More people in the world have cellphones than the number of people who have access to toilets


Here’s a potentially disturbing statistic from a UN report, depending on how you think about it. There are currently more people in the world that have cellphones than people with access to toilets. There are 7 billion people in the world. 6 billion of them have cellphones. Only 4.5 billion have access to toilets.

The reason why I say it’s disturbing is because in some way, it sounds like there’s more being done about getting cellphones into people’s hands than there is getting more sanitation into people’s reaches. While there are obviously a lot of these people in developing countries, and the governments and infrastructures of those places are a whole other story, it’s a little disconcerting when cellphones aren’t very uncommon in those places as well.

It’s a strange statistic, I know. They’re not even really connected with each other. But somehow, it all makes sense and as Leslie Horn of Gizmodo says, it’s something worth drawing attention to.

[via UN, Gizmodo, image via Tony Alter]

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  • Enrique

    [@AFPhy6] Nice find! The report I saw was from the BBC but I didn’t look into it too much cause I was just trying to answer Mr. Dave and Ashraf’s question :p

    Thanks for that! I must have spoke too soon — I realized that I myself know a bunch of people with multiple phones.

    And it’s also pretty common for people to have a work phone to go along with their personal phone!

  • Ashraf

    [@Enrique] [@AFPhy6] This. Anyone that has lived in Asia probably knows how easy it is to acquire multiple SIMs. There is a reason dual-SIM phones are so popular in that part of the world.

  • Ashraf

    [@AFPhy6] That comment went to spam, for some reason. I’ve moderated it now, though. Sorry about that.

  • sl0j0n

    Hello, all.
    Sounds normal.
    I mean, you can live w/out a toilet, right?
    But how many people can live w/out their cellfones?
    Everyday, I see fools that would rather die w/ their cells up to their ears, rather than drive & live.

    Have a GREAT day, neighbors!

  • Seamus McSeamus


    I wonder if Russia also has 60% more toilets than population? Hmmmm…

  • AFPhy6

    I wrote a comment 20 minutes ago that must have been lost saying that I knew many people with more than one cell phone… including one woman who has at least 6 “ObamaPhones”… and we wonder why the US gov’t is broke? So I disagreed with your assessment “until we get real numbers instead of anecdotes.”

    I must have forgot to hit post.

    Anyway, I couldn’t get away from the subject, and finally found a well reasoned, pretty “official” site updated in 2012:

    From there:
    “• Wireless Intelligence (October 2012) estimates that there are 6.6 billion total connections in 2012 globally, excluding M2M. Of these it believes 10 percent are inactive, bringing the total down to 5.9 billion. Estimating that consumers use on average 1.85 SIM cards each, Wireless Intelligence concludes that unique mobile users worldwide currently stands at 3.2 billion. That means unique subscriber penetration is just 45 percent in 2012.”

    There is plenty more at that web site, including that Russia has 60% more cell phone subscriptions than population.

  • AFPhy6

    I know many people with multiple cellphone subscriptions, especially the TrakPhone pre-paid types. In fact, I think that most of those I know have two cell phones, only one being an expensive plan. So, I have to disagree with you pending actual numbers instead of anecdotes.

    (I know one person who has been given on the order of 6 “ObamaPhones” by the wonderful US gov’t, too…)

  • Enrique

    [@Mr.Dave] [@Ashraf] Hello! According to report by the International Telecommunication Union, there were around 6 billion mobile phone subscriptions by the end of 2011.

    So yeah, there is a ton of people of out there with cellphones. Different people. Multiple subscriptions are very rare :)

  • Ashraf

    [@Mr.Dave] That is a very good point. Good catch. I have no idea but I’d be interested if anyone finds out.

  • Mr.Dave

    I wonder if there are 6 billion different people with cell phones, or 6 billion active cell phones (I’m sure many people have more than 1 — for example I have one at work and one at home), or that 6 billion cell phones have been sold (I’m on my 3rd one and I’m ssslllooowwww to upgrade). On the other, er, hand, some houses have more toilets than people….

  • Ashraf

    I think this has a whole lot to do with ease of access. Cellphones are really easy to purchase and use. Heck, they are hella cheap too nowadays — even smartphones. Toilets, on the other hand, are a lot harder to get; they require plumbing which requires construction. You can’t simply go to market and purchase a toilet to use. You can with cellphones.

    Does that justify the situation? No. But it does seem logical, if you consider how many developing nations probably don’t have master plans for their cities but rather experience more unorganized, organic growth.