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More cell phones than toilets and why it's a Catholic problem

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
March 25th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

More 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.

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 deadline.

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.

Yet what 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 year.

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 an improvement.

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 disease.

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 blasť 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 supplies.

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 issue entirely.

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 globe.
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 phones.
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 data.

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