The Material World Column from the August 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard
The 193-member General Assembly, the UN’s highest policy-making body, declared water and sanitation a basic human right in July 2010. The United States, Britain, Australia, Austria, Canada, Greece, Sweden, Japan, Israel, South Korea, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Ireland all abstained. It has remained a pious resolution, a human ‘right’ that is yet to be implemented. Most developing nations have fallen short of meeting their goals on sanitation and the world’s poorest countries have been lagging far behind, according to a UN report.
The world has missed the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target by nearly 700 million people. The UN has now vowed that the practice of open defecation must be totally eliminated by 2025 (yet another example of wishful thinking). One in three people, or 2.4 billion worldwide, are still without sanitation facilities – including 946 million people who defecate in the open. The report says progress on sanitation has been hampered by inadequate investments in behaviour-change campaigns, lack of affordable products for the poor, and social norms which accept or even encourage open defecation. Today, only 68 percent of the world’s population uses an improved sanitation facility – below the MDG target of 77 per cent. At present rates of progress it would take 300 years for everyone in Sub-Saharan Africa to get access to a sanitary toilet, said the report. More optimistically in Cambodia latrine coverage has been increasing by 1.3 percent per year– a growth rate at which it could take more than 60 years for the country to be ‘Open Defecation Free.’
There are 41 million people who do not have access to a toilet in Pakistan and as a result they are defecating in the open. In India alone, there are nearly 600 million people (out of a total population of over 1.2 billion) without access to sanitation, according to the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council. The Indian 2011 census found that nearly 70 percent of rural households, as well as over 18 percent of homes in towns and cities, don’t have toilets.
The study says diarrheal disease, largely caused by poor sanitation and hygiene, is a leading cause of malnutrition, stunting and child mortality, claiming nearly 600,000 under-five lives every year. Where there is open defecation, pathogens spread quickly, causing diarrhoea, cholera, bilharzia (caused by freshwater worms) and other diseases. More than 1,400 children die each day of diarrhoea-related diseases linked to a lack of safe water, basic sanitation and good hygiene.
Inadequate facilities also affect education and economic productivity and impact the dignity and personal safety of women and girls. Women across rural India are stalked by sexual predators and raped or molested when they venture out into the fields at night. In one such incident two teenage girls from the village of Katra Shadatganj (228 km southwest of New Delhi), were raped and hung from trees. Since then, at least four other similar cases have been reported in the same region. It subsequently emerged that each of these women came from homes that did not have toilets, and were accosted while attempting to relieve themselves at night. The truth is that the ruling elite (that's the government and multinational corporations who own the country) do not care for those living in abject destitution. India is the world's biggest arms importer. It budgets tens of millions on a Mars space programme. It is spending its money on crap. As far back as 1925 Gandhi said ‘Sanitation is more important than independence’.
The spectacle of ‘socialists’ seeking to improve capitalism on behalf of the ruling class has a long history. During the early 20th century in America grew a movement called ‘sewer socialism.’ In the Britain the term was ‘municipal socialism’. It sought to reform capitalism on the local level by cleaning up neighbourhoods with new sanitation systems and municipally-owned water supplies. But ‘sewer socialism’ has gone down the stinking drain as a step in the direction of socialism. The socialist transformation of the political and economic system is absolutely necessary to stop the waste of valuable resources on senseless wars and to raise the living standards and quality of life of the vast majority of the population. A socialist party deserves the name only to the extent that it acts towards that necessary social revolution, nothing less. Capitalism is shit: let’s flush it down the toilet.