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Updated: Jul 30, 2020

Growing up, my family considered "SHIT" to be a swear word. 

My teachers told me that shit is gross and unacceptable to discuss, and my co-workers were too embarrassed to shit at our workplace. 

What my educators never bothered to tell me is that SHIT kills.

''SHIT is like FIRE.
If you manage it properly - it will cook your meal.
If you don't manage it - it will burn down your house.
If you manage shit - it becomes fertilizer.
If you don't manage shit - it will kill you.'' - Jack Sim


In different parts of the world, the lack of access to toilets and sanitation is a huge issue that contributes to more than 700,000 child deaths annually.

2.3 billion people around the world don't have access to basic sanitation. 

In fact, more people in the world own a mobile phone than have access to a toilet.


A few months back I was invited by Borda - a German NGO - to travel to Zambia,

to cover a sanitation training they were hosting in the capital, Lusaka, for local workers in the sector.

I had my reservations about going.

I wasn't sure it was a gig for me, I have never covered this subject before.

I got in touch with my friend from Borda and told her about my uncertainty.

She had recommended me for my years of work around the global water crisis and reminded me how sanitation and hygiene are a crucial part of that crisis.

She was right.

Without access to water, people aren't able to use toilets, wash their hands, access proper sanitation, or practice safe hygiene - which in a COVID world remains vitally important.

I realized that my coverage of water had always followed the same thread and that this angle was fundamentally different. It was no longer a rural village in the golden savannah.

It was set in the crowded capital city of Zambia, with poor urban infrastructure and struggling facilities. The setting was different, but the narrative was similar.

Welcome to Lusaka

Lusaka is an impressive capital and one of the fastest developing cities in Africa,

However, access to improved sanitation has fallen over the last 15 years, and most living in low-income communities lack proper sewerage. 

Lusaka, Zambia. Photo by Lior Sperandeo

The absence of proper water and sanitation creates significantly poor community outcomes, including fewer students attending school, a substantial burden on women, and a decrease in work productivity. 

To those of us with easy access to toilets, we don't think about their value much.

We see toilets as a place to relieve ourselves and flush it away, but toilets mean a lot more than that!

They mean health, safety, privacy, and more. 


The story of Samson

In every shit story, there are unsung heroes.

In this story, that hero is Samson and his mighty crew of pit latrine emptiers. 

Pit latrine emptiers, Lusaka, Zambia

They empty the toilet pits and septic tanks in the community; enter inspection holes and sewers to fix or unblock them; then transport the faecal waste to treatment plants,

while maintaining the sanitation facilities. 

Pit latrine emptiers, Lusaka, Zambia. Lior Sperandeo

Residents may be fortunate enough to have pit latrines and septic tanks, but if these aren't emptied regularly, waste flows into the groundwater, contaminating the environment and surrounding water supplies.