Monday, October 27, 2008

Flush it?!? I would LOVE to.

Here is TIME Magazine's review of Rose George's book The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters:

Flush it.

OK, fine. Well, hold on. I am writing from India, where 700m of us don't have the luxury of a flushing john with which to flush our bacteria-laden poo much less books about sanitation. I am writing from Ethiopia, where only 8% (sic) of my rural compatriots have even the most basic sanitation facility. I am writing from Nicaragua, where only 34% (sic) of rural inhabitants have a place to go to the bathroom besides the jungle. And might I encourage Andrea Sachs to compete with passersby for a space on the sidewalk in front of her office next time nature calls? See for example, the questions posed by this campaign from the German Toilet Organization.

For that matter, how about Freddy and Sara, Ms. Sachs' two shelter cats, being deprived of their litter box? Would that change her mind as to the primacy of the sanitation issue?

I don't have the luxury of flushing away a well-written, well-documented, eye-opening book about a global health crisis that kills five times (sic) as many under-fives as does HIV. I'd like to be able to pull the handle on a porcelain toilet to wash out of sight a book which brings to light the fact that diarrheal disease kills twice as many under-fives as does malaria, and sickens billions (sic) more.

Ms. Sachs writes "A series of articles was plenty on this topic," and she also suggests reading it is an "ordeal by ordure." I am mildly impressed by her alliteration, but was a series of articles enough to focus the world's attention on HIV/AIDS? How comfortable were we discussing HIV twenty years ago? Did our discomfort make HIV a less worthy cause? Was an oped in the Washington Post enough to get the world's attention on malaria, or safe drinking water?

Only when sanitation (shit, diarrhea, feces, cholera, dysentery, 2m dead under-fives each year) becomes as compelling to talk (and blog) about as HIV/AIDS will the proper amount of effort be dedicated to inadequate sanitation. This remains arguably the world's gravest public health challenge, whose gravity siphons off innumerable resources from other less preventable health challenges and development priorities. And fatal diarrhea is preventable.

So, now that we are past the nonsense of a "series of articles" being enough, how about we start with a cover story on TIME to highlight the global sanitation challenge, and the work, for example of the Global Sanitation Fund? Or maybe more feature articles on Rock, Paper, Scissors are a better use of newsprint?



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