Friday, July 26, 2013

World Toilet Day Goes Global!

"I am delighted and grateful that Member States have adopted a resolution officially designating November 19th as World Toilet Day."
Ban Ki-Moon, UN Deputy Secretary General: New York, 24 July 2013
Not words you hear from a world leader every day! It's a small step for a man and a giant leap for (hu)man kind. In fact, the resolution goes farther than just adopting the day: The United Nations has adopted Singapor's "Sanitation for All" resolution, working with the government of Singapore on a "crucially important global issue": The need for all human beings to have access to basic sanitation. It is one of the most difficult and yet most important points on the UN's Millenium Development Goals.

Lack of basic sanitation is more deadly than most of the other hot topics of today. The numbers are so large they are quite difficult to conceptualise. 2.5 Billion people lack access to the basic sanitation. That doesn't mean that they have a squat toilet, or a non-flushing toilet: simply lacking the comfort that most reading this blog take for granted. It means they have no toilet. For 1.1 billion it means open deification. Both personal dignity and personal health are at risk. When there is no structure for sanitation the water and food supply are contaminated, leading to severe health problems. Diarrhoea is the leading cause of death among children under 5, with an estimated death rate of 750,000 every year (that's 2000 every day!) You can read about this in lots of places, and I'm sure I'll get into it more here later on, but for now I'm interested in getting back to this one event: World Toilet Day.

George Bernard Shaw's quip that "decency is indecency's conspiracy of silence" still rings true more than a hundred years later. This is why, despite the astronomical numbers, we're much less aware of the toilet crisis than aides or malnutrition or war. There are too many social barriers about what we don't like to talk about. Chances are that the idea of World Toilet Day makes you giggle. And to be honest it makes me giggle, though I take the issues around it quite seriously. And I think that is a good thing. If it accomplishes that, then that is the first step towards engaging people, and perhaps tricking them into a more serious engagement. So the day is a chance to talk. The official WTD website says:
World Toilet Day is not just about toilet humor, or an attempt to make toilets sexy. World Toilet Day has a serious purpose: it aims to stimulate dialogue about sanitation and break the taboo that still surrounds this issue. In addition, it supports advocacy that highlights the profound impact of the sanitation crisis in a rigorous manner, and seeks to bring to the forefront the health and emotional consequences, as well as the economic impact of inadequate sanitation.  
World Toilet Days′ vision is to grow as a collective campaign uniting on 19 November everybody who is passionate about toilets to ensure that access to proper sanitation, which has been declared a human right, becomes a reality for all.
Start planning now, not only how you're going to celebrate, but how you're going to use that celebration to make a positive impact! Ideas are welcome!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Sewers of my Mind

The time had come at last... I have decided to create a virtual dumping ground for my thoughts and research. Uncensored and unedited. A sneak preview of the book. But grittier and with more spelling mistakes. 

Let's say this was a sewage treatment plant. Just for fun. Here's how the process works:

Information gets dumped into my head... like the untreated sewage it is. No disrespect of course to all the wonderful people who have shared their knowledge with me thus far! I mean the comparison in the nicest possible way! 

My brain is the septic tank where it sits until it has a chance to flow somewhere else. An amalgamation of all the ideas that have been dumped into it. Some of which should be there, and some of which, honestly probably shouldn't. 

This Blog is the grit chamber. It's where the lumps get filtered out. The really irrelevant stuff. A few little ones might still sneak through, so you may get tidbits of information that seemingly have nothing to do with anything. But mostly it will be somewhat topical. 
Disclaimer: it is a really bad idea to drink water at this stage. It has all sorts of nasty things in it and may well give you diarrhea. Hopefully my blog won't have quite such an uncomfortable affect. 
Primary treatment is where I start keeping notes that are actually more coherently leading towards a publishable format. This is also sometimes called a sedimentation tank. It's the place where the water sits quietly for awhile, allowing the remaining heavy materials (or sludge) to sink to the bottom (which removes about 40-50% of solids from the waste water). The solids get scraped away. A structure will begin to take shape. 

But it's not yet ready for public consumption. Oh no! Being a good American I've got to abide by the Clean Water Act, so I go to Secondary Treatment.

Secondary treatment is cool because it's bubbly. If my thoughts were water they would now be in something called an aeration basin. Little nozzles would squirt air to make them bubble. This adds oxygen and creates the right environment for the good bacteria, which are "Nature's vacuum cleaners." This stage will probably not happen for a good couple of months yet, as I start sifting through my manuscript. Proofreading. Editing. Re-writing. 

Then, because quality is important, I shall go on to the advance treatment. Not all water gets this, because it's expensive. It's essentially a final scrub (if water can be said to be scrubbed.) I'll add an index, so you can find that reference to Thomas Crapper without having to flip through the whole book. Maybe a glossary of terms. Bibliography. Footnotes. 

At last, six months from now (give or take a year... well, just give a year really) the discharge will take place. The book will be in print! Or at least downloadable (no pun intended for once!) Released back into nature to be re-used. To be soaked up by other minds. 

If sewage treatment isn't a good metaphor for the writing process I don't know what is! I think when this ordeal is over I shall perhaps seek employment as a high school English teacher. Or maybe middle school would be a more appropriate context for my methods. 

Any case, welcome to the blog. If you have made it this far into my first post you're a good sport. I promise some of them will be saner than this, but the weather has been miserably hot this past week, and I think it has gone to my head a bit. That's my excuse for now. Once the rain comes back next week I'll have to think of a new one I guess. 

By the way, everything I know about sewage treatment I learned from Karen Mueller Coombs' book 'Flush'. She explains it pretty well, and this blog post doesn't half do her justice.