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?



Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Global Handwashing Day

Wash Your Hands

Mom's sage advice, and the way out of poverty.

Unsafe water, then inadequate sanitation, then dirty little hands, then feces goes from food and fingers into mouths, and diarrheal disease is transmitted. Kids are sick, stay out and drop out of school, don't learn, don't earn, and the cycle of poverty continues.


Data point: the Lancet Infectious Diseases Journal reported that 42-47 percent of all diarrheal transmission could be stopped by handwashing with soap (Curtis, Val, & Sandy Cairncross. (2003, May). "Effect of washing hands with soap on diarrhoea risk in the community: A systematic review." Lancet Infectious Diseases Journal 3(5), 275-81.)

A couple of examples of the good work being done to alleviate poverty through simple handwashing campaigns:

In Madagascar 19,300 primary schools will participate in a week-long event. Handwashing with soap activities involving schools and the community, culminate on October 15th with 3.5 million children washing hands with soap at noon. President Ravalomanana will lead the Day. Three Ministries have issued a joint statement to the Prime Minister to officialize Global Handwashing Day. A parade of schoolchildren through the capital is planned for October 15th.

The Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health are supporting an event on October 15th in an elementary school close to Panama City. Children will wash their hands together with high representatives from both Ministries.

Justice Kennedy's Fierce Urgency of Now

Last weekend Stanford University held its third "Roundtable at Stanford" - subtitled "Wanted: Courage, Compassion and Character - Leadership for the 21st Century."

It's an interesting chat, futuristic but set squarely in the context of our present day challenges. Much of the conversation revolved around how the U.S. can regain its global leadership position in the coming years by essentially working smarter not harder.

At about the 49:00 mark of the discussion, Justice Kennedy gets wound up about water because of the failure of society writ large to tackle some of the world's most basic challenges, but also because of his hope in and optimism for this and future generations to meet those challenges.

To paraphrase his remarks:

"The best security is in the world of ideas, and the world of ideas must be concerned with the human condition. This is not my area, but there are 6 billion people on the planet and over 2 billion do not have adequate drinking water. How many hours - and you can't call it man hours because it's women's work - how many hours a year are spent in sub-Saharan Africa bringing water to the family? Answer: 16 billion hours - with a "b" - and that is the lowest estimate. For some people that's 6-8 hours a day to get water for their family. You take a photo in sub-Saharan Africa of the elegant, stately African woman with the long colored dress and the water jug on her head - that jug weighs more than the luggage allowance at the airport."

Then it gets REALLY groovy. Justice Kennedy continues:

"The temptation of the rule of law is to say well, you have the Magna Carta, you wait 600 years, then you have a revolution, then a civil war. What about Martin Luther King Jr.'s 'fierce urgency of now'! These people cannot and will not wait and they should not." Talk to me.

That was Justice Kennedy, and it is not the first time he has spoken to the global water situation. One other quick comment worth mentioning:
The bane of my existence is that many people do not believe the world's water and sanitation challenge is solvable. Stanford University's David Kennedy was talking about leadership at different levels - talking about credibility, trust, authority. The first order of business for the U.S. is to reestablish our credibility globally. The key for the U.S., however, is NOT that we have to be heard to be believed. The key is that we have to be believed to be heard. And that's the stickler - large numbers overseas no longer believe that the U.S. is 'here to help.' Overcome that credibility hurdle, and it will be much easier once again for the U.S. to be a true leader.

Same with the water sector: overcome the 'doability' hurdle - get people to believe in the solvability of the challenge - in the viability of universal access to safe water and sanitation - and we're one huge step toward getting there.

Paul Newman - the man, the myth, the Water Advocate

Many have said most of what needs saying about Paul Newman's vast legacy: as a man, a husband, a father, an actor, a philanthropist and as a really fast race car driver.

One under-recognized but impactful part of his legacy may well be his Safe Water Network, founded a couple of years ago to "develop, optimize, and validate viable water purification solutions that provide safe water to neglected populations." Groovy.

