More People Have Cellphones Than Toilets

A blog about business and economics.
March 22 2013 2:21 PM

More People Have Cellphones Than Toilets

163762247
These Jakartans have Blackberrys, but do they have running water?

Photo by BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images

The future is already here, it's just unevenly distributed and thus it is now more common to have a mobile phone than a working toilet:

Surprisingly, the UN reports there are now more people with mobile phones (six billion for world population of seven billion) on earth than there are with access to clean toilets (4.5 billion).
That phenomenon is easily visible in Indonesia, for example, where it is common to see people who live in metal roofed shacks without bathrooms surfing Facebook on their smartphones or feature phones. And it shows how, in the developing world, multinationals are often better at responding to peoples’ needs than governments are.
Open defacation, while not widely discussed, causes illnesses such as diarrhea thatkill 4,500 children daily. Poor sanitation also hobbles emerging markets economically. According to the UN, the problem costs India $53.8 billion a year, while Nigeria loses $3 billion annually.
Advertisement

In rich countries we tend to think about technologies in terms of their order of adoption and it seems obvious that plumbing is more basic. But from an infrastructure investment standpoint, it's easier to build a mobile phone network than a sewer system. For that same reason, even though there tends not to be all that much competition in wireless telephony it's a lot less monopolistic than electricity. In other words, part of what makes the mobile phone a great technology is that it's useful to people even in parts of the world where the basic institutions of governance are really bad.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

TODAY IN SLATE

War Stories

The Right Target

Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.

The NFL Has No Business Punishing Players for Off-Field Conduct. Leave That to the Teams.

Meet the Allies the U.S. Won’t Admit It Needs in Its Fight Against ISIS

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

Should You Recline Your Seat? Two Economists Weigh In.

Medical Examiner

How to Stop Ebola

Survivors might be immune. Let’s recruit them to care for the infected.

History

America in Africa

The tragic, misunderstood history of Liberia—and why the United States has a special obligation to help it fight the Ebola epidemic.

New GOP Claim: Hillary Clinton’s Wealth and Celebrity Are Tricks to Disguise Her Socialism

Why the Byzantine Hiring Process at Universities Drives Academics Batty

Moneybox
Sept. 23 2014 3:29 PM The Fascinating Origins of Savannah, Georgia’s Distinctive Typeface
  News & Politics
History
Sept. 23 2014 11:45 PM America in Africa The tragic, misunderstood history of Liberia—and why the United States has a special obligation to help it fight the Ebola epidemic.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 23 2014 2:08 PM Home Depot’s Former Lead Security Engineer Had a Legacy of Sabotage
  Life
Education
Sept. 23 2014 11:45 PM Why Your Cousin With a Ph.D. Is a Basket Case  Understanding the Byzantine hiring process that drives academics up the wall.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 2:32 PM Politico Asks: Why Is Gabby Giffords So “Ruthless” on Gun Control?
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Sept. 23 2014 3:04 PM Chicago Gabfest How to get your tickets before anyone else.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 8:38 PM “No One in This World” Is One of Kutiman’s Best, Most Impressive Songs
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 5:36 PM This Climate Change Poem Moved World Leaders to Tears Today
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 23 2014 11:37 PM How to Stop Ebola Could survivors safely care for the infected?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 23 2014 7:27 PM You’re Fired, Roger Goodell If the commissioner gets the ax, the NFL would still need a better justice system. What would that look like?