The author of The Progress Paradox, Gregg Easterbrook, writes a weekly column for called Tuesday Morning Quarterback during football season. I didn’t get a chance to read it Tuesday because I was still in Vegas. I love Easterbrook because he’s not afraid to tackle social issues in the middle of discussing the merits of good run-blocking. Buried in the middle of this week’s football news he wrote the following:

Last week the British Medical Journal, a technical publication, released a survey in which physicians said sewers, not antibiotics or vaccines, were the greatest public health advance of the past two centuries. Those who live in the favored cities of the West should never take sanitation for granted. The construction of sewage systems in European and American cities, beginning in the late 19th century, dramatically lowered rates of disease, to say nothing of making cities more livable; lowered disease in turn helped Western nations grow more productive and affluent. Today much of the developing world is held back by the fact that its citizens are often sick, and thus not productive. Open conduits of sewage run down the streets of many large developing-world cities; raw sewage pours directly into the Ganges, where bathers are supposed to go for purification rites. In many developing nations the No. 1 need is clean water: clean drinking water, buried sewer systems and modern wastewater treatment plants. The United States appears to have wasted nearly $1 trillion in Iraq. That sum could have brought modern public sanitation to the 25 largest cities of the developing world, and made America the hero of the world’s poor for generations.

There is one comment on this post

  1. What a great point. As of a few years ago, the average distance a person in Kenya had to walk each day for clean drinking water was 12.2 miles. Everyday.

    Running water and sewers that work are pretty cool. We should be thankful.

Add to the discussion:

I'll never share your email address and it won't be published.

What Is This? is the personal weblog of me, David Vincent Gagne. I've been publishing here since 1999, which makes this one of the oldest continuously-updated websites on the Internet.

A few years ago I was trying to determine what cocktails I could make with the alcohol I had at home. I searched the App Store but couldn't find an app that would let me do that, so I built one.


You can read dozens of essays and articles and find hundreds of links to other sites with stories and information about Ernest Hemingway in The Hemingway Collection.