From a massive sewage treatment plant just south of Los Angeles to India's once-sacred, now polluted Yamuna River, my team of producers and I had set off on a mission to track how the lack of sanitation in many countries has had a devastating impact on public health.
I could tell you we were looking for clean water amidst the contamination, but that's just being polite, and being polite is part of the problem. It's a very big part of how even in the 21st century, some 2.6 billion people--40 percent of the world's population--are still defecating in the open rather than in toilets connected to a proper sewage treatment system.
We went to India and Indonesia because we were looking for shit. When people defecate in rivers, fields and gutters, the water becomes contaminated with shit. Food gets contaminated. And people get sick. An estimated 2 million deaths a year, largely among children, could be prevented by improving access to toilets. And yet very little has been done to end the world's toilet crisis.
One reason for the inaction is that few people--and almost no one with the political or popular cache to command international attention--have stepped forward to speak plainly about what's happening and what's at stake. Jack Sim, a businessman who founded the World Toilet Organization, has spearheaded efforts in Indonesia to make toilets both affordable and desirable. But as Sim told me, there's no "Angelina Jolie of toilets."
I don't think the movement needs an Angelina Jolie. I think it needs someone like Jonah Hill--who in "Get Him to the Greek" spends what seems like half the movie mired in scatological humor--or any of the other actors in hit gross-out comedies who have made a living and a name for themselves making fart jokes.
Let's face it, talking about toilets would be a classy step up from this:
If we want to seriously address the fact that 40 percent of the world's population lack a simple flush toilet--which The Lancet, a British medical journal, called the most important health innovation of the last 150 years--we're all going to have to be willing to get a little grossed out.
The World's Toilet Crisis" airs Wednesday, June 9 at 10/9c on Current TV. For more, go to current.com/vanguard.›