Although holy men in India claim otherwise on their own behalf, every person on the planet has to divest themselves of wastes on a continuing basis. Yet 2.4 billion people still have nowhere decent or hygienic to do so. There are many reasons for the global sanitation crisis, from technological to economic to political. But overshadowing them all are the socio-cultural taboos surrounding these unfortunate bodily processes and what to do with their result. Maggie Black has been writing on water, sanitation and hygiene issues as they affect people in poor communities in Africa, Asia and Latin America since she was first commissioned by UNICEF to write a book for the 1990s Water and Sanitation Decade. Several others followed, culminating in The Last Taboo published for World Sanitation Year 2008. She now revisits the topic and asks: Has anything changed?
Water sustains life: without it, humans cannot survive for more than a few days. And yet this precious fluid is becoming increasingly politicized as the debates about control and ownership of water itself, and of the many organizations which govern its use, gain force. Maggie Black is a writer and editor on watery affairs. She has worked in this capacity for the World Bank, Water Aid, DFID and the EC, and also for the World Commission on Dams, although this assignment came to grief. As a result she visited the Narmada Valley in India where large dams are being famously opposed, and wrote a special issue of New Internationalist entitled ‘Do or die: the people versus development in the Narmada Valley’. Her books include ‘From Handpumps to Health’, (UNICEF); Water: ‘Life Force’ (New Internationalist Publications) and ‘The No-Nonsense Guide to Water’, (Verso and NI); and ‘Water: A Matter of life and Health’, (OUP Delhi)