Saturday, 21 August 2010

day 11: sanitation

the thing with ramadan in many muslim countries, particularly the middle east, is that everything shuts down during the day & remains open for most of the night - or so i hear, i've never experienced it myself. often, businesses and offices are closed and people rest at home. this, to me, defeats the whole purpose of the exercise. one of the benefits of fasting is that it causes you to examine your privilege by sharing the experience of hunger and thirst. how can you effectively share that experience unless you go about your normal daily activities?

today's topic is pretty related to yesterday's one - i'm looking at sanitation and cleanliness. several of the links in yesterday's post about water also refer to sanitation, because the two are so clearly related. however, there are some issues around sanitation that don't relate directly to water, but do relate to poverty. so let's begin.

i'm lucky to live in a home where the toilets are inside and they flush. that's a huge privilege right there, and i've lived in situations where there was no toilet in the house and there was no flush. not nice. more than that, for some women it is extremely unsafe:

You need to go to the bathroom, but your landlord has not provided any toilet facilities for you or your neighbors. The nearest pit latrine, which is shared by more than 100 people, is almost half a mile away, and it takes 10 minutes to walk there. The last time you left your house to walk to the latrine at night, a gang of young men grabbed you and threatened to rape you, saying that no nice girl would be out on her own at that hour. You were lucky to escape when nearby residents heard your screams and came to see what was wrong.

There are no police posts in this slum; the closest police station is several miles away in a middle-class neighborhood. You know if those gang members come back for you, there is nowhere to turn for help. So you decide to use a “flying toilet” – a plastic bag that you use, then throw out into the open sewer that runs alongside the alley outside your house.

which raises the issue of sewers and drainage. i live in a city with an excellent sewerage system, so i don't ever have to worry about the sight or smell of open sewers. again, i've visited places that have open sewers, and again, it is definitely not nice. it's also very unhygenic.

i'm lucky to live in a city with an excellent refuse collection system. the streets are kept clean of rubbish, household rubbish is regularly taken away, so that everything around is clean and pleasant. and hygenic. because of this i'm protected from any number of diseases. i've visited places where there is absolutely no refuse collection system, and there are piles of rubbish in empty lots or in the street. these attract wild dogs, pigs and other animals, which adds to the whole disease and lack of hygiene thing. absolutely not nice.

i have access to a wide selection of soaps, shampoos, and household cleaning products. from toilet cleaner to glass cleaner to floor cleaner to mildew removal spray to carpet cleaner to oven cleaner. any thing you own, there will be a product designed to clean it. these products are readily available and generally affordable. if nothing else, a combination of budget bleach & dishwashing soap will clean up most things.

i also have access to mops, brooms, a vacuum cleaner, a dishwasher, scrubbing brushes, scourers, a washing machine, a dehumidifier. have i ever mentioned on this blog how much i love my dishwasher? i must have mentioned it, but if not: i totally love my dishwasher. all my appliances really. every labour-saving device ever invented, which means that i get more time to do stuff that i think is more important than housework. but more about that another day.

of course there is such a thing as too much cleanliness. purify your air and water too much and your body will start to lose its immunity to bacteria and disease. you're much more likely to get sick when you come across germs. so it's a bit of a balance but aren't we so lucky here to have the choice?

in terms of projects to support regarding sanitation, they would be pretty similar to those related to water. here's the UN water website again, which has some ideas. there's also wateraid. for all those who suffer from poor sanitation, who are afraid just to go to the toilet, who are susceptible to disease because of a lack of hygiene, my thoughts and prayers are with you.

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