The Safe Water Network includes Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu and PepsiCo, and counts as members of its very prestigious Board of Directors Jack Hennessy (CSFB), Josh Weston (ADP), Bob Forrester (Payne Forrester), Hank Greenberg (C.V. Starr & Co.), Harold Newman (Neuberger Newman), Linda Nordstrom (Northstream Development), James Quigley (Deloitte), Steve Reinemund (PepsiC0), and John Whitehead (former State Department and Goldman Sachs).

They already have projects underway in Bangladesh, Ghana and India, and are essentially an early stage incubator for water-purification technologies and approaches appropriate for the developing world. With Paul Newman and his legacy as catalysts I hope the Safe Water Network can continue to scale up its activities.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Big Necessity - Book Signing with Rose George, the Scribe of Sanitation

Did you know that even though disease spread by human excrement kills more children each year than HIV, TB and malaria combined, nobody talks about it because it’s not sexy?

While we’re ignoring this silent killer, 2.6 billion people (that’s four in ten!) today do not have a toilet and instead are forced to do their business on roadsides, in bags or bushes, or anywhere they can. Open defecation is the leading cause of some of the deadliest, but most ignored, communicable diseases affecting our world’s population today.

Diarrhea – usually caused when flies, feet or fingers introduce feces into the food (dig the alliteration) or water supply - needlessly kills nearly 2 million children a year and is the second leading cause of child death worldwide. We hope you will join us and help tell the story about the billions of people whose lives can be saved by the simple introduction of a toilet – a privilege we take for granted each and every time we flush. Journalist Rose George will join us in Washington, DC on October 22nd to launch her new book:

The Big Necessity:

The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why it Matters

It's an entertaining, educational and insightful ride through the world’s sanitation systems, or lack thereof. From the slums of Dar Es Salaam and the villages of Bangladesh back to the squeaky-clean sewage plants that serve Washington DC, George exposes the taboos and disparities that surround human waste – and shows us in no uncertain terms why confronting them is essential to our global health, dignity, and prosperity.

Double click on image below for more details. The event is free, but please RSVP.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Canadian Toilet Organization - Party!

Friends, colleagues, sanitation advocates,

The moment all of you up North of the border have been impatiently waiting for: the Canadian Toilet Organization is having its official launch Oct. 21, 2008.

In attendance will be Jack Sim, founder of the 'other WTO' - the World Toilet Organization. Jack was recently honored as one of Time Magazine's "Heroes of the Environment" for 2008.

Others present will be Thilo Panzerbieter of the German Toilet Organization and Dr. Tom Keating of Project CLEAN.

All are welcome.

Members of the media, please feel free to inform other interested media parties who would be interested in covering the event.

VENUE: Main floor, Mills Library, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, Canada

TIME: 1:30 pm to 3:00 pm, October 21


Welcome and Introductions: Dr. Corinne Wallace, Programme Officer, Water Health Programme, UNU-INWEH

The global importance of sanitation and changes to policy and finance needed to address this global crisis: Dr. Zafar Adeel, Director UNU-INWEH

The importance of sanitation and public health and the impact of the exhibit for McMaster: Dr. Susan Denburg, Associate Vice President Health Sciences, McMaster University

The global importance of sanitation and toilets: Mr. Jack Sim, Founder, World Toilet Organization

A history of the “Sanitation Is Dignity” exhibit: Mr. Thilo Panzerbieter, German Toilet Organization

“Soap and Citizenship: Safe, Sanitary School Restrooms”: Dr. Tom Keating, Coordinator, Project CLEAN

Messages of support for the Canadian Toilet Organization:

Margaret Catley-Carlson, Chair of The Global Water Partnership and member of UNSGAB

Clarissa Brocklehurst, Chief of the Water, Environment and Sanitation Programme Division, UNICEF

The Canadian Toilet Organization: Mr. Ari Grief, Canadian Toilet Organization

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Girl Effect - Best Video Ever

Best video EVER. Watch this. Two minutes of your life. Girl Effect... Very powerful. And directly related to safe drinking water and sanitation. No Girl Effect if she's hauling water on her head for her childhood. No Girl Effect if she has to drop out of school because her school doesn't have single gender sanitation facilities. Seriously - sit down and watch it.

And register to vote while you're at it.