Every day, everyone on the planet emits from their body a certain quantity
of waste. This process is physiologically unavoidable. Even the perfect
saint - as was believed in ancient India - cannot absorb every morsel he
or she consumes. But because the subject is taboo in virtually every culture,
it is ignored. Maybe that doesn't matter where a simple push or pull on
a porcelain contraption flushes excreta away into a septic tank or sewer,
and its subsequent confinement or treatment protects soil and waterways
from pollution. But 2.6 billion people around the world don't have a WC
or any other kind of decent toilet. Because 'faecal perils' land up on
hands, feet and lips, two million of them - mostly children - die of diarrhoeal
disease every year. The toll in indignity and distress, especially among
women, is less measurable but arguably far worse. This is the International
Year of Sanitation, and slowly the subject is coming out of the closet.
Out on the excretory frontier, toilet pioneers are strutting their stuff
with goose-necks and waterseals, sanplats and the ecological approach.
But they won't get far unless people - rich and famous, poor and deprived
- can be persuaded to confront the unmentionable and call a spade a spade.
'A good sewer', declared John Ruskin, the Victorian artist and social critic,
'is far nobler and a far holier thing than the most admired Madonna ever
painted'. This next issue of New Internationalist looks at who and what
are carrying the sanitary flame in the 21st century.
4 We need to talk about …toilets
2008 is the International Year of Sanitation. Or, asks Maggie Black, is it the International Year of Silence and Embarrassment?
8 Toilets: the facts
10 A lifetime in muck
Unbelievably, people still exist whose task in life is shovelling shit, as Mari Marcel Thekaekara explains.
12 To sewer or not to sewer
David Satterthwaite speaks out in praise of sewers, and Mayling Simpson-Hebert retaliates on behalf of pits.
14 For our convenience
Toilets have been around since the days of Elizabeth I. Systems old and new.
16 Dignity and the decent facility
Women desperately want toilets ? but not as a health aid. Libby Plumb reports.
18 Stand up, stand up for toilets
Toilet champions are not so rare a breed as you'd think. Here are some distinguished exemplars.
20 What about us?
21 SPECIAL FEATURE
<This month's translation>