Cell Phones or Toilets?


United Nations experts calculate that, in India, for every four cell phones in existence, only three people have access to "improved sanitation."

That information -- 545 million cell phones vs. 366 million people with better bathroom access -- comes from a recent press release issued by the United Nations University - Institute for Water, Environment, and Health. (Or, UN-INWEH.)

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The release quotes Zafar Adeel, director of the lengthily-named, Ontario, Canada-based think tank, saying, "It is a tragic irony to think that in India, a country now wealthy enough that roughly half of the people own phones, about half cannot afford the basic necessity and dignity of a toilet."

The incredible hook of the press release doesn't, by TTLA's reading, appear inside the pages of the UN-INWEH report, which is titled, "Sanitation as a Key to Global Health: Voices from the Field."

The report itself is filled with references to causes and effects of sanitation on subjects such as girls' education, hygiene and health, taboo cultural topics, poverty alleviation, technology, urban vs. rural living, and market innovations.

The report also claims that non-profit funders have traditionally shied away from sanitation programs. ("Historically, toilets have not made for great headlines.") And the report brims with case studies and stats ("In Bangladesh in 2003, 42% of households overall did not have a latrine...").

The full report and the press release are available as free-of-charge downloadable .pdfs via these search results.


*13+ months ago, the Guardian reported that half the world, statistically, had a mobile phone.

*The UN University hosts a lecture by a think tank expert TTLA trusts; and uses Richard Neilson's TTLA-commissioned artwork without permission or credit.

*From Slate's archives, "Why Public Toilets Should Pay You."

Photo Credit: The image accompanying this post was taken by Flickr userrunran. It was used under Creative Commons license.

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