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Editor's Note: This post, written by Matt Hickman, discusses the partnership between Google and India’s Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD) to roll out a new Toilet Locator app in a country where only 36.4 percent of households have a toilet. This post originally appeared on Mother Nature Network, to view the original post please click here.


Finding a clean, public toilet in Delhi (and potentially other major Indian cities) will soon be less of a health-compromising hassle thanks to Google Maps. (Photo credit: jenny downing/flickr)

World Toilet Day, an annual United Nations-sanctioned day of observance drawing attention to the 2.4 billion people around the world without access to clean and safe sanitation, dropped this past November in typically splashy fashion: a Coldplay and Jay-Z concert, the unveiling of a Gates Foundation poop smell-blocking perfume and enough well-meaning potty puns to last well into the new year.

While World Toilet Day is global in scope, much of the awareness-raising, activism-inspiring action this year — aforementioned Coldplay and Jay-Z concert included — was centered around India, a country where an estimated 70 percent of households in both rural and urban areas don’t enjoy the luxury of having a functioning commode. For a majority of India’s 1.2 billion citizens, defecating and urinating in the open is the norm.

Similar to other developing nations, cellphones are far more prevalent than toilets in India. As backwards as this may seem to Westerners, it’s a reality for millions of Indian households. According to a 2012 census, 60 percent of Indian households surveyed have one or more mobile devices while only 36.4 percent of households have a toilet.

Given these statistics, a new partnership between Google and India’s Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD) seems like a match in clean sanitation heaven: the introduction of a Google Maps tool that points users in the direction of toilets that are clean, safe and open for public use. As reported by the International Business Times India, the toilet-finder tool launched in December in Delhi, India’s second most populous city, before potentially becoming available in other major population cities, although the timeline is unclear.

How the app works

Of course, the tool, dubbed Google Toilet Locator, won’t solve India’s underlying toilet shortage problem or reverse cultural attitudes regarding al fresco urination. However, it does help on-the-go Delhi residents more easily find somewhere to go if need be. While we've written about urban toilet-finder apps in the past, those have been more or less spurred by convenience (and excessive drinking). Google Toilet Locator, piloted in a city of 25 million where public toilets are far and few between, is more driven by necessity.

An unnamed official with the MoUD explains to the IBTimes India that the Google Toilet Locator will pull up all known public lavatories — sulabh shauchalays — across the National Capital Region along with harder-to-find loos located inside of shopping malls, gas stations, hospitals, etc. Listing both deluxe flush situations and standard no-frills squat options, the tool itself is integrated into Google Maps. Mobile users simply must open the app and enter one of numerous keywords in English or Hindi — “toilet,” “restroom,” “lavatory,” “swachhata,” “shauchalay,” etc. — and they’ll be directed to the nearest option based on their location.

Just like a restaurant or retail establishment, Delhi residents — and visitors — can use Google Toilet Locator to rate and comment on specific public restrooms, either providing a glowing recommendation or warning others to stay away.

Explains an official with the MoUD: “The system being put in place relies heavily on crowdsourcing, with people's feedback helping fuel it. Therefore, if a person finds that a toilet is not clean, he or she can give it a bad review or rating, the facility for which is available on Google Maps.”

Considering that many Delhi residents who will be potentially using the app don’t have a toilet of their own at home, knowing if a public restroom is clean — or even open — is all the more important. Foreign tourists aside, for a large majority of folks using Google Toilet Locator, there isn’t the option of “holding it until I get home.”

Sanitation ... it's a work issue too

Google Toilet Locator is just one of many events and initiatives launched in conjunction with World Toilet Day, which as is tradition, boasts an annual theme. This past year, in order to spotlight the oft-overlooked link between economic livelihoods and sanitation, the theme was “Toilets and Jobs.”

For most, the topic of toilets and jobs usual revolves around ill-timed toilet paper shortages, privacy peccadilloes, rude noises or knowing to avoid the men’s room for at least 15 minutes after Ron from accounting goes in. For others, the workplace — and perhaps home, as well — might completely lack a clean, safe bathroom option. Poor sanitation has a direct link to economic well-being — that is, things like absenteeism, exhaustion and decreased productivity rise when employees don’t have access to a toilet at work or at home. In addition to impacting performance, the illnesses associated with poor sanitation keep workers off the job, sometimes temporarily and sometimes for good.

As the World Toilet Day website stresses, providing women with adequate and private bathroom facilities is of particular importance in developing areas.

And because it just wouldn't be World Toilet Day without a video featuring dancing animated poos, here's this past year's offering, which in keeping with the jobs theme, also features a variety of hard-working, life-saving "professional" toilets.

