At some point each day, each one of the now more than 6 billion people on that planet will need to “take a moment,” “go to the powder room,” or “be right back.” For one in six, however, there is no “powder room,” or even a bucket into which to “do one’s business.” A full third don’t have access to a clean bathroom. Instead, they do as nature designed, find a place to squat and simply “go”—or, in the jargon of the sanitation experts, perform “open defecation” (OD).
It is messy, smelly, wildly dangerous in terms of public health, and dicey in terms of personal safety. Women and children are especially vulnerable to attack and rape. No safety, privacy or dignity.
Journalist Rose George, author of “The Big Necessity” and an expert on the issue, notes that only a small fraction of development funds spent on water projects goes toward sanitation. Yet to seriously move the dial on global public health, safe toilets and hand-washing with soap are required as well. According to one, oft-quoted stat, one child dies every 15 seconds from largely preventable diarrheal diseases. Hand-washing with soap alone can reduce the tally by more than half.