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What the world needs now is a new toilet

Inventing a new lavatory would make a huge difference to people’s lives

By on Thursday, 16 August 2012

Reinventing the Toliet

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has come in for quite a lot of stick in Catholic circles recently – including an almost unheard of put down from the Vatican’s newspaper itself – over its support for artificial birth control, so it is nice to see (not for the first time) that they are also supporting some very worthwhile initiatives that could make a huge difference for Africa.

I speak of sanitation. 

In Africa, there are several forms of sanitation. There are European style and standard bathrooms and lavatories in a small, very small, number of houses. In Kenya, for example, at a guess, less than five per cent of the population would have access to what is called a “flush toilet”. The reasons for this is simple: most houses do not have running water. Water is collected from a standpipe and perhaps carried over a long distance. Even where a house does have running water, that water usually comes from a borehole, rather than from “mains.”

Thus, even where there is piped water, there may not be a flush lavatory, on the grounds that water is simply too valuable and scarce to waste in this way. One may find what is called a pit latrine, usually known as a “longdrop” – a very deep hole in the ground, surmounted by a small corrugated iron shed. While longdrops are supposed to be OK, they frequently are anything but. They can stink to high heaven.

There may well be chemical lavatories in Africa, but I never came across them; I imagine that the chemicals used, in what is essentially no more than a bucket, are expensive.

Then there is the bush itself – out in the wilds, people just disappear into the undergrowth. This is of course not possible in very populated places, where there is usually no lavatory, flush or longdrop, to speak of. In the slums of Nairobi, people use a plastic bag for their bodily needs and then fling it away, usually over the next house, where it may well land on someone. This is jocularly known as a “flying toilet”.

Whichever way, none of this is very satisfactory: bad smells are unpleasant; bad sanitation causes disease; and where there is European style sanitation, it wastes water. Hence the idea of inventing some new system  which is cheap, safe, and environmental is to be welcomed. This could make a huge difference to people’s lives – after all, everyone needs to go to the lavatory.

I mentioned earlier that the Gates Foundation has form in his field – they have of course made sterling efforts to help overcome the scourge of malaria, which has already been eradicated in many continents, and could with the right will be eradicated in Africa too. 

As with lavatories, so with malaria – what is needed here is not shed loads of cash (the track record of such aid is not good) but human inventiveness and will. Malaria is best fought with nets, which are cheap, and the new Gates Loo (if it ever comes) is designed to be cheap too.

  • Daclamat

    Actually, I was being ironic. When I was four,(1942) we had a privy at the bottom of the yard. We cut newspapers into convenient sized sheets. I think Phillips’s ranting on Amnesty International would have done nicely. Is it true that the Gospel is about homosexuality,abortion, contraception, Tridentine Mass, mortal sins, Holy days of obligation? Chapter and verse please.

  • Catholic Youth Work

    “Your point was its cool to compromise as though it is no big deal.”
    Nope. My point was that it is never okay to compromise with evil but that when an entity does some good and some bad things (which 99% do) it may be possible and permissable to affirm THE GOOD THINGS as being good and maybe even support those things as long as it is ultra-clear that we are not supporting or endorsing the bad things or the entity as a whole.

    I can’t put it any more clearly than that, but I have no doubt you will still respond as though I am advocating supporting the entity as a whole. 

    I really should give up internet spats – It’s like banging your head against a wall!!

  • Meena

    Thanks Daclamat.  Sorry, I’m a bit slow.

    I think your questions are directed to Ms Phillips – so I’ll leave her to respond.

  • George

    “Your attempting a sly ad hominem attack with this question?”

    Merely trying to discern whether you practice what you preach. You suggested earlier that bishops should have fought “even under pain of death” for Catholics to not pay taxes that fund abortions. Yet (I assume) you are perfectly willing to pay your own taxes to keep yourself out of jail.

    “woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them” Luke 11:46

  • Parasum

    Then good for the Masons. The CC has no trouble organising that Assisi daftness, three times - so why should it be beyond the pale for the Masons to be praised by Catholics ?  The Assisi Abomination is at least as scandalous as praising members of a (not very) “secret society” – if not more so.  This phobia of the Masons is absurd, from a Church that can praise various heathen religions.  

  • Parasum

    I for one am not going to stop using the NHS just to satisfy the scruples of some Catholics. Scrupulosity is not a virtue. Some of us need the NHS.

  • Zwetschgenkrampus

    Thanks to some of the posters here (I shan’t give any names, you know who you are), I am now officially wearing a tin hat and believing in conspiracy theories. Apparently some manufacturers of conventional lavatories have no, repeat no interest in developing a new toilet – and so send in random posters for some “harassing fire”, the more random the better. Result: Nobody remembers what all the action was about, only that there were some really-unbelievable kooks about …

    Thank you for making my day a bit murkier.

  • Patrickhowes

    the why would you do that as very few late abortions take place.Just beacuse a later baby looks more like a baby we are horrified?All human life has a soul and man has no right to end what God has created.

  • Parasum

    If “very few late abortions take place”, surely that is a good thing, and much better than if very many were late.