Gates Foundation, Asian Development Bank Fund Three Sanitation Projects

The Sanitation Financing Partnership Trust Fund, an initiative of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Asian Development Bank, has awarded three grants to help provide safe sanitation facilities in urban and rural communities across Asia.

Created in 2013 with $15 million from the Gates Foundation and administered by ADB, the fund will leverage more than $28 million in financing over the next five years for non-sewered sanitation and septage management projects across Asia. Grants announced by the fund include $2 million for ADB’s Facility for Pilot and Demonstration Activity, which will test and validate pilot approaches to new sanitation management and water services delivery policies, technologies, and business models, with the goal of replicating and scaling successful approaches across the region; and $1.6 million for pilot innovations in septage collection and treatment systems in eight coastal towns in Bangladesh. Part of a planned ADB loan to Bangladesh for infrastructure improvements, the grant also will support efforts to improve septage operation and maintenance, and to promote private-sector participation in septage management.

In addition, the fund awarded a grant to the South Asia Urban Knowledge Hub (k-hub), a network of four research and training institutions in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka supported by ADB that works to facilitate information and learning exchange among city managers, utility staff, policy makers, academics, and the private sector.

"We will continue to work with the governments in Asia-Pacific region to make countries open defecation-free and complement their efforts by providing options for small-scale sanitation systems in urban and rural communities," said Amy Leung, director of the Urban Development and Water Division in ADB's Southeast Asia Department. "We are proud to support new testing and pilot implementation of innovative solutions to hasten access to safe sanitation for Asia’s urban poor."

"Open defecation and inadequate toilets, sewers, and wastewater treatment systems lead to massive amounts of untreated human waste in the environment, harming the health and well-being of children," said Brian Arbogast, director of the Water, Sanitation & Hygiene team at the Gates Foundation. "We are delighted to have new partners like the ADB applying creative thinking to more effectively managing human waste to improve people’s lives."

"Three New Projects Receive Funding Across Asia to Improve Safe Sanitation." Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Press Release 03/11/2014.

"ADB, Gates Foundation Launch Initiatives to Spur Sanitation Innovation." Asian Development Bank Press Release 03/12/2014. 

Muna Wehbe, CEO of the Stars Foundation

Editor’s Note: This guest blog was authored by Muna Wehbe, CEO of the UK-based Stars Foundation. In the piece, Muna describes the foundation’s Impact Awards, a cornerstone of its programming, and explains why the award categories were expanded this year to recognize local organizations that have made an impact on the lives of children through interventions in WASH.

 At the Stars Foundation, we have spent the last 12 years identifying and investing in exceptional organizations working to improve the lives of disadvantaged children. Since 2007, we have focused our energy on the annual Impact Awards – a program that recognizes and rewards outstanding local organizations operating in the countries with the highest rates of under-five mortality.

Initially, we only accepted applications from local charities in Africa, but gradually expanded to the Middle East and Asia-Pacific by 2010. Winners were awarded for both their effective management and impact on the lives of children in one of three categories: Health, Education or Protection.

Using this model, we have established relationships with some of the best local organizations in the developing world; organizations that are embedded in their communities, responding to local needs with innovative and effective development programs that, admittedly, are always more integrated than the reductive category headlines above would have you believe.

This was certainly true for Restless Development Nepal and Action for Integrated Sustainable Development Association (AISDA) in Ethiopia. While they were ostensibly awarded for their impacts in education and health respectively, a large proportion of their development interventions involved water — improving access to it, and raising awareness of the hygiene and sanitation issues that surround it.

This is symptomatic of many of our local partners.

The connections between health, education and water are undeniable. And after a comprehensive strategic review last year, in which we interrogated our proxy measure for need — UNICEF’s under-five mortality index (PDF) — it was clear how crucial improving water, sanitation and hygiene is to child survival, and to effecting lasting impact at scale. Unsafe or inaccessible water and poor sanitation and hygiene contribute significantly to the number of preventable child deaths each year.

But our Awards program did not reflect that.

So, in recognition of its enormous impact on child survival, Stars will be awarding its first two Impact Awards in the WASH category this year, no longer conflating it with health or education.

Marketing to, assessing and awarding in a new category has not been without its challenges.

In every category of the Impact Awards, we remain fairly agnostic about the specific interventions themselves, and instead focus on the overall impact the organization is having on the lives of children, as well as evaluate its management and governance practices. 

And while we’re thrilled with the results of the 2013 Awards, we recognize additional adjustments to the process may be needed as the level of technical expertise associated with assessing interventions in the WASH sector seem to be even more pronounced than in other categories.

We cannot reveal the names of the inaugural Stars Impact Award winners in WASH just yet (they will be announced at a ceremony in mid-December and we’ll post the winners here as well). But we can disclose that, unsurprisingly, local organizations working to improve the lives of children do not ever focus on just one development issue in isolation. Rather, they employ a range of projects and interventions to improve the health and wellbeing of their communities’ most vulnerable members.

