It's a few days after Thanksgiving, but nevertheless, I'm thankful for sanitation.
Here at Food Matters, we spend a lot of time talking about the things that go into our mouths, but throughout the world, the stuff that happens on the other end is almost as important. According to the UN, one in three people on the planet - about 2.5 billion people - don't have access to proper sanitation. At its core, this simply means that they have no effective means to separate their poop from their water.
It's hard to overstate the burden this places on human populations. The World Heatlh Organization estimates (pdf) that 40% of childhood mortality is due to diarrheal disease (the majority of which is transmitted by contaminated water), not to mention the economic impacts of lost work days, and medical treatment.
In the US, we're fortunate to be largely protected from these diseases, but it wasn't always so. In an old but still relevant episode of Radiolab, Dickson Despomier describes the credible case that economic depression in the American South was due to an intestinal parasite:
And just this week on Marketplace, Rahul Tandon describes efforts to get toilets to the millions of people in India that don't have access (I couldn't find a direct link - skip ahead to 9:45).