Saturday, October 4, 2014

Ebola in the U.S.: MINOR PROBLEM

If you had to choose, which would you rather have: access to the Internet? Or access to a toilet (i.e. indoor plumbing)?

Yesterday the Washington Post published an article stating that 4.4 billion people around the world still don’t have Internet.  The thing about living abroad is that your perspective changes, without you putting in any effort at all. Upon reading that headline I immediately thought to myself: So what?! Several billion people don’t have access to toilets!  If I had to choose one, I would opt for sanitation and hygiene over a virtual update of Kimye’s most recent scandals any day.

I admit the Internet is useful.  I no longer own a bound dictionary because I can use  When I was learning to drive a manual on the left side of the road, I watched youtube videos for practice. And naturally, as a professor, I use the Internet every day before I teach to see if there are any current events related to my class which I should discuss with my students.  Yes, the Internet is great.  But I don’t think the fact that two-thirds of the world population is sans Internet is all that unfortunate.  According to The World Bank, only 24% of Sub-Saharan Africa has electricity.  You can’t have Internet without at least some access to electricity.  But Obama’s Power Africa initiative is a foolish endeavor (read: DISASTER) which I will save to address a different day.

World Toilet Day is celebrated annually on November 19th aimed at bringing attention to the need for behavior change and policy implementation “to end open-air defecation.”  Currently, more than 2.5 billion people worldwide do not have access to toilets.  This means they have to relieve themselves in the open.  For those living in rural areas, individuals can try to find somewhere secluded, but this is a security risk.  If you remember that rash of rapes and murders in India recently, many of those occurred because girls had no access to latrines, forcing them to go out into fields to relieve themselves, and there they were easy prey for violent attacks. However, many of these people without access to toilet facilities don’t live strictly in rural areas; many live in incredibly crowded slums in the inner-cities.

When I was in Sierra Leone a few years ago I visited Kroo Bay, one of the largest slums in Freetown, the nation’s capital.  In one Kroo Bay neighborhood 15,000 people live in very cramped quarters with access to four, FOUR (4!) toilets.  Also, it should be noted these are long drops, not toilets with running water.  If you are unfamiliar with a long drop please read my previous post here.  If you would like to see some photos of the Kroo Bay neighborhood, check out this BBC article (be sure to click through the pictures).

The lack of toilets, running water and sanitation is why Africa has an Ebola problem.  When I was in Kroo Bay there was an outbreak of cholera, leprosy was rampant, and the life expectancy was, and still is, 35 years.  Everyone is concerned about Ebola coming to America.  The simple truth is, this should not be a problem here and it should be halted immediately without significant concern.

As Americans we are fortunate.  We have access to running water, thus we can use flush toilets and wash our hands.  We wear shoes, therefore we don’t have to worry about walking around barefoot and potentially stepping in someone’s bodily fluids and contracting a disease.  And for the most part, we live in reasonable accommodations, not cramped living quarters where we are subject to others’ illnesses due to close proximity and the inability to quarantine ourselves (or others) when we are sick.

So, back to the original question: Would you rather have access to the Internet or to a toilet?  I know this may be a tough one for some of you, but try to consider the facts I mentioned above.

Here is a picture I took when I was in Kroo Bay, Sierra Leone.  On the left side you can see a child wearing a blue and white shirt squatting and going to the “toilet.”  Also on the left you can see a woman standing up (there is a man in jeans and a white and gray shirt behind her) who is doing laundry in this creek.  And then if you look on the right side, there is a boy with a bag next to a set of stairs.  Next to that boy you can see the back end of a pig (black and white, or pink? legs and tail):