That is the strength of local organizations. And we’re delighted that adapting our award strategy accordingly with the addition of the WASH category means we can now support even more of them.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) have partnered to set up a joint trust fund to improve access to sanitation in Asia and the Pacific. Announced at World Water Week, the new Sanitation Financing Partnership Trust Fund will receive a $15 million investment from the Gates Foundation and will leverage more than $28 million in investments from ADB by 2017.

The Trust Fund aims to increase non-sewered sanitation and develop septage management solutions through funding innovative projects and supporting policies for low-income urban communities across Asia. The Trust Fund will be part of ADB’s Water Financing Partnership Facility (WFPF). Over the last seven years, WFPF has invested $2.5 billion in WASH projects. Through initiatives such as Grand Challenges Exploration and Reinvent the Toilet Challenge, the Gates Foundation has funded 85 development and research projects on sanitation.

View the infographic to learn about the Trust Fund’s goals.

Read ADB’s press release for additional details. 

Julian Doczi, Overseas Development Institute

Editor’s Note: This guest post was authored by Julian Doczi, Water Policy research officer at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), the UK’s leading think tank on international development and humanitarian issues. Julian highlights the need for sanitation to take center stage in WASH discussions. A version of this post originally appeared here

Many of the discussions surrounding World Water Day continue to omit one of the biggest factors for actually achieving clean and secure water for all: sanitation. At least 2.5 billion people still lack access to a proper toilet – with this number rising to a staggering 4.1 billion if we include people whose sewage is not properly treated in wastewater treatment facilities. 

These are well-known numbers, but what is the actual role of sanitation in the issues being discussed today, on water cooperation, better water management and water security? I identify and discuss three key linkages here:

  • the impact of poor sanitation on clean water availability
  • the impact of ‘advanced’ sanitation on water consumption
  • the direct impact on water cooperation of the various socio-political issues underlying sanitation service delivery.

For the majority of the world’s population, their sewage still pours untreated onto land, rivers and sea, contaminating freshwater resources and putting a greater strain on river basins and their managers. Rampant pollution like this plays a key role in promoting poor cooperation among water users, especially between upstream and downstream users, as it both increases clean water scarcity and creates health risks for water users. The poor suffer most from this, as they have less access to alternative water sources. A recent report by the Asian Development Bank highlights this issue for river basins all across Asia, but cooperation everywhere is being increasingly strained. 

Simply striving for proper toilets and sewage disposal is not enough though, since most sanitation systems themselves require water to function. A recent calculation by water expert Peter Gleick estimates that toilets in the U.S. currently use nearly 8.3 trillion litres of water per year; this could be reduced to only 3 trillion if the entire country switched to new, high-efficiency toilets. Of course, in many arid river basins, using this much water would not be feasible (nor would the cost of millions of new toilets) without experiencing substantial declines in water availability, again increasing tensions. Although ‘dry’ sanitation systems like improved pit toilets can undoubtedly ease these pressures, the UN still recognises water-based systems as higher up on the so-called ‘sanitation ladder’, and thus creates continual demand for these systems. This is not to argue that those lacking sanitation should not achieve it, but merely to note that improving sanitation still generally increases water demand (even if the poor ‘leap frog’ directly to high-efficiency toilets), which could further strain water cooperation. 

A 2012 report on global water security by the U.S. Intelligence Community recognised both pollution and consumption issues as threats to future conflict over water resources. It found that, in the next decade, these threats could significantly increase instability and regional tensions over water security, especially in the Middle East and South Asia. Likewise, a new report by ODI and Tearfund examines how the way sanitation services are delivered specifically affects cooperation between communities and the relations between state and society. For example, in the DRC, tensions arose between recently returned refugees and long-term residents over the usage, cleaning and maintenance of latrines. 

As world-leading water cooperation expert Mark Zeitoun of the University of East Anglia emphasises, linkages are also visible through the issues of human rights and power asymmetries. He highlights that those who fought for the UN General Assembly to explicitly recognise the human right to water and sanitation in 2010 are often the same people fighting for equitable and just water cooperation. In both cases, however, he argues that progress toward these ideals has been slow due to the asymmetric distribution of water and sanitation services in favour of powerful state actors. Quoting Marc Reisner, he highlights that, for the most part, ‘water flows uphill to money, while sewage still flows downhill to the poor’. 

