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Of World Bank, 
Toilet Paper and Washing Soap 

AgBioIndia 23sep02

There are times when one wonders why the World Bank is so starved of common sense. We believe the main reason for this is that the more educated you get (and from the so-called best universities) the more detached you get from the ground realties. The World Bank is one such place, which is over-stuffed with economists and specialists who live in their own imaginary world, and in the process lack the most important of the senses -- common sense.

No wonder when the World Bank announced its new initiative on "washing hands" for reducing most of deaths in the developing world accruing from Cholera and dysentery, we were only amused. Not only the World Bank, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine also joined hands. After all, lack of sanitation is the cause for more than three quarters of the diseases world-wide. Well, while the "washing hands" initiative will surely help the multinational soap industry to help wash World Bank's dirty laundry, we wonder whether the World Bank and the London Institute ever launch an initiative to ask the developed countries to fight the malady of the worst unhygienic practice that the human society knows of -- using toilet paper and you know where. Can the London School of Hygiene (and of course the World Bank) tell us how the use of toilet paper is hygienic? And how do we know that the unhygienic trend that the west has lived with for ages is not responsible for all the major diseases and skin ailments that prevail?

Launching an initiative against the use of toilet paper would also help save forests. Instead of selling soaps, which again would pollute environment, Sir Richard Jolly and his team should focus their energies on getting the West rid of the dirty habit of using toilet paper. Staying clean also helps in clean thoughts, and that is what common sense is all about.

The two articles below expose the folly of a misplaced initiative.


It's about selling soaps to the poor 


Did the UN convene the World Summit on Sustainable Development to develop timeline for resolving contentious global environmental concerns or to make the world realize the significance of sanitation as a major development goal? Going by the outcome, it is evident that the world was undivided on just one issue -- sanitation -- at Johannesburg. Unless 2.4 billion people, mostly in the developing south, get basic sanitation facilities the world cannot be considered developed, the Summit proclaimed.

Not insignificant by any means, the least of all contentious issues gained widespread support from diverse stakeholders. "Lack of sanitation is the cause for more than three quarters of diseases world-wide,'' announced Sir Richard Jolly, Chair of the Geneva-based multi-stakeholder organisation the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC). Cholera and dysentery alone account for the death of seven million children every year, or 6000 every day. If people could wash hands properly, most of these deaths could be under control, he remarked.

Taking words to action, the WSSCC launched its ambitious campaign to promote hand washing. Nicknamed WASH, the campaign sought to package water, sanitation and hygiene as a solution to bring sanitation within reach of the billions. But much to everybody's surprise, the campaign was not launched in the Ivory Park shanties on the outskirts of Johannesburg but in the decidedly un-African part of the up-market Sandton, the venue of the Summit.

Not without reason though, as the campaign aimed to firm-up public-private partnership to promote `hand-washing'. For Unilever, Colgate Palmolive and Procter & Gamble, it was a promotion campaign they could not have ever imagined. Under patronage of the governments and UN agencies, these multinational personal care companies will make inroads into a hitherto unexplored market segment. "It's a win-win situation,'' commented a corporate spokesman.

The WSSCC campaign will open the unexplored soap market segment of an estimated US$10 billion annually. By no means insignificant, the hand-washing campaign will create space for the multi-national companies amongst the underprivileged in the bargain. To be launched simultaneously in Ghana and in India in October this year, the campaign is one direct gain for the corporates from the Summit that is believed to have been hijacked by multi-national corporations.

Not many will consider it in that light, at least not Sir Jolly and his colleagues at the WSSCC. For them, it is a cost that the world and more so the poor must pay to ensure a healthy living. No wonder, therefore, that unlike other issues there was a broad political consensus on it amongst all stakeholders. The governments and UN agencies will perform their pro-poor obligation of making the communities aware of the virtues of hand washing, leaving the private companies to harvest the gains.

In India, half a billion people do not have access to proper sanitation. With such underprivileged people scattered around in rural and peri-urban areas, reaching them is a costly proposition for any soap-selling corporation. Now that the WASH campaign is here to facilitate the process, many more companies will enter the soap market to get a share of the cake. Furthermore, the campaign will provide the required fillip to already ongoing efforts of hygiene education by UNICEF.

For the industry that has been going through a lean patch following September 11, such an offer 'on a platter' could not have come at a better time. Curiously, multinational giants are upbeat about finding a new window of opportunity. "It is about increasing the market,'' remarked Uri Jain, General Manager of Hindustan Lever. Though pushing products amongst the socially disadvantaged isn't new, social investments by the government and UN agencies in the process provides a much-desired legitimacy and a tag of social responsiveness to the corporations.

