The problem with ‘human waste’ is that it has become a much sanitised term and does not do justice to this story that follows. Even faeces, when used in connection with the digestive tract, somehow give the impression that a reference is being made about animals; or it may give a more scientific cover of putting the ugly issue well under wraps of medicine. On the other hand, the use of the more unsavoury four-letter word makes one look uncivilised.
So how does one talk about poop and pee without the glowers, grimaces, frowns and still make it a serious issue worth including in a conversation concerning sustainable development?
Singaporean businessman Jack Sim who founded the World Toilet Organization in 2001, to bring attention to the lack of sanitation in developing countries, said in TED Talk held in Taipei, in September, this year : “What we don’t discuss, we can’t improve”. Twelve years since, there has been a groundswell of global movement around the issue.
This year, on November 19, events will be taking place to break toilet taboos and highlight the struggle for dignified sanitation for a staggering 2.6 billion people without access to a clean, private toilet and 1.2 billion people (17 per cent of the global population) who practice open defecation. The theme of the campaign put together by the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) and the World Toilet Organization (WTO) this year is: “I give a shit, do you?”
Did you know?So how do we talk about this issue and break the silence? If we can get past our sense of disgrace, a dialogue can begin, say many.
- The average person spends three whole years of their life sitting on the toilet, producing 55 kilograms of excrement and 545 litres of urine a year.
- In America, the toilet is flushed more times during the super bowl halftime than at any time during the year.
- The first toilet cubicle in a row is the least used (and consequently cleanest).
- The bowl and the seat are not the parts that have the most bacteria – it is in fact the flush, the tap, the light switch and the door knob which are the dirtiest. The toilet handle in a public restroom can have up to 40,000 germs per square inch.
Perhaps it would be best to tell the story as it is. People may begin to look at it differently, even seriously, if they are told that globally nearly 5,400 children die every day due to diarrhea, (second to pneumonia) preventable if they had soap, water and a clean place to perform their bodily functions, most basic of human rights.
In 2006, it was estimated that 2.5 billion people did not have access to proper sanitation; in 2008 there was an increase of 100 million people to that figure. That is one in every three people worldwide or nearly 40 per cent of the world’s population without a clean toilet.
In South Asia of the over a billion people who do not have access to improved sanitation, nearly 700 million defecate in the open according to the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation 2012. There is often an omission of mention of the plight of a vast majority of women, who also defecate in the open, but have to wait until it is dark or before sunrise to relieve themselves.
But really, who gives a shit (pardon the language)?
In television chat shows, so popular in Pakistan, where the politicians banter and cry themselves hoarse to be heard, not once has any one of them had the courage to talk about the yucky issue of latrines. But then it’s a topic not even on the minds of hosts of these shows.
In Pakistan – according to the WHO – of the 173.59 million people, 39.93 per cent defecate in the open. If this trend continues, Pakistan will be able to meet its target of reducing to half the number of people lacking sanitation by 2025, missing the MDG target of 2015 by a decade.
In addition, given other areas that the present government is fire-fighting on a daily basis, it seems highly unlikely that they could be persuaded to spend on latrines. Militancy, violence, lawlessness, power outages and rising food prices seem to have consumed everyone.
“It is not a politically attractive area for investment,” conceded Mustafa Talpur, regional advocacy manager (South Asia) of UK-based non-governmental organisation, WaterAid.