More cell phones than toilets and
why it's a Catholic problemMore than 6 billion of the world's people own mobile phones,
but only 4.5 billion have a toilet. That leaves more than 2.5 billion people
without access to a toilet. While these people may be connected to their
neighbors, they still defecate in the open.A child
walks barefoot atop a water pipe surrounded by a trash-filled cesspool.LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online):
The fact that more people have access to a mobile phone than a toilet is an
alarming statistic. The U.N. is concerned they will not meet the goal of cutting
in half the number of people without access to proper sanitation prior to a 2015
It may be easy to dismiss the issues as one of misplaced
individual priorities, however the reality is much more complex than that.
It is a Catholic issue, given the impact on the health and well being,
of the world's poorest people. The Church has been clear on where it stands on
issues of life, human rights, as well as access to medicine and sanitation.
Cell phones are cheap and easy items to obtain. They are small and
portable by nature, and they cost as little as about $15. While in some
countries that could be a substantial sum, akin to cell phone prices in the
United States where a new phone can cost an average of $300-$400, it is a price
many are willing to pay. There can be no debating the utility of a mobile phone.
Cell phones keep families connected, facilitate business, are used in
emergencies to save lives, and generally make life easier.
about toilets? The power of simple and proper sanitation cannot be
underestimated. The practice of open defecation, that is people performing such
activity in the open or in water, contributes to the spread of major diseases.
Diarrhea is the most common disease spread via contaminated water, and according
to the U.N. it kills more than 750,000 children under the age of five each
This is a serious human rights issue. So why aren't people making
the effort to obtain toilets instead of cell phones? Even an outhouse would be
The problem goes right to the heart of poverty issues.
Many people simply cannot afford a toilet, which can cost more than a cell
phone. Not only can the apparatus be costly, but many don't even have access to
running water and modern sanitation systems. In other cases, the people are so
poor they own no land or have no space in which to dig a hole for privy use.
Ultimately, people must resort to open defecation in public or
semi-public spaces, including in rivers, which contributes to pollution and
Problems of infrastructure and access to sanitary facilities
are more typically political issues, and on occasion, logistical issues.
Inequality, political apathy towards the poor, and a blasé attitude by locals
results in this problem, which is deadly.
However, it is the children of
the poor, who are forced to drink from contaminated waters, who suffer the most.
So what can be done? The issues outlined above, such as political
corruption and apathy, as well as a general lack of regard for the impoverished,
need to be addressed by the U.N and other rights organizations, such as the
Catholic Church so that those who have the power will provide the infrastructure
for adequate sanitation.
Sadly, herein lies the tragic heart of the
problem. People will pay to have and use cell phones, so there is a fortune to
be made in the industry. However, there seems to be no obvious money in
sanitation. This simple fact probably does more to kill hundreds of thousands of
children each year, than any other. Without a strong economic incentive,
governments and landlords are unlikely to do much for the people who live in the
world's impoverished districts.
There must also be education. Open
defecation isn't a new practice in many parts of the world. The people who
practice it must not only be provided with sanitary facilities, but they must
also be taught the dangers and costs of open defecation.
There are also
short-term alternatives. People could do something as simple as using bags and
disposing of them in a central location could help significantly reduce
pollution, particularly in places where people would otherwise contaminate water
The costs of inadequate sanitation to human life, to national
economics, and to the environment are substantial. Unfortunately, so too is the
cost of fixing the problem for some 4.5 billion people who practice open
defecation. The problem is complex and profound, and the challenges will likely
persist well beyond the 2025 deadline set by the U.N. to resolve the global
Here is a list of countries without proper sanitation
and the number of people who have cell phones.
India - 626 million
people without proper sanitation - but 893 million mobile phones. India accounts
for 60 per cent of the number of people practicing open defecation around the
Indonesia - 63 million people do not have a toilet but there are 250
million mobile phones.
Pakistan - 40 million people practicing open
defecation. But 111 million mobile phones.
Ethiopia - 38 million people
without a toilet but 14 million have mobile phones.
Nigeria - 34 million
people without proper sanitation - but there are 95 million mobile
Sudan - 19 million people practice open defecation - but there are 25
million mobile phones.
Nepal - 15 million people without sanitation but 13
million mobile phones.
China - 14 million people practice open defecation but
986 million mobile phones
Niger - 12 million people without proper sanitation
but 4.8 million mobile phones
Burkina Faso - 9.7 million people without
proper sanitation but 7.7 million mobiles
Source - United Nations