A million toilets is a statistic
Rural Public Toilet in Guizhou
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A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic. -Joseph Stalin
China’s government recently announced a project to construct or remodel over 1,000,000 public bathrooms in rural areas, including my home province of Yunnan. Why?
A total of 4,532 key bilharzia-stricken villages in the provinces of Jiangsu, Anhui, Jiangxi, Hubei, Hunan, Sichuan and Yunnan will benefit from the two projects, the ministry said.
I had never heard of bilharzia, but it is usually called by its other name, schistosomiasis. This is a parasite spread by snails. What does this have to do with public toilets? The US CDC fills us all in:
Fresh water becomes contaminated by Schistosoma eggs when infected people urinate or defecate in the water. The eggs hatch, and if certain types of snails are present in the water, the parasites grow and develop inside the snails. The parasite leaves the snail and enters the water where it can survive for about 48 hours. Schistosoma parasites can penetrate the skin of persons who are wading, swimming, bathing, or washing in contaminated water.
For those of you who have never travelled in rural China, these “public toilets” they’re talking about aren’t some sketchy structure to be avoided on the edge of a public park. In many villages, the public toilet may be the only formal bathroom of any kind.
The problem isn’t lack of a place to dispose of the poo (it all ends up getting mixed with straw and used as fertilizer aka “nightsoil”). The issue is simply whether or not streams or runoff get contaminated by the poo in the meantime. Bravo to the Chinese government for doing something about this. Here’s hoping that the funds actually become bathrooms, and not Hummers for local officials.