There are some things so basic in life that (if we have them) we cannot imagine life without them. I’ve just bought (and had installed) a new toilet. It’s white and shiny, easy to clean and if you’ll pardon the pun- it does the job nicely. Yet today I read of the appalling conditions of up to 700 million people in India. With virtually no access to a toilet, they have to… you’d better just read the article. We are dealing with an ongoing public health catastrophe of huge proportions. Yes, we are. How can we all be letting this happen, with all the subsequent preventable diseases affecting families? India is the world’s largest democracy, yet the toilet situation requires political will of the most determined kind. One province, Bihar, has set itself the target of building 478 toilets per hour. Wow, that’ll keep the copper industry afloat for years to come. Some parents, recognising the humiliation their daughters may be subjected to, have started the ‘no toilet, no bride campaign’ – a level of negotiation that puts the whole issue in context.
When the pressure of our public finances leads some to question the necessity of the overseas development aid budget aiming to be 0.7% of GDP we might like to think of the one third of the world’s population with nowhere (sanitary) to go. We’ve been told we can twin our toilet with one in a developing country. A tiny gesture certainly but maybe it will make us all the more thankful for what we have- and for the diseases we don’t. And when candidates come knocking promising goodies for us in exchange for a cut in the aid budget… we might remember those heading for the bushes at nightfall.