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Water & Sanitation

Musical Toilets for a Few While 2.5 Billion Lack Basics

An open drainage ditch in Ankorondrano-Andranomahery, one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Madagascar's capital city. Credit: Lova Rabary-Rakontondravony/IPS

UNITED NATIONS, Aug 21 2013 (IPS) - Even as the United Nations laments the fact that more than 2.5 billion people in the developing world are still without adequate sanitation, both Japan and South Korea have gone upscale: offering automated toilets and piped-in classical music.

Although at a hackers’ conference in Las Vegas last month, high-tech experts confessed that virtually all computerised devices, including toilets, are vulnerable to hacking.

The Wall Street Journal quoted a 27-year-old U.S.-based computer hacker recounting how he was able to hack into an automated toilet, made by Japan’s Lixil Corporation, and flush it and also trigger piped-in music – all by a remote command thousands of miles away.

“There is nothing inherently sacred in this world anymore,” says a cynical Third World diplomat commenting on the latest automation, “not even the privacy of toilets.”

Lixil Corporation says its automatic toilets are controlled by sensors and the toilet opens its lid, plays music, flushes and closes the lid automatically reacting to one’s movements.

“The remote control plays your favourite music, and in the dark, the bowl is illuminated with a faint light,” claims an ad for the luxury plus-plus toilet.

Asked for her comments, Clarissa Brocklehurst, a water and sanitation specialist, told IPS, “I guess I would just say that it is great that computer geniuses are turning their attention to sanitation…they poop like the rest of us, I assume.”

Commenting on hacking, she said the energy and imagination of hackers could be put to much better use than hacking into automated toilets, “amusing though that might be”.

“The needs in the sanitation sector are huge, and information technology (IT) innovation is needed,” said Brocklehurst, a former chief of water, sanitation and hygiene, at the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF.

While automated toilets are becoming a reality, Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson last month expressed his gratitude to member states for adopting a resolution designating Nov. 19 as World Toilet Day.

“I thank the government of Singapore for its leadership on a crucially important global issue,” he said.

He said this new annual observance will go a long way toward raising awareness about the need for all human beings to have access to sanitation.

Addressing delegates, he pointed out that despite progress toward the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), one in three people do not have a basic toilet. Almost 2,000 children die every day from preventable diarrhoeal diseases. Poor sanitation and water supply result in economic losses estimated at 260 billion dollars annually in developing countries.

Eliasson said proper sanitation is also a question of basic dignity. “It is unacceptable that women have to risk being the victims of rape and abuse just to do something that most of us take for granted,” he said.

Eliasson said it is also unacceptable that many girls are pushed out of school for lack of basic sanitation facilities.

He urged every country to accelerate progress towards a world in which everyone enjoys this most basic of rights.

“I look forward to working with all partners to make Sanitation for All a reality,” he declared.

Margaret Batty, director of policy and campaigns at WaterAid, says the burden of death and disease continues to fall hardest on the world’s poorest, who risk being left behind even further. She said about 700,000 children under the age of five continue to die needlessly every year from a lack of access to water and sanitation, a situation that should be untenable in the modern world.

Batty appealed to international leaders to come together to bring about the transformative change that can be realised through everyone, everywhere having access to these basic but essential services by 2030.

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