The Last Taboo

Opening the Door on the Global Sanitation Crisis

Posted: 1 December 2008

Author: Maggie Black and Ben Fawcett. Earthscan/Unicef, 2008. £16.99 paperback

Except in schoolboy jokes, the subject of human waste is rarely aired. We talk about 'water-related' diseases when most are sanitation-related - in short, we don't mention the shit.

The Last Taboo cover
The Last Taboo cover
A century and a half ago, a long, hot summer reduced the Thames flowing past the UK Houses of Parliament to a 'Great Stink', thereby inducing MPs to legislate sanitary reform. Today, another sanitary reformation is needed, one that manages to spread cheaper and simpler systems to people everywhere.

In the byways of the developing world, much is quietly happening on the excretory frontier. In 2008, the International Year of Sanitation, the authors bring this awkward subject to a wider audience than the world of international filth usually commands. They seek the elimination of the 'Great Distaste' so that people without political clout or economic muscle can claim their right to a dignified and hygienic place to 'go'.

'The authors of this book bring out of the shadows an unmentionable subject, and call for a new sanitary revolution - on behalf of the environment and people's dignity. I endorse their call, and recommend this book for spelling out the urgency of the crisis.' - Sunita Narain, Director, Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi