Indoor Plumbing and Public Sanitation in Developing Countries
Indoor Plumbing and Public Sanitation in Developing Countries
The porcelain throne, the pot, the pooper, the potty, the latrine, the toilet. That is something we don’t give much thought to, unless something is wrong with it. What about the shower or the sink? How often to do you go to your sink to get a glass of water and wonder “Am I drinking someone’s poo? Will it be clean today or will I get sick? ” I know for myself, I rarely give this any thought at all and I can honestly say that I have never worried that my drinking water would be contaminated by feces. However, for many around the world, this is a constant concern.
Many today either don’t have access to clean water or don’t have access to very much water at all. They openly defecate, as well as drink, cook, and bathe in contaminated water. This causes several life threatening diseases and illnesses. I will discuss the water and sanitation issues in under developed countries, as well as what is being done to improve these situations. Early one December morning in Boise Idaho, I woke up to an especially cold day. I tiredly scuffled myself to my bathroom, went pee and when I went to flush my toilet, nothing happened.
Still slightly asleep and confused, I tried a couple more times to get it to flush. Still nothing happened. Frustrated, I opened my tank and found that there was no water in it at all. I thought that that was strange, so I checked my faucet. I turned the handle and no water came out, I quickly checked my shower and kitchen sink next. I had no water at all. Realizing that I had to work in a few hours and I had no way to shower, brush my teeth or clean up in any way, I became quite irate. I called my management company and apparently pipes had frozen in most of their properties.
After this experience I started thinking about my reaction and how there are countries that don’t have access to clean water ever. Though I think that the reaction that I had would have been the same for any person living in the U. S. , I don’t know if it was as big of a deal as it felt like in the moment. I didn’t die from not having water for one day, I wasn’t forced to defecate in my front lawn or drink from a sewer. I didn’t get sick and I didn’t even have to go the entire day without a shower. In fact, I didn’t have to go even a couple of hours without access to water.
We, in America, are so used to having constant access to clean water and indoor plumbing that if we have to go an hour without it, it’s as though our entire world is crashing down. We rarely give thought to those in underdeveloped countries that lack access to clean water at all. There are approximately 7 billion people living on earth today. There are about 2. 6 billion people today that don’t have a toilet or access to one (Yamaguchi). That is about 40% of the world’s population! That is a huge number of people without toilets. Here in America, there is not a single home that does not have a toilet.
Even the homeless have constant access to restroom facilities and clean water. I had a conversation with a friend of mine that works with the homeless on a daily basis to see what the situation was like for the homeless in America in regards to restroom access and sanitation. I asked him if any of the homeless people that he worked with were ever forced to openly defecate or go without a shower. He informed that the only ones that did that were never forced to, but they did it by choice. He also told me that many that are homeless are on Medicaid, so if they get sick they can just go to the doctor.
This is quite different from developing countries, where people die all the time from not being able to afford medical care. Developing countries not only lack affordable medical care but they have very limited ability to prevent the spread of illness, such as those caused by exposure to fecal matter (Yamaguchi). However, in America we have sewage systems and plants that filter and treat our sewer water. In Los Angeles there is the Hyperion sewage plant that processes enough fecal matter to fill three Rose Bowl Stadiums every day (Yamaguchi).
That is just in Los Angeles, what about the rest of the U. S.? It is mind boggling to think about how much is processed. Now let’s look at India, a country that has significantly grown economically, however is still severely lacking proper sanitation systems. According to UNICEF, about 600 million people in India are without access to a toilet (“World Toilet Day 2012”). That is more than half the population of India. Instead of using a toilet, they openly defecate wherever they can. Many use the Yamuna River (Yamaguchi), the largest river in the Ganges of Northern India. The result has been a severely contaminated water source.
The river has literally turned black and bubbles from the methane gases. The shores are not only polluted with fecal matter but trash as well and yet still the people are using the water from the river (Yamaguchi). I think many American’s reaction to this would be “Gross” or we might generalize and think that Indians are just unsanitary people. Is that really the case, though? The people living in underdeveloped countries are rarely living in unsanitary conditions by choice. Many are ignorant to proper sanitation practices and/or are living in conditions where they have no access to clean water.
In the urban slums of New Delhi, people are defecating anywhere they can; in the middle of the streets, next to rail road tracks, or just feet from where they eat, drink and sleep. The water they are using to cook, drink, and bathe with is water from a sewer (Yamaguchi). About 1000 children die every day from diarrhea (Bajait, Thawani). This lack of proper sanitation systems is exposing these children and adults to fecal matter on a daily basis, which is causing diseases like Typhoid, Cholera and other severe illnesses linked with diarrhea. Is this the fault of the individual or the fault of their governments?
In my opinion, both are at fault. Though developing countries have very little access to informational services, I do believe that it falls in the hands of the individual to get informed and I believe that it is the responsibility of the government to provide the services required to inform its people on proper sanitation, as well as provide a clean environment to live in via sanitation systems. This lack of toilets, which results in a lack of clean water, is obviously a very big problem. So what is being done about it? In 2001 Jack Sim founded the World Toilet Organization.
This organization is dedicated to improving the world’s toilet and sanitation situation. They make toilets that are affordable for those living in impoverished conditions. Jack Sim also works with governments of developing countries and small organizations to help provide toilets to those in need. One of those small organizations is run by Bapak Sumadi in Indonesia. Sumadi is a major leader in Indonesia in providing the public with toilets and teaching the importance of public sanitation. Together their goal is to end open defecation (Yamaguchi). Though the changes and effects are small, they are not insignificant.
The conditions that these people are forced to live in, is truly a crisis. Thousands die every day from not having proper sanitation systems. The invention of the toilet and sewage systems has not only given us a way to get rid of our feces, but it has provided us with sanitary conditions which keeps our water clean and reduces the chances of contracting diseases. No matter who you are or where you live, everyone deserves to have access to a toilet and clean water. The question now is; what more can be done? Should the government help provide better access to toilets and sanitation systems? What about other countries?
Do we hold any responsibility in helping these developing countries? In my opinion, yes we do. One scholarly journal, in reference to David Hemson, stated “… regular water supply to the rural poor is both a constitutional requirement and a social necessity…” (Phaswana-Mafuya 298). I think it is imperative that we learn to help one another, so that we can grow together rather than grow apart. I know the next time that I use the restroom, take a bath, or even just get a glass of water; I will be grateful for all that I have and that I don’t have to worry about what I am drinking or bathing in. What about you?