Last year, we had a leak in our second floor bathroom, which necessitated clearing it out and disassembling the sink and toilet just to diagnose where the leak was. Needless to say, the bathroom was out of commission for a few days. Fortunately, our last tenant had moved out, so we had access to our third floor apartment bathroom. So from a bathroom standpoint, it was a minor inconvenience, especially compared to situations friends of mine have had, where having only one bathroom meant that when it went down, they had to make nice with their neighbors just to use the toilet.

It may seem completely unfathomable to us in this country, but for 2.6 BILLION people in the world, there is no such thing as a conveniently available toilet to use. This is according to a surprisingly engrossing (if not somewhat gross) report I read this weekend, "The State of the World's Toilets 2007" (warning: large pdf file).

Of course, it's not the porcelain appliance that is so sacred, it's the sanitation it represents. In fact, the first page of the report quotes none other than Mahatma Gandhi, who says that "sanitation is more important than independence."

The report nicely plays out the consequences of this lack of sanitation that results from a lack of working toilets. No toilets at school mean kids, especially girls, are kept home. Women risk bodily harm to avoid relieving themselves during the day, and violent attack if they do go at night. Waste material ends up in the same areas people bathe and drink. Quality and quantity of life deteriorate significantly.

Who knew the lowly toilet could be such a politically, economically, and societally important resource to ensure equal access to? So the next time you're, um, doing your business, give thanks for your access, and pray for the political will and the financial resources to ensure access to more of those 2.6 billion people who don't share your access.
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