While working as an editor and writer at COLORS Magazine, Rose George was assigned to work on Cacas, a coffee table book featuring photographs of animal and human feces, for which “caca” is slang. Through the project, she discovered Sulabh International, an organization in India that provides public toilets and works to liberate those whose job it is to manually clean dry latrines with their bare hands. The organization also introduced her to the staggering statistics of sanitation. “I had got to my third decade while having no idea whatsoever that 2.6 billion people had no toilet,” George says.
Five years later, while freelancing for major publications like The New York Times, The Guardian, The Economist, and Slate, George was dumping all her sanitation knowledge into a book of her own on the side. The Big Necessity was published in 2008 by Portobello Books (UK) and Metropolitan Books (US), and, although George has gone on to write about other topics, she still blogs and tweets about sanitation, a topic which she says will come up again in her next book. “It baffles and infuriates me that [this issue] is still considered in some circles an unspeakable, impolite thing to talk about — if it’s not talked about, it won’t be solved!” George says. “A child dying of diarrhea is what is unspeakable, not the latrine that could save his or her life.”
What message does Rose George have for those who do not know a lot about sanitation issues? “Think back to the last time you couldn’t find a toilet — when you were shopping, or camping, or traveling abroad — think how desperate you felt. Imagine doing that several times a day. Imagine having to get up at 4 a.m. to find a dark field in which you can go to the toilet, wondering if a farmer or passerby is going to rape you while you are there, vulnerable. Imagine your child dying of something that can be solved with clean water, salt, and sugar. Sanitation is solvable.”
is an editorial intern for Circle of Blue. She studies journalism as an undergraduate at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications.