In many urban countries, sanitation and waste disposal are extremely widespread issues. Improper handling of this waste can cause a litany of diseases for the people living in these countries. Considering the risk, one would assume that managing sanitization would be a top priority for the governments and people of these countries. However, it has been found that they are more concerned with gaining the use of mobile phones than to toilets; as a result, creating the situation in which there are more mobile phones on earth than toilets. In her article, “Oh, shit! Mobile phones are more common than toilets”, Jen Barr discusses the 5 top anthropological reasons why this phenomenon exists.
Her first reason is that people’s priorities make mobile phones more useful than toilets. Mobile phones can be used to do business, quickly obtain facts, and can even be used in transferring funds. Toilets have a more “indirect” benefit, in that every person in the community would need to have a toilet in order to see the general health improvements. Her second reason is that while toilets have to be maintained by the owner (cleaning the toilet and in some situations getting your tank pumped), cell phones are maintained mostly by whatever service provider a person has. Her third reason has to do with gender. Since in most of these underdeveloped countries woman’s place is in the home, toilets would be more important to woman. Since men handle most business affairs, a cell phone would be more important to them. Also considering the fact that men tend to be the monetary providers for these countries, it is no wonder that families choose to spend money on phones and not toilets. The fourth reason that she presents is that people tend to be more excited about cell phones than toilets, as you can do more with them and use them in public. Using toilets is generally a private thing and not something people generally get excited about. Her final reason is the obvious, that we do not need as many toilets as we need cell phones because toilets are shared and phones generally are not.
In general, mobile phones provide a more immediate benefit in the cultures of these people and help with a number of problems (financial, contacting family, etc.) that we do not face in our culture, so it is not that surprising that they would find mobile phones to be a more pertinent investment.