What if you can’t wash your hands?
Philippine Daily Inquirer
As the coronavirus threatens to become a “public health emergency,” many Filipinos still lack access to basic sanitation, said Cielito Habito. While nearly 9 in 10 Filipino families have a cellphone, only 3 in 4 have access to their own sanitary toilet. Among the poorest of us, the figure is barely 1 in 2. The coronavirus can spread through fecal matter as well as by airborne droplets, so it’s important that all of us have good toilet hygiene. But some 6 million Filipinos in rural areas defecate “in open fields and waterways,” which contaminates the water and makes children more prone to diarrhea and infections. That leaves the whole population more prone to sickness. The government has tried giving out toilets, with the idea that the residents would dig their own septic tanks. But I’ve visited rural homes only to see “a toilet bowl on the wall hanging like a vase, adorned with flowers.” The Manila Water Foundation has found that to make sure the toilets are put to use, you have to educate the locals on groundwater contamination and how it affects their children, and then leave an observer present while recipients dig their tanks. It’s “hard to change” the cultural habit of going outside—but if we are to combat disease, we’ll have to.