Toilets Defining Economies

Nov 30, 2020 5 Min Read
The economy is in the toilets as 2020 comes to a close.

JP Morgan reported that it expects the first quarter GDP to decline due to the surge in COVID-19 cases. As the temperature drops in the Northern hemisphere, the economy will likely follow.

In November 2020, as the virus spikes, stock and oil prices conversely plunged in response. While economies face a possible grim first quarter 2021, there is hope that with a vaccine, Q2 and Q3 in 2021will improve as economies can reopen. 

We have learnt the hard way that the heartbeat of an economy lies in smaller businesses such as restaurants, theatres, and shops.

In the United States, the pandemic has disproportionately affected people of colour, where more than 20% have lost half or more of their income. According to Feeding America, more than 50 million Americans are expected to be food insecure by the end of 2020. My focus is on the US because it is the world’s economic engine. The effects are dire, yet for the US and other developed economies, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. 

However. developing economies are in a seemingly endless rut. 

A harbinger of this measure is toilets, or lack thereof

According to the World Bank, “An estimated 2.3 billion people around the world still lack access to this most basic of amenities – an adequate toilet – and 4.5 billion people still lack access to safely managed sanitation along the entire service chain.”

Some progress is being made. India in 2014 reported that just 40% of households had access to a toilet. At the time, hundreds of millions of Indians had to relieve themselves in the open because of no access to toilets or running water. 

The persistent problem polluted the soil and water. It caused disease and exposed women and children to possible danger, as they are forced to go out alone in the night to relieve themselves. India launched an effective program to increase households with access to toilets, reaching 90% by December 2018.

However, the issue of indoor plumbing is not limited to poorer countries. In the United States, a study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences entitled Geographies of insecure water access and the housing–water nexus in US cities revealed that 1.1 million Americans lacked access to clean water. The report published in November 2020 relayed that “households headed by people of color are almost 35% more likely to lack piped water as compared to white households.” In fact, the report cited that 73% of those affected reside in metropolitan areas. 

Each November, the United Nations recognises World Toilet Day. It is an environmental problem. Some top-line information extracted from the UN reveals the following:

  • Climate change is getting worse.
  • Flood, drought and rising sea levels are threatening sanitation systems – from toilets to septic tanks to treatment plants.
  • Everyone must have sustainable sanitation that can withstand climate change and keep communities healthy and functioning.
  • Sustainable sanitation systems also reuse waste to safely boost agriculture and reduce and capture emissions for greener energy.

There are 4.2 billion people living without access to safely managed sanitation. The UN is taking action to solve the global sanitation crisis. The goal is to achieve water and sanitation for all by 2030. The cost to meet this goal according to a UN study,

Global and Regional Costs of Achieving Universal Access to Sanitation to Meet SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) Target 6.2 is estimated at US$ 114 billion needed annually from 2015 to 2030. 

In addition, the solution to the world’s toilet shortage does not need to be limited to traditional water-based sewage systems. For example, Sedron Technologies has developed the Firelight Toilet. The Firelight Toilet is “a household scale, point-of-use waste processing system that reduces the waste of a household to a sterile, phosphorus rich ash. The system also generates electrical power—enough to run itself continuously and provide a small amount of excess electricity to the household. In this way, there are no utility inputs or outputs to the system that require infrastructure; the unit is entirely self-contained, self-dependent, and off-the-grid.” The company notes that “It is (an) especially high value proposition in non-sewered areas including much of the developing world.”

And toilets for all can drive economic progress…one community at a time. 

Of course, providing toilets to the world drives economic productivity simply by spending the aforementioned billions to provide this basic amenity to the world. In addition, it can stem the tide of disease. 

As the world gets ravaged by the coronavirus, the economy is in the toilet. But the economy is driven by small ‘mom and pop’ businesses. And toilets for all can drive economic progress…one community at a time. 

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Tags: Covid-19, Financial crisis


Rob Wyse is an expert in communications. For thirty years, he has guided companies in creating compelling story arcs that connect brands to customers. At the heart of his storytelling has been the management of issues/policy to drive market opportunity. Companies he has worked with have had financial exits that exceed $16 US billion. Issues include AI, climate change, the future of work, diversity, and healthcare.

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