Monday, October 20, 2008

Installing toilets could do the most to reduce poverty

Sometimes, our priorities are backward.

In developing countries you can often get a cell phone signal, but can't find anywhere to go to the bathroom. We'll we know why that is, you can make a buck on cell phones, a lot more than on human waste.

The United Nations University says today that good sanitation and water can do more to reduce poverty than anything else.

Unable to find the actual press release, we went to IPS, and writer Stephen Leahy for our snippet.

"Water problems, caused largely by an appalling absence of adequate toilets in many places, contribute tremendously to some of the world's most punishing problems, foremost among them the inter-related afflictions of poor health and chronic poverty," said Zafar Adeel, director of the U.N. University's Canadian-based International Network on Water, Environment and Health.

The UNU analysis says better water and sanitation reduces poverty by boosting individual productivity, reducing public health costs and creating new business opportunities for local entrepreneurs.

Every dollar invested in sanitation generates eight to 10 dollars in reduced costs and increased productivity Adeel told IPS.

So why is it that there are mobile phone networks and not sanitation networks?

"Experts have not done a good job of explaining the consequences of poor sanitation to the public or policy makers," Adeel said.

For that reason developing countries are more interested in generating exports or economic development and ignore the costs of poor sanitation. Donor countries and aid agencies have a similar focus, choosing to improve drug delivery or develop new drugs instead of making sanitation a top priority.

The Gates Foundation is trying to develop a cholera vaccine when the easiest, fastest way to reduce the spread of cholera is to improve water treatment, Adeel said. "That is how the developed world stopped cholera. There is a real disconnect here."

Globally, almost 900 million people lack access to safe water supplies and 2.5 billion people live without access to improved sanitation, at least 80 percent of whom live in rural areas.

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