Writing intermittently on life, politics, and society

Time for a brown ribbon campaign?

Caught a story on a cholera outbreak in Nigeria that has spread to Chad and Cameroon (along with the requisite Africa-bashing/anti-black comments – my species never fails to disappoint me.) It made me think of this story I found in the Guardian on the relative lack of attention that is given to basic sanitation even though diarrhoea – a symptom of diseases like dysentery, typhoid, rotavirus and cholera – is a serious killer of children. It kills more children than AIDS and tuberculosis combined.

Sanitation opens the door to a whole load of development goals. People can work if they’re not sick with preventable diseases, it means more bums on seats in schools, less pressure on hospitals, and money is saved when governments in lower income countries do not have to spend their already scarce resources on containing outbreaks.

There’s also money to be made: human waste can be composted, or turned into bio-fuel. There are opportunities here for entrepreneurs to get involved in transport, manufacturing, and sales. Though in some contexts there may be taboos against handling waste – encouraging the creation of a new underclass like the Burakumin is a no-no.

Composting toilets are one possible solution, they’re more workable than sewage systems in countries with severe infrastructure challenges, you can avoid using large quantities of precious water to flush the waste away, and from anywhere between a couple of months to a couple of years you can produce fertiliser.

The main issue for advocates like Rose George is getting sanitation higher on the aid agenda. The brown stuff is just not sexy enough, not right now anyway. It’s hard to imagine many politicians gleefully posing for pictures in front of newly completed latrines.

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