More People Have Mobile Phones Than Toilets

It’s easier to put a phone in someone’s hand than it is to build a proper sanitation system. According to a UN report, 6 of 7 billion people in the world have mobile phones, while just 4.5 billion have access to a toilet or latrine.

While that might seem like an apples to oranges comparison, the contrast is interesting and somewhat alarming. It’s exactly why the Bill Gates is trying to build a new toilet that’s a better fit for developing countries. And considering today is World Water Day, it’s something to think about. Quartz points out that in Indonesia, for example, it’s pretty normal to see someone in a metal roofed shack without a bathroom checking Facebook on a phone. And though many countries’ governments aren’t responding to basic needs in terms of infrastructure, tech companies will damn well get phones in people’s hands.

Around 1.1 billion people live in countries where defecating in the open is still a very common practice. It can cause diarrhoea and other illnesses that kill about 4,500 children a day, and the countries where open defecation is most prevalent have the highest fatality rate for kids under five, the highest poverty levels and the biggest wealth disparities. But they have mobile phones.

Not that mobiles are necessarily a bad thing, because they also give people access to information about proper sanitation. The UN is working to improve the situation—it says since 1990, 1.8 billion people have gotten access to better sanitation. And while that situation is not going to fix itself over night, it’s worth drawing attention to.