On April 19, the World Bank hosted an in-depth online conversation at their headquarters in Washington D.C. to discuss investing in sanitation.
The panelists included:
- United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson
- UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake
- World Bank Group Vice President of Sustainable Development Rachel Kyte
- American Standard Vice President Jim McHale
The panel focused on the economics and politics of sanitation. According to the panelists, not only does access to safe, clean sanitation improve people's health and livelihoods, but it is economically sound. Lack of access to improved sanitation costs countries up to 7 percent of GDP. The audience, comprised of global decision-makers and practitioners in the field, asked key questions, driving the discussion around project and country-specific contexts.
Watch the full recording and tell us what you think in the comments below.
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.
Editor’s Note: This guest post was authored by David Winder, CEO of WaterAid America. In it, David discusses WaterAid’s work with communities in Ethiopia, Mozambique, and India to help them improve water and sanitation conditions in innovative and entrepreneurial ways. A version of the story originally appeared here.
The ongoing sustainability of the world's water usage is a hot topic. Not a week goes by without headlines announcing water wars, falling water tables or droughts. Water is a commodity in high demand by competing sectors (industry, agriculture and drinking water) and many people are seeking answers to how we might survive with a finite pool of it.
The ten percent of people worldwide who already live without safe drinking water don't need headlines to know that life without water is near impossible — every day they struggle for survival without access to this most basic of human rights. More often than not, they are without basic sanitation facilities, also causing disease and death.
But sparks of entrepreneurial spirit are shining brightly through the doom and gloom surrounding the global water and sanitation crisis, even in the most remote corners of the planet. Some of the world's poorest communities are inspiring us with their willingness and commitment to develop low-cost, innovative solutions to their water and sanitation problems. In many cases, these same solutions are bringing about even wider benefits for the communities involved, including improved health, agricultural and business opportunities.
Human waste can be a massive health risk — without proper sanitation facilities, diarrheal diseases such as typhoid and cholera are prevalent. In fact 2,000 children die every day from water-related diseases. But WaterAid is finding success working with communities willing to experiment with turning their human waste into a source of income and increased crop yields.
Urban slums are notorious for a lack of garbage disposal and sewerage systems, leaving residents vulnerable to poor health. But in the slums just outside of Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, a women's collective is transforming the health and well-being of their community. With a little help and encouragement from WaterAid, this group of enterprising women runs a café, selling food cooked with biogas that is fueled by methane from human and other waste. In addition to offering healthy meals, community members are encouraged to take advantage of the café's toilets and shower facilities, which customers can use for a small fee. The café offers vital sanitation services for the community, and provides the women with a source of income and social standing.
The café has also spurred on other entrepreneurial activity. Twenty-four year-old Tigist started up her own garbage removal service, which has not only cleaned up her area and helps prevent disease, but empowered her to demand wages equal to those paid to men in her community. She's now earning ten times more than she was before, and is hiring four staff to help her collect the garbage. The garbage is then given to the café to use to help produce the biogas to fuel the kitchen.
In Niassa province in Mozambique, WaterAid is working with communities to turn their human waste into safe, renewable and highly effective compost. This compost is proving invaluable to otherwise poor farmers, who are now reaping the benefits of more robust harvests — and incomes. Known as ecological sanitation (EcoSan) or composting latrines, each toilet has twin pits. While one is in use, the other is sealed, and the contents, which are mixed with dirt and ash, decompose into rich compost that can then be dug out and used on fields.
Trials have shown that the composting latrines are significantly boosting crop yields. In one district in Niassa, the community saw unusually high rainfall, causing traditionally planted crops to rot. However, crops planted in soil mixed with the contents of EcoSan toilets thrived. The difference was startling. In fact, the maize plants grown with compost from the latrines towered over neighboring plants and fruit trees planted with the compost were the only ones laden with fruit. In another area of the province facing drought, farmers harvested a huge tobacco crop from a field planted with EcoSan compost, while nearby fields failed to sprout.
Similar innovations are revolutionizing poor people's access to water and helping them to earn a living. In India, where many water pumps lie disused due to ill-repair, WaterAid and local partner organizations have helped budding entrepreneurs to start pump and well repair businesses. These businesses ensure the sustainability of water supplies, while at the same time providing jobs to community members.
The mechanic training program in the district of Mahoba in Uttar Pradesh is a perfect example of this. In an area where 4,000 water pumps lie broken, WaterAid has worked with local people to set up a storefront and buy tools, bikes and water quality testing equipment. After training people from the community to become mechanics, including seven women, they started repairing pumps for any village willing to pay.
It worked. The mechanics have fixed over 300 pumps: pumps that help prevent disease, and that supply 30,000 people with fresh, clean water. What's more, the female mechanics have earned the respect of community members and feel empowered.