But for people of Ghana, it will be another confrontation on the cards. Already they are aggressively opposing a World Bank-advocated privatisation scheme that would lease out the country's urban water systems for a song. The scheme was hatched in 1995, and may be implemented in 2003. Tipped at benefiting a private service provider, the scheme is being contested on the grounds that it will tax the poor with increased water tariff. Thanks to WASH, the poor will have another corporate monster to confront with.

Dr Sudhirendar Sharma is an author and a water expert attached to the Delhi-based The Ecological Foundation. Email: sudhirendar@vsnl.net 

"Saving lives or destroying lives?" 
World Bank sells synthetic soap & cleanliness to Kerala:
the land of health and hygiene

VANDANA SHIVA vshiva@vsnl.com

One of the outcomes of the recently concluded World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD)* was the public-private partnership project "Washing Hands" launched by the World Bank, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, USAID, UNICEF, WHO and soap companies such as Unilever, Procter & Gamble and Colgate Palmolive. The project talks of "saving lives" through reducing diarrhoeal diseases by half, by doubling hand washing by selling soap. The only problem with the project is that Kerala has been chosen as the state to implement the "Washing Hands" project in India even though Kerala has the highest hygiene standards, lowest diarrhoeal deaths, highest awareness on prevention of diarrhoeal diseases, lowest childhood mortality, highest female literacy. Kerala has the highest access to safe water, highest knowledge of prevention of diarrhoea because of high female literacy and local health practices such as use of jeera water and high use of fluids during diarrhoea. The World Bank project is an insult to Kerala's knowledge regarding health and hygiene. It is in fact Kerala from where cleanliness and hygiene should be exported to the rest of the world. People of Kerala do not need a World Bank loan for being taught cleanliness.

If Kerala has been chosen for the World Bank project claiming to reduce diarrhoeal deaths in spite of having the lowest incidence of childhood diarrhoea, quite clearly the project is not about "saving lives" but merely about "selling soap" and using the propaganda machinery to make invisible and destroy Karala's high health and hygiene standards.

Kerala has the richest indigenous systems for non-chemical, non-polluting natural hygiene products - from biodiversity such as "shikakai", a herbal soap, to natural soap making at the small-scale level. The project is thus an attempt to destroy indigenous knowledge, indigenous biodiversity and indigenous economies. It is a project to destroy lives, not save lives by destroying employment in local cottage based industries as well as introducing polluting chemical based toxic detergents from global corporations. This violent imposition of a colonizing project is ironically being launched on 2nd October, Gandhi's birthday, which should celebrate non-violent alternatives to toxic products from global corporations.

The project is also launched to legitimise water privatisation through private-public partnerships, which are aimed at undermining people's water rights and the State's duties to protect water and people's water rights. The case of Coca Cola destroying water in Kerala by extracting 1.5m litres per day for its bottling plant is an example of how "private-public Partnerships" are a recipe for over exploitation of scarce fresh water resources and a threat to people's water rights and a recipe for creating thirst and disease.

So called Type II agreements between unaccountable governments, international agencies and global corporations launched at WSSD, such as the Kerala project, are an attempt to privatise the earth resources and colonize people's everyday lives.

The World Bank should apologize to the people of Kerala for this insulting project.

The people of Kerala should wash their hands off the World Bank "Washing Hands" project. All NGOs, government agencies participating in it should be forced to withdraw.

We commit ourselves to working with the women's movements, health movements, and ecology movements of Kerala to

List of few natural-cleaning agents:

Amla powder (hair)
Fenugreek powder (hair)
Hibiscus leafs and flowers (hair)
Cheru kizhang (bulb of herbal plant) (hair)
Kacholam (a herbal plant's root) (hair)
Water removed after cooking rice (use next day) (hair)
Moong powder (hair and body)
Gulmohar's skin's powder (body)
Turmeric (body)
Basen (body)
Fibers from coconut (body scrubber)
Pepper plant's stem and leafs (tooth)
Mango trees leaf (tooth)
Neem stem (tooth)
Burned rice bran (tooth)
Burned out cover of coconut flower (tooth)
Pepper & salt whole (both powdered together) (tooth)
Cow dung (use water after settle down) (cloth)
Ash of coconut's plats leaf stem (cloth)
Ash (any) (kitchen vessels)
Brick powder (big cooking vessels)
Tamarind (copper, silver and brass vessels)

* The corporate hijack of the Earth summit (Rio+10) was the overall outcome,
so the WSSD had mutated into W$$D.
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