Myanmar: Lessons to Be Learned

by Larry Losoncy, PhD, for Campground & RV Park E-News

Writing in the May 19, 2008 NY Times Op Ed section, Rose George talks about the health hazard being posed by lack of proper sanitation. Cyclone Nargis struck a region with almost no toilets. Now millions of people simply urinate and defecate anywhere and everywhere.  One gram of human feces can contain up to 10 million viruses and 50 communicable diseases. These diseases include cholera, meningitis and typhoid. All a child needs to do is play in the ground and then dip a finger in the rice bowl from which the survivors often eat, and thereby a plague is launched. In the world today diarrhea trails only pneumonia as the biggest killer of small children, greater than tuberculosis, AIDS or malaria. Rose George notes that the number of children killed by diarrhea is equivalent to a jumbo jet crashing every hour.

What does any of this have to do with the rest of the world, including the United States?

Lesson one: disease from improper sanitation can happen anywhere from one finger in the dirt that was used as somebody’s toilet.

Lesson two: gone forever are the days when it didn’t matter if on occasion somebody used trees and weeds to relieve themselves. It matters now because there are so many people that what we leave can easily come in contact with another person, simply because there are so many of us even in out of the way places. It should also be noted: the disease-bearing pathogens quickly die when exposed to oxygen. That is why cow patties do not pose any great harm. Most of the pathogens are in the solids, not the urine. If the solids are on top of the ground they will quickly become harmless. It is when solids get covered with dirt that the pathogens have a better chance to survive, because they are protected from oxygen.

Lesson three: contrary to what many of us have always been taught, it follows that when we are forced to use the outdoors to relieve ourselves it is not a good idea to bury what we leave.

Please accept apologies for any breech of etiquette this information may seem to present. None of us enjoy bringing up subjects like human waste. In fact, as Rose George points out, reluctance to talk out loud about these sorts of things is rampant in the world today.  It greatly hinders the effort to get an accurate focus on the true danger being posed in disaster areas – the terrible danger of disease being spread because of inadequate sanitation facilities.

Parks and campsites are not immune to these dangers, even though they are anything but disaster areas. It is important that there be adequate and easily accessible sanitation facilities wherever people might go walking, seek solitude, play, fish or watch birds. The trouble starts when such facilities are not readily available or amenable.

The trouble also starts in times of flooding. It only takes one flood, hence the importance of planning ahead. What is the plan for evacuation for your park or campgrounds in the event of flooding? Remember, flooding need not be a hurricane or typhoon or tidal wave. It can be caused by a one-hour cloudburst. Folks do not need to be stranded on rooftops for the event to be a flood. Two or three feet of water in the wrong place can be a flood and can present the dangers of electrocution, drowning, disease, and disruption of infrastructure such as destruction of roads, water supply, electricity and sanitation.

We all need to pay careful attention to the regulations governing land use, evacuation routes, provision of safe shelters for storms, emergency preparedness and health and environmental protection. For most of us regulations constitute an obstacle. We often view them as added expenses, added delays in obtaining permits, or irritants serving no useful purpose. But in fact regulations evolve out of experience. What is learned in one disaster gives rise to regulations designed to prevent more of same.

Remember, the little pains of regulatory compliance, even when expensive, are nothing in comparison to the great pain, loss and expense that could happen when there is not regulatory compliance!


Larry Losoncy is the president of Clean Up America, Inc. The company manufactures and markets  The Sanitizer™ non-discharge, evaporative toilet.  To learn more about The Sanitizer™ please go to