The world’s human feces problem

In such places as the United States, Europe, Japan and most of China, the people take basic sanitation virtually for granted. Sanitation is not a concern because there is no shortage of toilets, sewer lines or waste treatment plants in these areas. Elsewhere on the planet, approximately 950 million people still defecate outdoors in the open due to a lack of outhouses, latrines and sewers. The link between sanitation hygiene and health has long been known to medical professionals and governments. The flies feeding and breeding on exposed human feces are one of the main transporters of infectious organisms. Contaminated flies can cover a wide area, they have the capability to travel more than a mile. The diseases that flies can help spread can result in chronically infected adults and stunted, sick children. Around the world, the diseases resulting from poor sanitation practices and polluted water kill about 1.4 million children per year.

The UN knows the importance of the human feces problem, it is working to end the practice of defecation in the open by 2030. Although some countries such as Vietnam have nearly eliminated outdoor defecation, other countries continue to struggle with the problem. More than 40% of the population in India, Eritrea, South Sudan, Niger, Chad, Togo, Namibia, San Tome and Principe, Burkina Faso, Benin, and the Solomon Islands lack access to outhouses or other toilet facilities. India, the world’s seventh largest economy, is in the process of spending $40 billion to build latrines and trying to change people’s sanitation habits. About 37% percent of India’s urban population lack access to a working toilet because the country’s cities suffer from a lack of latrines, sewers and treatment plants.

Overall, about 569 million of India’s 1.2 billion people defecate in open spaces. Complicating its latrine building effort, India is faced with a cultural problem that has its roots in the old caste system and medical ignorance. Many of its people consider using latrines as unsanitary or unnecessary, they see no reason to abandon the old practice of defecating in the open. To counter the cultural bias, especially in rural areas, the government has instituted education programs designed to highlight basic medical facts and the benefits of good sanitation practices.

Though it is expensive infrastructure, the system in which toilets are connected to sewers that run to treatment plants is presently the best way to process human waste in towns and cities. Technology continues to advance, waterless, solar-powered toilets are being developed for use in mostly rural areas. If the UN program can meet its goal by 2030, the world will be a more sanitary place. With 7.4 billion human inhabitants now on the planet, the treatment of human waste will continue to be a global priority.

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