De­vel­op­ment dis­cus­sions should in­clude some potty talk

China Daily (USA) - - ACROSS AMERICA - Erik Nils­son Con­tact the writer at erik_nils­[email protected]­nadaily.

Bill Gates lifted up a vial of hu­man fe­ces be­fore a crowd in Bei­jing re­cently.

“A decade ago, I didn’t think I would be able to tell you so much about poop,” he said.

In­deed, any se­ri­ous dis­cus­sion about de­vel­op­ment must in­clude potty talk.

One of Earth’s wealth­i­est peo­ple held up a glass con­tainer of waste partly to point out how the fact that — de­spite its plan­e­tary sig­nif­i­cance — the taboo sur­round­ing dis­cus­sions about toi­lets has con­trib­uted to the re­al­ity that more than half of hu­mans still lack ac­cess to ad­e­quate san­i­ta­tion. This not only costs an es­ti­mated $223 bil­lion in lost pro­duc­tiv­ity and wages a year glob­ally, as he pointed out, but it also con­trib­utes to the deaths of over half a mil­lion chil­dren un­der the age of 5 every year, and mass mal­nu­tri­tion.

Gates pointed out that the sam­ple he held up at the Rein­vented Toi­let Expo hosted about 200 tril­lion ro­tavirus par­ti­cles, 20 bil­lion shigella bac­te­ria and 100,000 par­a­sitic worm eggs, among other pathogens.

Ur­ban­iza­tion and water scarcity mean the dis­ease prob­lem is likely to ac­cel­er­ate, he be­lieves. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foun­da­tion had put up $200 mil­lion to fund in­no­va­tors to de­velop om­nipro­ces­sors that kill pathogens and break waste into clean water, elec­tric­ity and fer­til­izer on-site. Their in­no­va­tions were dis­played at the expo. Gates pledged an­other $200 mil­lion for the com­ing years.

China proved an ideal host for the event, es­pe­cially since it launched its “toi­let rev­o­lu­tion” in 2015.

“In re­cent decades, China has made great progress im­prov­ing health and san­i­ta­tion for mil­lions of peo­ple,” Gates said at the event, about two weeks be­fore World Toi­let Day on Nov 19.

“Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping’s ‘toi­let rev­o­lu­tion’ un­der­scores China’s com­mit­ment to ac­cel­er­at­ing progress on safe san­i­ta­tion. And China has an op­por­tu­nity to help launch a new cat­e­gory of in­no­va­tive non­sewer san­i­ta­tion so­lu­tions that will ben­e­fit mil­lions of peo­ple world­wide.”

I’ve seen much progress in san­i­tary toi­lets dur­ing my 12 years in China, dur­ing which I’ve cov­ered poverty.

Per­haps the most mem­o­rable “toi­let” was a tire on a frame of four boards stuck in the crotch of a tree sus­pended just over the edge of a cliff in Guizhou prov­ince. I had to over­come my fear of heights.

So, yes, it’s time for the world to en­gage in potty talk.

Se­cond Thoughts

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