You cannot control the price, how full the truck is, how many people are in line, when the truck arrives, or the quality of the water. You are unable to take on a job with fixed hours because you can’t predict these factors with regularity. To make matters worse, you never know the quality of the water coming from the truck, so you filter and treat it as best as you can, but your family often gets sick.
People whose only option is to purchase water from trucks operated by the local “water mafia” pay an average of 5-to-15 times more per liter than people with dedicated municipal connections. It is estimated, according to a 2006 World Bank report, that sub-Saharan Africa loses an estimated 5 percent of its GDP each year due to the water and sanitation crisis, a sum that can exceed all foreign assistance received in the region, according to a report by the United Nations Development Programme. Current investment falls far short of the amount estimated to be required to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MGDs) for water and sanitation globally.
Those who pay bribes to get repairs done or falsify their meter readings to lower their bills are the lucky ones, since they actually have networked water access. Many more people do not have a water connection at all, and do not have access to the capital necessary to obtain it.
But this story is about more than water supply, it’s also about sanitation.
Imagine you’re that young woman again. But this time the water in your village is hygienic, accessible and usable in some way — that is until waste finds its way into the mix. Maybe a neighbor has dysentery and defecates in the pond. Maybe the primitive latrine is too close to the well.
Now, imagine you are a ten year old girl in the developing world. Your family has water access and you’re able to go to school. However, your school doesn’t have a toilet. But you love learning, and you have an abundance of ideas about what you want to achieve when you get older.
Then, just as you reach the peak of your potential, you also reach puberty. Going to school when you’ve got your period is awkward, and you don’t have any alternatives, so you stop attending those few days every month. Pretty soon, the days add up and you fall behind. So, you stop going to school altogether, and your future plans are erased simply because you don’t have a toilet — a toilet that costs, perhaps, $150 in India. In what other context could we permit such a basic solution with enormous long-term value to go unmet?
Sanitizing the problem
Fixing a sanitation problem means toilets. Pit latrines. Hygiene — washing your hands after using the bathroom, preparing food away from human or other waste. Not defecating in the open. And most of all, it means dignity.