“All over the world, access to toilets is indicative of inequalities between populations”

Sociologist Julien Damon.

Julien Damon has just published Public toilets. Essay on urban conveniences (Presses de Sciences Po, 216 pages, 16 euros).

How do you think caring about public restrooms is caring about the state of the world?

Throughout the world, access to toilets reveals the disparities and inequalities between populations. A large part of the world’s population does not have access to daily sanitation and is forced, in the words of the UN, to “open defecation”. Fortunately, things tend to improve: in 2000, 1.3 billion people did not have daily access to toilets, and there are 500 million today. This development comes primarily from the investments made by China and India, as part of their policies to lift their populations out of poverty. Within our rich cities, access to toilets is also a problem for the homeless. And the question of access to sanitary facilities also arises for more and more mobile workers, in particular delivery people or VTC drivers.

Worldwide, how is access to toilets a major public health issue?

Some development economists explain that in poor urban areas, even before developing hospitals, the most important thing is to invest in toilets, because many diseases, such as cholera, are transmitted through sewage. . This disease is on the rise in certain poor countries, due to urbanization and the lack of sanitary facilities.

For you, is it also an ecological subject?

The flush mechanism connected to sanitation, patented in the 18th centurye century in England, spread to French bourgeois housing in the 19e century, before gradually spreading to all households in the post-war period. Today, this system poses a problem of overconsumption of water: we evacuate about 9 liters of water each time we go to the toilet. If access to sanitation is to be developed everywhere in the world, we cannot promote systems that waste so much. We must therefore innovate to find other means of evacuation. In rich cities, dry toilets will not be put in all buildings overnight, but some communities are developing experiments to recover rainwater or water from washing machines.

From a zero waste perspective, some also plead for us to reuse our waste instead of throwing it away…

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