 2008 and is available for purchase from Macmillan. 

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