Of Mobile Phones and Commodes

One of the biggest changes in technology over the last few years has been the global explosion of cell phones. In many communities, lagging behind the developed world in land-line phone infrastructure, the people have completely skipped that step and have jumped directly to cell phone use. Two years ago, Keith Williams and Leith Gray wrote an article highlighting the potential of using mobile phones in cross-cultural Christian evangelism. Though the numbers have changed some since 2010, here are a few interesting points they collected for their article:

• There are more than 5 billion cell phone subscriptions in the world.

• Today’s smart phone is thousands of times more powerful than the computers that sent Apollo astronauts to the moon.

• The CEO of Google predicts that smart phone sales will surpass those of PCs by 2013, and by the same year, cell-phone data traffic will increase 66 times.

• Leading up to 2009, cell-phone use by Africans grew 550% in 5 years.

• In India, 20 million people each month get new cell-phone lines, in fact, “the people of India now have better access to mobile phones than to toilets.”

(Williams and Gray, “The Little Phone That Could: Mobile-Empowered Ministry,” International Journal of Frontier Missiology, Fall 2010)

I found these statistics to back up that last statement: A recent survey in India shows that while 53.2% of the people have cell phones, only 46.9% have toilets inside their homes. This means that the majority of the population must use public latrines (3.2%) or simply relieve themselves outside (49.8%).

(P. Sunderarajan, “Half of India’s Homes Have Cellphones, but Not Toilets,” The Hindu, March 14, 2012)

India is not the only country with this problem, and it’s a serious problem. According to Toilet Twinning,

2.6 billion people—that’s 40% of the world’s population—don’t have somewhere safe, clean and hygienic to go to the loo. The human impact of this scandalous stat is enormous: nearly one in five child deaths each year is due to diarrhea.

What is Toilet Twinning? It’s a partnership between UK-based charities Cord and Tearfund that allows donors to “twina toilet in their own home by paying for a new one to be built in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, or Cambodia. The cost for each one is £60 (about  US$100) and payments can be made from outside the UK using PayPal. Donors receive a framed certificate showing the new latrine, along with its GPS coordinates.

And just to bring this post full circle . . . Toilet Twinning reports that 1/4 of the people in Great Britain are serious multi-taskers, using their cell phones—for talking, texting, emailing, Facebooking, or Tweeting—while sitting on the commode.

(“Lifting the Lid on Britain’s Toilet Habits,” Toilet Twinning, November 19, 2010)

[photo: “toilet-phone,” by jan zeschky, used under a Creative Commons license]