Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Whole lot of shittin' going on

While mostly a laughing or smirking matter in the developed world, shit is a serious concern for many in the developed world. A sixth of the world population lacks what is called clean water, which is a nice way of saying that their water is polluted by human waste. This pollution kills millions of children each year from diarrhea alone. Rose George explores the world of shit management, or as it is usually called, sanitation in the excellent Big Necessity.

Rose is funny, she has a way with people, and she writes well. This helps explain why a book about something as potentially dry as innovations in sanitation is such good reading. She makes a strong case that access to waste free water is an important issue and that the way to do it is with low cost technologies suited to the local culture and economy.

The big story is that the developing world will need to find some other means that the flush toilet infrastructure of the West, and that, the West can learn a thing or two from the developing world. The costs and resource requirements of the Western system are impractical for most of the world and so a number of solutions have arisen. She does however talk about the highest end toilets, those from Japan. In the US, you can relieve yourself Japanese style with the Neorest.

In some cases, as in the Chinese night soil approach, the waste is used to grow food. George notes that China has managed to feed it huge population for four millenia without exhausting the land thanks in part to the rich fertilizer produced by people themselves. Another approach is the biogas digester which uses the methane produced by fermenting excrement to power villages. She also shows how disgust is an important tool in convincing people to adopt new means of dealing with waste. In India, promoters of new sanitation means helped the amount of shit deposited in a village each year. As the villagers worked it out, some vomited in reaction.

George occasionally gets a bit too detailed, but for the most part, she keeps the discussion at the right level and moving at the right pace. I suspect many people will buy this as a gag, but it is a serious book that makes key debates in development accessible.

2 comments:

bali belly said...

There are still many parts of the world that do not have access to clean water and food. Diarrhoea can cause death also especially for kids who should be taken care of.

Econorm India said...

Treat your baby's what is diarrhea with Probiotics and ensure they are diarrhea-free for the next couple months!