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Lack of Toilets “One of the Biggest Scandals in the Last 50 Years”

NGS Video by Tasha Eichenseher

News from the 5th World Water Forum in Istanbul, Turkey:

Rose George, British author of the 2008 book “The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters,” tells National Geographic Digital Media Science Editor Tasha Eichenseher why people should care about the 2.5 billion people around the globe who do not have access to a safe, clean place to do their business.

George–pixie-ish, and passionate–is a former editor at Benetton’s Colors magazine, where she once worked on an art book showcasing feces. Now, whether consulting for the Gates Foundation or writing op-eds for the New York Times, she is the go-to girl for all issues related to the toilet.

She explains that the lack of sanitation facilities–sophisticated or primitive–in developing countries is “a fundamental health crisis.”

Nearly 20 percent of those without facilities practice open defecation, according to Clarissa Brocklehurst, chief of water, sanitation and hygiene at UNICEF, who spoke during a panel discussion at the 5th World Water Forum yesterday. In India alone, there are approximately 665 million people who have no other options.

This is undignified and dangerous, especially for women, who risk rape and snakebite, George says. The resulting water pollution and fecal contamination also carry an enormous health risk, particularly for children, George adds.

“It is scandalous that  in 2009 [the diarrhea death toll] is like four jumbo jets of children crashing every day. Human waste is a fabulous weapon of mass destruction.”

Brocklehurst called the lack of adequate sanitation for more than a third of the Earth’s population “one of the biggest scandals in the last 50 years.”

Related National Geographic News story: Sexy Ads Aim to Boost Toilet Use

Earlier blog posting from the World Water Forum: Nuggets of Hope in the Face of Bleak Outlook for Freshwater

Tasha Eichenseher is the Environment Producer and Editor for National Geographic Digital Media. She has covered water issues for a wide range of media outlets, including E,The Environmental MagazineEnvironmental Science & Technology online newsGreenwireGreen Guide, and National Geographic News.



Tasha Eichenseher’s attendance at the 5th World Water Forum is sponsored by Media21 — a Switzerland-based journalism foundation that brings reporters and producers from around the globe to work together on coverage of major issues such as human rights, climate change, and health.

[This post has been reformatted for Water Currents.]