According to stats by WHO, 40% of the world is still living without basic sanitation. What does this mean? It is the devastating fact that for those 2.4 billion people – of which an estimated 300 million are in Africa alone – there are no measures in place to safely dispose of their waste, including human excreta. The poorly enforced measures of waste disposal mean that human faecal matter easily contaminates the clean water sources and soil. Municipal sewage (a mix of water and excrement) usually goes to a safe disposal point, but this is often not the case, leading to water borne diseases that affect mostly the poor.
One example of these water borne illnesses is Cholera, which remains rife in Africa to this day. Cholera is an extreme diarrhoeal infection that leads to dehydration, and ultimately death if left untreated. If the disease runs its course, it can kill within hours. The truly scary thing about cholera is that up to 80% of the infected show no real symptoms, meaning that they continue to infect other water sources. As if part of some twisted plot, one cure for treating Cholera is through rehydration – a therapy only possible if there is a clean water supply[sc:1].
Typhoid fever also ravishes poorer countries or areas, especially in Northern and Western Africa, and is a disease that once again springs from contaminated water, and even from food fertilized by human excreta (and as you may have read above, soil easily becomes contaminated from poor sanitation). Some of the symptoms include fever, loss of appetite, and insomnia. If it goes untreated it can lead to bradycardia (slow heart beat) and pneumonia.
Another sanitation problem facing Africa specifically is much larger than disease, if that is possible. In Uganda, the education system is facing a sanitation crisis whereby in some schools there is only one toilet per 700 pupils, and there are no separate toilets for girls and boys. Many girls go on to drop out of school as a direct result of this[sc:2]. The loop then becomes endless: poor sanitation leading to illiteracy leading to poverty leading to poor sanitation.
So what solutions exist?
Naturally, governments can pump more money into sanitation, but the problem is that conventional options are not very cost effective at all. These methods also tend to exhaust a high amount of energy, which is another crisis all on its own. Therefore, low cost options that can easily be maintained are the best.
Among these is pour flush toilets. They use less water, and the water seal that is in place also prevents odours and flies. Then there is the more scientifically advanced method of degrading faecal matter using the black soldier flies’ larvae[sc:3].
The real solution should not only concern itself with health and hygiene though, but also with a human being’s right to dignity and privacy. Open defecation is a very real problem in countries like Somalia and Eritrea, and no person should have to be forced into such degrading circumstances, especially when it is the lack of the basic rights that led them to it.