Pound a poo, penny a pee


October 8th, 2014

I know it’s probably not grown up to talk about poo and pee, but the alliteration was just too tempting.   It’s interesting though that we do use these coy words like ‘poo’, ‘pee’ and ‘no. 2s’ to talk about a function which is so fundamental.   Sex, politics, religion and even what money you’ve got these days are no longer taboo subjects but to ask someone how often they defecate is completely off limits, unless of course, you’re talking to your doctor.  But everyone does it, even the Queen, and Elvis famously died while on the toilet.  Here in the developing world, designers and manufacturers have become rich creating wondrous bathrooms – quiet, private, beautifully decorated rooms, with toilets that keep your bottom warm while seated, ensure you are fresh and clean afterwards with carefully directed sprays, that the toilet is completely sanitised once the automatically closing seat comes down and a sweet smelling aroma is sprayed afterwards to ensure no-one knows what you’ve been doing.

Clearing out faecal sludgeVisit somewhere like an informal urban settlement in Bangladesh and your experience will be the complete opposite.   If you’re lucky, there may be a room which you share with all the other families around you, young, old and the sick, with a hole in the ground that you have to perch over and hope that your aim is good.  If you’re elderly or a child, this can be challenging, and for very small children extremely dangerous, with the risk of falling into the toilet pit.  There’s also the threat of disease with no flushing with water to carry away the faeces and so it piles up, attracting flies, creating the ideal conditions for cholera, dengue fever, etc.   After a while the toilet needs to be emptied and this is where people like Fadhiya come in, a young woman of 29, abandoned by her husband, with a child to take care.  Desperate for work, Fadhiya visits these toilets, usually after, dark, climbing down into the pits to clear them with her bare hands into a bucket which she then heaves out of the pit, walking many miles to find somewhere that she can hopefully dispose of the poo and pee.  She comes home to her family, smeared with excrement, dangerous to be near for her small child, and outcast by her community.

 

Practical Action can’t bring flushing toilets to all the people living in informal urban settlements, but we can begin to make a difference by protecting people like Fadhiya with equipment such as a manual ‘gulper’ (a hand driven pump) so that she doesn’t have to climb down into toilet pits.   We can provide a tricycle rickshaw so that she doesn’t have to carry so many buckets of excrement, and we can find somewhere for all that poo to be deposited that isn’t going to contaminate a water supply.

So, next time you have a ‘poo’ or a ‘pee’, maybe think about putting a £1 or 1p aside each time just for a month and send the money to Practical Action. Just nine people doing that for one month and donating £38.50 each could provide one gulper, and ensure that one less toilet cleaner has to climb into a pit of poo and pee to make a living.

 

 

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