This is a WTO meeting where you won't find angry protesters waging street battles with burly police officers in tactical gear. The three-day 12th World Toilet Summit kicked off yesterday. Anger and anxiety usually mark global summits these days, but here, everyone seems relieved and relaxed. It helps that it's being held in sunny Hainan , where authorities promise to deliver and maintain nothing but the best and cleanest public toilets.
The World Toilet Organisation, the event's Singapore-based organiser, has picked a weighty theme for this year's summit. Indeed, it addresses nothing less than civilisation itself - 'Toilet Civilisation: Health, Tourism, Quality of Life'.
The WTO has a point. Proper pumping and sanitation are hallmarks of high civilisation. Think of the advanced state of pumping and sanitation engineering in ancient Rome, or water supply for bathhouses at the height of Islamic civilisation during the Abbasid and Umayyad periods. A proper history of toilets would be a history of civilisation itself.
The summit will also hold a toilet design contest, but competitors will face a tall order. Designs have to display local characteristics to reflect 'the cultural identity of its origin countries and region', yet the design must also be low-cost and use eco-friendly technology. It's not clear whether judges are required to try them personally to make a ruling.
The summit is also calling attention to the fact that 40 per cent of the world's population does not have proper sanitation. It is one of the most under-reported problems facing humankind today, but like the global economic crisis, requires concerted strategies by multinational bodies and governments.
Clean and adequate sanitation should be a human right. The WTO deserves credit for raising awareness as it has become one of Singapore's great cultural institutions contributing to worldwide relief, so to speak.