Thursday, July 21, 2011

Gates Foundation's New Sanitation Program Focus: The Toliet

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced recently that it will invest more money into improving sanitation services in poor countries around the world.

$42 million dollars will be added to an ever increasing budget that aims to encourage innovation and focus on a basic human need that is oftentimes overlooked. Even the original eight Millennium Goals drawn up by the UN back in 2000 did not include improvement of sanitation.

However, sanitation is a big problem. An estimated 2.6 billion people lack access to safe sanitation. One billion people defecate openly. Diarrhea is the number one killer of children in Africa, which can easily change if sanitary practices are improved. If we keep going at our current rate, by 2049 only 77 percent of the world population will have flushable toilets.

"No innovation in the past 200 years has done more to save lives and improve health than the sanitation revolution triggered by the invention of the toilet. But it did not go far enough. It only reached one-third of the world. What we need are new approaches, new ideas. In short, we need to reinvent the toilet," said Sylvia Matthews Burwell recently at a conference in Rwanda.

Already progress has been made on innovating the toilet along with other new sanitation technologies. Designs are in progress to develop waterless toilets that don't rely on sewer connections. Companies are coming up with hygienic ways to empty pits and process waste.

To make sanitation practices worthwhile, new technology has to be both relevant to the community and implementable in a cheap fashion. Ultimately, improving conditions at the very basic level of community life, such as sanitation, will impact other needs that operate at a higher level such as education, health, and economic standing.

-Chelsey Dambro