Monday, June 11, 2012

Our brothers and sisters dealing with a water/sanitation crisis

Two related issues I want to talk about today: access to safe drinking water and access to adequate sanitation. (By "sanitation" I mean "a toilet system where the poop is taken away, far away, and never comes back to contaminate your life.")

In the world today, 884 million people (13% of the world) do not have access to safe drinking water, and 2.6 billion (37%) do not have adequate sanitation.  This is not okay.

The two issues are related, because without sanitary toilets, the poop gets into the water supply.  If that's your main water supply, then you're not getting clean water.

In the parts of the world without safe/convenient drinking water, it takes an average of 3 hours per day to collect and carry the water that a family would need (usually this task is done by women and girls- so the girls don't have time to attend school.)  Sometimes the water source may be a significant distance from the home.  And you know water is really heavy.

After the water is brought back to the home, what do they do with it?  I couldn't find a source for this one; I don't know the answer.  (Help me out here if you can.)  Do they just drink it?  Boil it?  (If so, you have to get fuel, which means more hard work...)  Some kind of filter?

At any rate, when people do not have access to clean water, they are drinking water that may be dangerous.  Diarrhea is responsible for 1.8 million deaths per year, with 1.5 million of them being children.  (In other words, 4000 children die every day from diarrhea.)  This is not okay.  No one's kid should die from diarrhea.

The water-related illnesses also have an effect on the economy: When people are sick, they are unable to work.  Also, they have to spend money on medical treatment.  This is a huge burden for a family already living on a low income.  Lack of clean water can cause very far-reaching problems.

As previously stated, nearly half the world's population (2.6 billion people) does not have access to sanitary toilets.  I'm glad I watched this video ("World's Toilet Crisis") about it, because it's really hard for me to even imagine how anyone could live without a toilet.  Basically how it works is people poop outside, poop in the river, etc, and it's kind of gross.  (And you get lots of flies, which can spread disease.)  Also there's a big problem with lack of privacy, especially for women, who may need to sneak out to "use the bathroom" very early in the morning or at night, which I suspect is really inconvenient- and it's not safe.

The issue of schools lacking bathrooms discourages girls from attending, especially while menstruating.  This is totally not okay.

In India specifically, 600 million people (55% of India's population) do not have toilets.  (More people in India own cell phones than toilets.)  And 1000 children die every day from water-borne illness.

Here's a fun fact; if you're American, you might not know this, because I totally didn't, until I went to China.  So you know what toilets look like, right?

Western toilet.  Image source.
This is totally not universal.  The above image shows a "western toilet."  In Asia, a lot of toilets look like this:

Squat toilet.  Image source.
So, that's fine, the squat toilet works too.  In the areas of China where I've been, both the western toilets and the squatties were common.

(Why am I including the "fun fact" about the squatty potty?  Because I'm trying to help my readers really understand, and if you're reading this and imagining installing porcelain thrones around south Asia, you don't have a clue.)

So, in summary.  13% of the world doesn't have clean water to drink, and 37% doesn't have a decent toilet.  It's not okay that kids are dying from diarrhea, and don't have time for education because it's so much work to get water, and people are getting sick over and over, etc etc.

And I hope I've presented this in a way that doesn't have you thinking "oh those poor people, how could anyone live without running water, they must be so sad and one-dimensional, just sitting there all the time so sad about not having decent water."  No.  They're real people, like you.  They have hopes and dreams and fears and inside jokes.  They love their families.  Etc etc.  The difference is they go poop outside in the woods where it's gross, and sometimes they get sick or die from stupid things.  And it's not okay that that happens.

World Health Organization
End Water Poverty
"World's Toilet Crisis" video
Blue Planet Network
The Rights to Water and Sanitation
Population Clock


  1. Here's from someone coming from a developing country:
    I remember when my family was living in an apartment, we didn't have separate bathrooms, but there was a row of 5 bathrooms shared by 20 appartments/family with the squatty toilets. One time I fell into one of the toilets :)
    We have bathrooms at school, but I can't remember how many. I don't think I'd ever used one because they were all too gross!

    1. Whoa cool! (Cool that you have more experience with gross toilets than I do- I sometimes feel like I don't know what I'm talking about, writing about this stuff. Not cool that you fell in once.) Thanks for your comment. ^_^

      Did the squatty toilets actually flush (like most of the ones I've seen in cities in China) or was it just a hole?

    2. No flushing at that time. Just a hole. I had to pour water in after I finished.




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