In the last week, when the Carnival cruise ship was stranded for five days, the main focus and worry was the breakdown of mechanisms that process sewage. Passengers had to go above board to escape the smell, and reports surfaced of waste seeping through the walls, generally grossing out all of CNN’s viewers for the 700 minutes that it covered the story.
Thankfully, the passengers were able to cope and made it safely back to land. I’m sure they were scared and the unsanitary conditions probably added to everyone’s fears of surviving. What should have been added to coverage is the fact that many people face a similar situation everyday. They might not be stranded at sea, surrounded by their own waste, but many do not have access to toilets or better sanitation. In developing countries and in places where there is very little infrastructure, people are dying from diseases brought on by a lack of sanitation.
Toilets are a start. In fact, some schools do not have toilets and this becomes a problem for girls, especially as they reach puberty. Girls in developing nations usually drop out around puberty. Regardless, there is a difference between toilets and improved sanitation. It’s a step up if availability to toilets has increased, but if the waste isn’t treated properly before being released into rivers and streams, the waste returns to human bodies and causes one of a number of diseases. For children, Diarrhea is of paramount concern. It causes 15% of deaths among children under the age of five in developing countries. Along with Diarrhea, there are a host of other neglected tropical diseases that people die from (guinea worm and Trachoma, for starters).
There are several processes that are involved in waste management in developed countries, from flushing the toilet to sewage systems, septic tanks, and treatment plants that ensure sewage is devoid of viruses and bacteria before pumping it back into the ocean. If treatment systems are missing and waste is left in the ground, it can seep into groundwater supplies, contaminating wells and drinking water. In fact, even more basic is water treatment. Sanitation involves how we treat our drinking water and with that there are major concerns. I’m sure everyone has heard of charities that dig wells in Africa and provide new ways to clean water. The search is still on though for a way to treat drinking water that will take out any naturally occurring poisons (arsenic) and is cost-efficient for the poorest of people to use.
Not having proper toilets and treatment is so out of the ordinary and unimaginable to most of us. Reporters covered the story over the six days that the ship was stranded, emphasizing the unsanitary conditions and the illnesses that passengers were in danger of catching. Maybe if a word was said on behalf of 1.2 billion people who face this situation everyday it would have lent a different perspective on the issue underneath a stranded Cruise Ship.