  • Parasum

    Going to the NHS is morally unobjectionable because the connection with abortion is so remote. Going for an EEG to monitor someone’s epilepsy, needs paying for  – the money that pays for the EEG is intended to pay for it, not for an abortion. That the NHS provides both services, though a fact, does not imply that the  payment for the EEG is going to pay for abortion. The association between the two services from the same provider is so remote, as to be morally insignificant.

    If we had to avoid all groups that have done  evil, we could not be Catholics: for the CC’s record of wrong-doing is impressive. Many people have left it, precisely because they apply to it the argument  from association with evil. To which many Catholics reply, that the presence in the CC  of some “bad apples” should not & need not be a reason to reject it as a whole – IOW, they resist the the logic of the argument from association. But if those who oppose the NHS as a whole, because of some of its activities, are right, this argument is  no defence. But that in turn means we should leave the CC.  Not to leave the CC, is, by the logic of your position to “compromise with evil”. What is the moral difference between availing oneself of the NHS, and staying in the CC ?

    If we had to avoid *everything* that was even remotely associated with morally objectionable (or otherwise unChristian) activity, life would be impossible. Jesus paid taxes. Ultimately, they were for the benefit of an oppressive & idolatrous regime – which by some standards would mean Jesus was helping to perpetuate great evils.  Did He ever campaign against the exposure of unwanted infants, or idolatry, or abortion ? Then He would be thrown out of the CC if He were on earth today.  If Jesus can get away with co-operating with evil, why can’t the rest of us ? If He could without sin pay taxes to an unpleasant regime which would use them (in part) for objectionable purposes – then we too can without sin pay taxes, and make use of what they provide, in this country. The trouble with the ethical rigorism of the position you favour, is that its absolutism is impossible to put into action. It leads to paralysis, for at some point all of us are associated with things we find immoral. But evil is not absorbed by osmosis – it lies in the misuse of the will.

    What would happen if we lived in a society totally abandoned to deliberate and conscious evil ? We’re not there yet, by a long way – nor are we yet in a Nazi society, which would be less evil than that. At what point does living in society, cross into connivance with it ? The Amish avoid in most ways having to reckon with this problem – but that is a luxury that Churches millions strong don’t have; especially when they play a leading part in society. Unless the CC in the UK becomes a very small body, or does with all ties that bind it to society at large, it is going to be, however remotely, conniving with the evils in society, from abortion to the arms trade, from honour killings to “rendition” & tyranny. Is it willing to do this – or, are these many & complicated evils (including connivance) over-balanced by the Church’s opportunities for promoting the Kingdom  of God ?

    The NHS is a national health service – abortion is intended to contribute to health, and is for that reason – even if for no others – a legitimate activity for the NHS. Abortion may be immoral, but it is intended to be a health-giving procedure. The NSDAP by contrast was not founded to providde health; it was a political party. That NSDAP ideology allowed for abortion of certain classes of conceptus, & that the NHS provides for abortion, means only that both groups facilitate abortion, but it does not make them comparable groups.

  • Marcella Carmen C.

    I did not read that the writer supported Bill Gates’ politics, but some of genuinely OK charitable works.  I pray for the conversion of heart of the Gates.

  • Marcella Carmen C.

    I lived for 4 decades or so in Africa & I fully agree with Fr. Alex’s thinking, that some Gates’ money should go for a new type of toilet.  I think Mr. Lucie Smith has a short fuse so becomes over defensive too quickly.  I too would like to see him say sorry for not reading the article slowly enough.  Something else probably set him earlier off so he went charging in like a bull in a china shop!

  • Parasum

    To call abortion “murder” is inaccurate, as well as emotive. Doing so depends on a lot of assumptions, which may or may not be valid. Would it not be more accurate to speak of “infanticide” ? “Murder” implies deliberate & conscious & knowing & malicious action – but how many abortions would that describe ? Not that many, surely ?

    It is possible to do evil with good intentions – that an abortion ends in a death, tells the onlooker nothing about the moral or spiritual state of the woman or the medical staff. Not all homicide is murder - it can often be an act of virtue.That an act is intrinsically evil, is not  sufficient for the judgement that the doer is culpable; for whether in a given instance someone is culpable depends on many things – *not only*  on the intrinsic evilness of the thing done. This BTW is old-fashioned Catholic moral theology. These distinctiions are important, & moral theology matters – it should not be sacrificed to ill-informed if well-intentioned zeal. 

  • Joe

    I do not have much problem with Gates (anyway we all use his products and thus support his causes). But I would never associate with any causes, projects or ends of the people who caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands in Iraq.

  • Meena

    How do you know all these things which you seem to believe?
    Did you read these things or did someone tell you. If someone told you or wrote these things, how did they know?

  • paulsays

     You need to regain a grip on reality. I’m glad I’ve never had to endure a sermon from someone as insane as you.

  • paulsays

    The thing is we’ve worked out a very cheap and effective solution to aids. 6000 Africans die each day due to aids, and we have the power to help.

    To not give out condoms, and in fact try and stop there life-saving usage is totally morally bankrupt. 
    This is not about a ‘culture of death’ or eugenics. This is about catching semen in a rubber balloon. The quicker the Church gets over that – the faster more lives can be saved.

  • paulsays

     lol chemical abortions. *sighs*