Today, 19th November, is World Toilet Day.
Were you, or will you be, siting comfortably, able to "perform" in privacy, without fear of interruption, in reasonably hygienic surroundings, with your waste flushed away for scientific disposal at the press of a button or twist of a handle, and soap and clean water available to wash your hands while you sing "Happy birthday" twice?
Lucky you and me. Yet something like 2.4 million people, or about one in three of the world's population, don't have this luxury which we take for granted.
For those without the alternatives don't bear hinging about. In rural areas it's often "open defecation" in the "bush", for women in particular at dawn or dusk, with the danger of stepping on someone else's deposit, being bitten by a snake of maybe attacked by a rapist. In urban areas it may be a plastic bag, thrown away as far as possible afterward - "Flying Toilets" in the jargon.*
One of the things I do when not in "lockdown" is act as an accredited speaker for "Water Aid". Our fund-raising advertisements usually feature pictures of happy children, a water pump and blue globules of clean water being splashed around to general enjoyment. This pulls in the money to help the 663m people in the world (around 10x the UK's population) without one to provide themselves with a supply of clean water.
But an equally important, though less glamorous part of our work, is helping people to provide themselves with easily maintained sanitation facilities.
For this, and the third arm of our work, education in hygienic practices, we are funded by donations from individuals, a cut from the profits of the water industry, and a great dollop of a grant form "UK Aid", the government's overseas aid funding.
Today the UK government is announcing an increase in our defence expenditure of £16.5bn spread over 4 years. That's £4.125bn a year.
In the past week there have been rumours that the government is toying with the idea of cutting our Overseas Aid Budget from 0.7% of GDP to 0.5%. That would amount to roughly the same amount: £4.25bn per year.
Yes, it is our government's duty to keep us safe, but we also have a responsibility to the rest of the world, not to mention a promise to devote 0.7% of our income (that's just 70p in every £100,) to help those who lack the basic facilities we take for granted.
It's quite probable that some of that aid goes a drain that wasn't quite the one intended. Sadly overseas aid is by no means the only area where that can happen.
In his blog earlier this year Dominic Cummings wrote:
[the defence procurement process] "has continued to squander millions of pounds, enriching some of the worse corporate looters and corrupting public life via the revolving door of officials/lobbyist."
Mr Cummings is no longer flavour of the month at the moment in anybody's book, but he may have a point.
If I didn't have the facilities to "defecate with dignity" every day, at any time of day, I know where I'd prefer that £4bn to go
" For further and better particulars I recommend "The Big Necessity, Adventures in the World of Human Waste," by Rose George, (Portobelo,2008)
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