It’s scary to imagine a world without plumbers

By: Allen Inlow – IAPMO senior vice president of business and product development

In the spirit of the sharing of unique experiences that shape the plumbing industries in our respective nations, the following column demonstrates the often overlooked importance of plumbers. Written by Allen Inlow, IAPMO’s senior vice president of business and product development, it is the next in a regular series of similar articles that will run in this magazine.

Recently, two back-to-back news stories set my imagination reeling. The first story was about a campaign called ‘Not There’, which focuses on International Women's Day and asks the question: What if women were not there? The next story was about a refugee camp in Syria overwhelmed by the lack of food, water, and sanitation.

My thought was: What if plumbers were not there? As I looked at the pictures of the refugee camp, I knew exactly what the world would look like if plumbers were not here.

In the Middle Ages, the average human life expectancy was barely beyond the teen years. People lived in squalor and filth. The muddy streets were the receptacle of not only household waste, but often animal and even human waste as well. Cesspools stood open. The famous moats surrounding castles were not pretty little streams of fresh water. Instead, they were the muck of sewage. There were no reliable sources of clean drinking water.

In 2007, the British Medical Journal asked readers to nominate the greatest medical advance of the past 150 years. Antibiotics? The pacemaker? Computerised tomography (CT) scan? No, the winner was sanitation. Sanitation may seem to be a bit mundane but, along with clean water and decent housing, the 20th century saw life expectancy increase by 35 years. It was gratifying to read that the country that was the epicentre of the Blank Plague in the 1600s, a disease that infected about one-third of the total population, has once again recognised sanitation as the greatest advancement.

Today, in industrialised countries, life expectancy runs well into the 80s.

And it is not only life expectancy that benefits; quality of life also improves. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that, for every dollar spent on improving sanitation, nine times that amount is generated in economic benefits. If sanitation guidelines were met globally, WHO estimates a $66 billion (approx. R815 billion) gain in time, productivity, averted illness and death, with a rise of 0,3-0,4% economic growth annually.

In modern America, it is the plumber who ensures each and every household has clean water running through the taps. It is the plumber who ensures that waste is properly handled, preventing diseases and infection from spreading. It is the plumber, often unsung and taken for granted, who ranks right up there with modern medicine in keeping us healthy and living a full life well into our sunset years.

Read more about this feature in Plumbing Africa September page 43.

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