The taboo that kills 2 million kids a year

water pie chart If you've been fortunate enough to do a bit of traveling around the world, chances are you've found yourself in a situation that didn't afford you, shall we say, "access to sanitation." And perhaps you returned home and were more than a little grateful every time the water tap turned on and the toilet flushed, but the access soon returned to being routine. If such luxuries are surely taken for granted by most in the developed world, a new report from the U.N. drives home the effects of 2.6 billion people around the world lacking access to a decent bathroom. More than two million children die each year of illnesses caused by contaminated water.

In Kibera, the sprawling slum in Nairobi, Kenya, people defecate in plastic bags that they dump in ditches or toss into the street — a practice known as "the flying toilet." In Dharavi, the vast slum in Mumbai, India, there is only one toilet per 1,440 people — and during the monsoon rains, flooded lanes run with human excrement.

The problem, according to the author of the report, is that bureaucrats and politicians often don't want to talk about toilets. Such topics are often just taboo. He told the NYT that "issues dealing with human excrement tend not to figure prominently...[on] the agendas of governments." So, despite U.N. estimates that it would cost $10 billion a year (think about that in terms of most countries' military expenditures) to cut in half the percentage of people needing clean water and a latrine, little at the government level is ever accomplished. 

Still, at least one water NGO had criticisms today not for developing country governments, but for the United Nations. A spokesperson for WaterAid told VOA News that, with nearly two dozen U.N. agencies dealing with water issues, not one U.N. department actually monitors and evaluates whether recommendations are being put in place. "[T]here is no United Nations body there standing up and naming and shaming governments, donors and recipients who are not performing on water and sanitation," he said. With so many lives at stake, it's time to get past the taboo.


The case against attacking Iran

snehIsraeli Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh said recently that the possibility of military strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities is still on the table. "I consider it a last resort. But even the last resort is sometimes the only resort," he said. Don't consider it at all, Mr. Ephraim. It won't work and the United States can't help.

A summer 2004 Center for Nonproliferation Studies article explains the difficulties in attacking Iran, comparing it to Israel's 1981 surprise attack on Iraq's Osirak nuclear facilities. First, conducting what would optimally be a simultaneous air strike against nuclear facilities that are separated by hundreds of miles would be nearly impossible. Second, reaching the nuclear sites requires gaining permission from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and/or Jordan to use their air space—a difficult task indeed. Third, some of Iran's nuclear facilities are underground, insulating them from bombardment, even from U.S. forces. Fourth, the Iraqi government did not pursue nuclear weapons in earnest until after the strikes on Osirak, meaning that a successful attack could turn Iran's currently "suspected" nuclear weapons ambitions into an overt reality. Fifth, such an attack by Israel or the United States would spark popular outrage around the Middle East, perhaps resulting in a regional war. I would like to add a sixth: the U.S. military's experiences in Iraq, a country that is much smaller both in terms of population and geography than Iran, show that occupying Iran is an impossiblity.

Make no mistake, I consider a nuclear-armed Iran to be an untenable prospect. But if diplomacy fails, there is no military solution.