Sunday, September 11, 2011

Book Review: The Big Necessity by Rose George

Would you be worried if a Boeing 747 worth of people died? What if it were all children. How about 10 Boeing 747s of children dying, everyday?

Diarrhea causes 1.5 million deaths in children every year. That's roughly ten 747s worth every single day. And diarrhea is simple to cure. Good sanitation removes the occurrence of the disease. The reason why so many children still die of diarrhea is because of poor sanitation. Most deaths are in third-world countries, and the West is largely unaware of the problem because it is embarrassing to talk about poop.

Rose George's book, "The Big Necessity" talks about various aspects of poop in her book: from the science of waste water treatment, to the design of eco-friendly toilets and the problems of third-world sanitation. It is a delightful read which brings our awareness to many poop-related issues.

We don't really talk about poop, even though many of our swear-words include fecal matter. And that's largely the problem. We can solve problems of nutrition because we can casually talk about African children only eating 400 calories a day. What we cannot do is talk about the fecal matter that is contaminating their food. So we can talk about to 400 calories they are eating, but not about the crap they are eating with it.

Sanitation brings immense benefits. Children living in areas with good sanitation fall ill less, and are more likely to go to school. Girls' education is directly related to good sanitation. Yet, we're too civilised to talk about improving sanitation.

The book is an insightful read. I would highly recommend it to anyone who has witnessed poverty and wondered what can be done to improve health of the poor. It talks about open defecation in India, the general lack of sanitation in India, and glimmers of hope from rural China. Each chapter deals with a single aspect of sanitation. You will learn about how waste water is treated in the West, and why it is a poor design. You will learn about the difficulties in marketing toilets to the poor. It should be an easy sell, but there are reasons why it is hard, and the book talks about creative solutions.