August 2008
We need to think about Toilets


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.








2 Letters

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?


Technofixes: climate solution or corporate scam?
Science is coming up with ever more extraordinary proposals for combating climate change, from laying white plastic over deserts to locking up carbon dioxide in the oceans or shooting it into space. Should we take any of this seriously? Jim Thomas and Paul Fitzgerald have very different takes on this, as their exchange of letters reveals.

25 Currents
Children imprisoned with their mothers worldwide; Brazil's AIDS fight against Big Pharma continues; why young rural Indians end up addicted to pills.
PLUS: Wordpower and Seriously

28 Big Bad World
Polyp on the endless joys of modern consumerist life.
PLUS: NI Prize Crossword

29 Worldbeaters
Okay, so Nelson Mandela was a tough act to follow. But could Thabo Mbeki have done a worse job as President of South Africa?

30 Mixed Media
Highlights from Toronto's festival of film documentaries; Argentinean and Anglo-Israeli music; a Guyanese novel and a book on medical ethics.

32 View from Montevideo
The Eighth Commandment - Lies, as seen by Eduardo Galeano.

33 Making Waves
Colombian activist Teofilo Acuna on the danger of confronting paramilitaries.

34 Southern Exposure
Bangladeshi photographer Shehzad Noorani exposes the damage done to the Buriganga River.

36 Country Profile: Dominica





NI Japan




<This month's translation>

- We need to talk about …toilets (NI p4-7)

- Toilets: the facts (NI p8-9)

- For our convenience (NI p14-15)

- Dignity and the decent facility (NI p16-17)

- Country Profile: Dominica (NI p36)


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