Dear Bill Gates: we need to talk about stinky loos

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In case you missed it, Bill Gates has just announced a fascinating new project and Geraldine Cox AM wants to talk about it.

He’s teamed up with some leading scientists to make toilets in India smell pleasant in an effort to get more people to use them more often. This new fragrance will block receptors in the brain to make bad odours appear to smell good. Pretty clever, huh?

According to Bill, three billion people in developing countries have toilets but don’t use them because their waste is untreated and inevitably the smell is so terrible people choose to do their business in the open fields. This waste then seeps into the water and food supplies and causes disease and often death.

We applaud your new initiative, Bill. It is truly great to see sanitation, often a taboo subject, get the recognition and funding it so desperately needs. Every human should have access to a clean, safe toilet that doesn’t smell so bad it makes you gag.

But I need to tell you something.

In Cambodia, over 11.6 million people (out of a total population of 15.8 million) don’t have access to a toilet at all. There’s no toilet in their home. There’s no toilet in their village. There’s no toilet in their workplace or school. So what does that mean? Besides the basic human indignity of the situation, there are massive health and social implications.

When a Cambodian girl reaches puberty and there is no toilet at her school, or only one dirty one for the entire school, she often drops out of school. She would rather miss out on learning than suffer that humiliation. At the very least she will miss out on several days each month.

We all know education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty. So without toilets, girls are more likely to stay trapped and poor, generation after generation.

Sunrise cambodia took over a rural school in the Kampong Speu province of Cambodia recently. We noticed the teenage girls missing far too many days of school. When we put in a new, clean toilet block the girls no longer stayed away. Problem solved. Girls educated.

Of course, as you know Bill, when people are forced to “go” in the fields and waterways that they also wash in, waterborne and sanitation diseases like diarrhoea, pneumonia and other infections skyrocket. In fact, one if five deaths of children under five are caused by such diseases which would easily be avoided with some decent crappers.

And when there is no loo in a home or village the people living there are forced to go under the cover of the night. When women and children wander off into the night to do their business they are much more at risk of sexual abuse. Put a dunny in a home and incidents of sexual abuse plummet. Such a simple solution.

So Bill, while I think your plan to make dunnies in India smell better is a good one, please spare a thought for those in Cambodia that don’t even have a loo that stinks. Donate to our Christmas campaign here.

Geraldine Cox AM

This article was originally published at dailytelegraph.com.au

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