These socio-political linkages can be generalised further. As Zeitoun describes, water security is best understood as part of an interconnected ‘web’ of securities, which links water security to food, energy and climate security, and even national security. Through this web, he argues that effective sanitation is an ‘incontestable requirement for individual, community and state development’ in the context of water cooperation. Likewise, the new Asia Water Development Outlook report explicitly recognises the central role played by appropriate sanitation within its ‘five key dimensions’ of national water security. The report found that most Asian countries are merely ‘capable’ or ‘engaged’ in sanitation for water security, with many still downright ‘hazardous’. Almost none were ‘effective’, except for proactive states like New Zealand and Singapore. 

These results speak for themselves. It is clear that the levels of development effort, investment and political will devoted to sanitation are still substantially dwarfed by that devoted to all aspects of water, even though sanitation links so closely to water cooperation and security. A recent report by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies issues a call to action on this, to address the longstanding imbalance in the substantial investments made in the water sector as compared with its poor cousins: sanitation and hygiene. It calls for sanitation to be at least as well funded and focused upon as water supply by 2015. I echo that call here. The evidence is clear that we will only achieve better water cooperation and water resources management if we account for the major roles that sanitation plays.

So, as we spend 2013 focused on improving water cooperation, let us not forget to give an equal effort toward improving sanitation cooperation. While organisations are increasingly recognising the linkage of sanitation to all aspects of water management, we should not rest until March 22 is known as ‘World Water and Sanitation Day’. Only by addressing the 4.1 billion people without appropriate wastewater treatment can we hope to achieve holistic water cooperation and effective water resources management that will lead us on a path to long-term sustainability.

School girl from Jogimara, Nepal, washing her hands at a Restless Development Nepal water supply. (2011 Asia-Pacific Health Award Winner) Credit: Kristian Buus

School girl from Jogimara, Nepal, washing her hands at a Restless Development Nepal water supply. (2011 Asia-Pacific Health Award Winner) Credit: Kristian Buus

Editor’s Note: The STARS Foundation is a London-based organization that provides grants to nonprofits working with disadvantaged children. The Foundation is now accepting applications for their 2013 Impact Awards, including their new WASH category, which recognizes the impact that WASH solutions can have on improving the well-being of children.     

The STARS Foundation is pleased to announce the launch of the 2013 STARS Impact Awards recognizing outstanding organizations that achieve excellence in the provision of services to disadvantaged children.

In response to a growing demand for flexible funding, STARS invites NGOs to apply for up to 16 Impact Awards and, for the first time, has added a new category — Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) — due to the impact that improvements in this area can have on child survival and well-being.

Organizations working with children in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, or the Pacific are invited to apply.

The main Impact Award will be given to four winners per region — one in each of the following categories: Health, Education, Protection, and WASH. Winners will each receive $100,000 of unrestricted funding together with a bespoke package of consultancy, PR, and media support. Each organization will also benefit from the opportunity to work together with STARS for up to one year to promote their plans to other donors and seek to raise additional funding.

In addition to these main Impact Awards, smaller awards of different sizes will be made at the discretion of STARS’ board of trustees.

To find information regarding the application process, the eligibility criteria, and to apply online, please visit the Foundation's web site.

The closing date for applications is 1PM GMT Monday, November 12, 2012.

Global banking giant HSBC has announced a five-year, $100 million partnership with WaterAidWWF, and the Earthwatch Institute to improve sanitation and access to safe water for more than a million people, tackle water risks in the world's major river basins, and raise awareness about the global water challenge.

The launch of the HSBC Water Program coincides with the release of a report by Frontier Economics, which found that every $1 invested in water infrastructure can deliver nearly $5 in economic benefits over the long term, in addition to social and environmental benefits. Frontier estimates that in some African countries the investment required to secure universal access to water would be paid back within three years.

Potential annual economic gain from improved access
to water and sanitation as a percentage of GDP

Potential annual economic gain from improved access to water and sanitation as a percentage of GDP

Source: Frontier Economics

The HSBC Water Program will enable the three nonprofit organizations to carry out projects in both developed and emerging markets. For example, WWF will work with more than a thousand businesses and over a hundred thousand fishers and farmers in five river basin areas in Asia, East Africa, and South America to promote the more efficient use of water in their practices. With local conservation partners, Earthwatch will set up research projects to address urban water management issues in more than twenty cities worldwide. WaterAid will work to help 1.1 million people in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Ghana gain access to safe water and to help improve hygiene and sanitation for another 1.9 million people.

"The HSBC Water Program will benefit communities in need, and enable economies to prosper," said HSBC group chairman Douglas Flint. "The people of the world's major river basins currently account for about a tenth of world GDP, but by the middle of the century they could account for a quarter. Yet these are also precisely the same places where water resources are set to come under strain. This has the potential to straitjacket growth, at the same time as causing untold harm to local communities."

Source: “HSBC Invests $100m in Water Projects to Improve Lives and Boost Economic Development.” HSBC Group Press Release 6/13/12.

For additional WASH-related philanthropy news, see the news feed on

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