The Battle over Toilets for All

January 01, 2004  ·  Michael Fumento  ·  Scripps Howard, Inc.  ·  Pollution

Dry toilets are essentially outhouses brought indoors.

I admit I am an occasional fan of "potty humor," at least to the extent that I enjoy the series "South Park" featuring four foul-mouthed little boys. But in many parts of the world, potties are no joke – but literally a matter of life and death. Over 2.4 billion people, or 40 percent of the world’s population, lack proper sanitation. As a result, diarrhea alone kills about three million children under the age of five each year. Horrible parasites add to the butcher’s bill. But supposedly the last idea we should be considering for these poor folks are the flush-toilet systems that have made waterborne illness virtually non-existent in the West. That would be an "environmental disaster," one speaker at the International Dry Toilet Conference last year in Finland told Cybercast News Service reporter Marc Morano Why isn’t entirely clear. Yes, parts of the underdeveloped world have severe water shortages but have you been to Arizona lately? Word has it they have some mighty fine flush toilets there. Meanwhile some underdeveloped countries like Bangladesh are more deluged than Venice. For Bangladeshis, not drowning is practically the national pastime. Further, while water is a natural resource it’s not something that you can actually use up like ore or fossil fuels. Water always remains water; reusing it is just a matter of cleaning it. Descriptions of "dry toilets" often make them sound quite sophisticated, but basically they’re little more than indoor outhouses that sell for anything from four to eight times what a flush toilet at Home Depot or Sears goes for. Dry toilets do allow you to read People magazine in the comfort of your own home, and you can "walk (to) the privies in the rain and never wet your feet!" as the song from "Oklahoma!" goes. But they also have disadvantages over outhouses, such as having to be emptied and giving a wide variety of disease-carrying insects and vermin a home within your home. One former user of "a dry toilet" chronicled his negative experiences in an Internet-posted essay. "No matter what I tried over the years there were always times when one could not lift the lid without several flies lifting off and heading for the kitchen," wrote Dave Keenan. "The flies were of two main kinds, the tiny drosophila or fruit fly and some larger wasp-like black flies." First World weasels want to deny Third World residents proper sanitation.

"Don’t get me wrong, it’s fine to have all kinds of worms, flies, spiders, cockroaches, a whole mini-ecosystem," Keenan wrote. "But you don’t really want them coming out . . . and into your house. Even if I was to be convinced that there was little health danger from flies coming out of the toilet and landing on food, how would I convince my guests that it was okay?" What’s needed in the underdeveloped world is what we already have in the industrialized countries: better – if cheaper – sewage treatments. And cheaper alternatives do exist. A single report at the 2001 World Toilet Summit in Singapore detailed five different technologies that are as safe as those used in North America and Europe yet can cost less than a fourth of what we pay per household. No matter, for the hatred of flush toilets is pathological. "Here I was at a conference in Joburg (South Africa), listening agape while these people complained that the flush toilet was one of the greatest environmental disasters of all time," Competitive Enterprise Institute Senior Fellow Chris Horner told me. In contrast, dry toilets play no role in the World Health Organization’s "Toilets and Taps for All" program, with a goal year of 2025. WHO says the program can be funded by the underdeveloped countries themselves if, as one Toilet Summit paper noted, they free up the trillions of dollars they have in capital by being given "legal title to the land and the housing" to those who occupy it. In other words, what’s needed is not dry toilets but free markets. "But the position of the intellectual elite is, ’There’s been enough wealth created now that I’ve got mine," says Horner. "’They figure if they can’t force these people not to procreate, at least they can keep them from prospering."’ Having worked feverishly to deny citizens of developing nations cars, coal-fired plants, insecticides, and biotech crops that have made lives in the industrialized world so much safer and comfortable, they’re now even demanding control of the Third World’s bowels and bladders. But Third World residents have the same right to anything they can afford that we do. They should tell the toilet Trotskyites that how and where they do their "business" is nobody’s business but their own. Read Michael Fumento’s additional work on pollution and on cancer.