Such entrepreneurship is driving improvements in women's rights, prosperity, health and nutrition. Although small, these innovative water and sanitation projects are inspiring. In the face of adversity, communities are showing that a little creativity and the determined will to work hard to control their own destiny go a long way in helping escape the grips of poverty and providing a more secure future for their children.
Editor’s Note: This guest blog post was authored by Brett Walton, a Seattle-based reporter for Circle of Blue. He writes the Federal Water Tap, a weekly breakdown of U.S. policy. A version of this article originally appeared here and is re-posted with permission.
Official United Nations figures claim that 2.5 billion people lack access to adequate sanitation. But new research from the University of North Carolina puts the total at more than 4.1 billion people.
As world leaders and grassroots groups discuss how to reduce poverty and improve lives, debates over precise definitions and accurate measurements are taking on a new urgency. The agenda-setting Millennium Development Goals expire in 2015, but already new definitions for water, sanitation, and hygiene seek to influence the post-MDG global development agenda.
Last month, the Water Institute at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, challenged official statistics from the United Nations on the number of people without proper toilet facilities: UNC put the figure at 4.1 billion people, compared with 2.5 billion claimed by the United Nations. Both figures assessed conditions in 2010.
The discrepancy between the two sets of sanitation figures comes from different accounting methods. The United Nations measures hardware — the toilet, in this case — and how well it protects the user from immediate contact with the waste. The UNC researchers, on the other hand, approached the question from a public health angle: they also considered hardware, but in a broader sense, by asking whether or not the sewage is treated.
“We looked at public health and the environment beyond just the user,” Rachel Baum told Circle of Blue. Baum is a co-author on the paper, which was published online in January in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.
Baum and her colleagues wondered, “Is sanitation protecting the wider community?”
More often than not, they found, the answer is no. In 2010, some 4.1 billion people — six out of every 10 people on the planet — did not use toilet facilities that ultimately treat the sewage before it is returned to the environment. (The researchers pulled sewage treatment data from the United Nations Statistics Division, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the European Commission’s Eurostat, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.)
This is the second time in less than a year that the Water Institute has challenged WASH statistics from the United Nations. In March 2012, a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that 1.8 billion people drink unsafe water — a figure that is more than double the 780 million people who lack access to an improved water source, according to the United Nations Joint Monitoring Program’s 2012 update.
Again, the discrepancies come from the way in which the data is collected: the United Nations defines access to drinking water in terms of infrastructure — in other words, the taps, pipes, and wells used to deliver water — rather than water quality, as measured by the Water Institute.
Shaping Things To Come
Last year, the United Nations declared that, according to its metrics, the world had achieved the MDG for drinking water in 2010. The sanitation target is not likely to be achieved, according to an August 2012 update. Both goals sought to halve the proportion of people without access to improved drinking water and sanitation from a 1990 baseline.
The definitions — and the discrepancies between the definitions — of access and quality matter. The United Nations is now discussing which items will comprise the global development program after 2015, when the eight Millennium Development Goals expire.
At stake in the next round of goal-setting is a place in the global-aid pecking order and a chance at the rivers of cash that flow toward the top priorities. Development aid for drinking water and sanitation reached $US 7.8 billion in 2010, and loans to the sector added an additional $US 4.4 billion that year, according to the United Nations.
John Oldfield, the CEO of WASH Advocates, said that priorities are already changing, with less money spent on drilling wells and installing pumps; instead, more cash is being allocated to building maintenance and financial skills within the communities that will manage the water and sanitation projects after the donor leaves.
But John Sauer, head of communications for the Denver-based nonprofit Water for People, said he did not know if the UNC study would lead to a big shift in how money is spent. The broader issue, he told Circle of Blue, is that sanitation coverage is expanding much too slowly, and the progress that has been made is not well monitored, to see if it is sustainable.
Better Outcomes This Time Around
Everyone with a stake in the new order is offering recommendations during the run up to 2015.
On February 21, the United Nations and a handful of its partner organizations issued a press release arguing that the new development goals for water and sanitation should focus on people on the margins: children, women, and those who live in slums or with disabilities.
“The post-2015 agenda must not move forward without clear objectives towards the elimination of discrimination and inequalities in access to water, sanitation, and hygiene,” according to the statement.
Yet, it is still early in the negotiations, and the players are jockeying for position.
“We can’t say at this point what the U.N. will recommend,” Pragati Pascale, communications officer for the United Nations, told Circle of Blue. “There are a lot of discussions going on, trying to hear from many voices.”
February 17 marked the wrap-up of a five-week public consultation on water and sanitation goals, an initiative sponsored by the United Nations and civil society groups. And coming up in May, a star-studded panel — chaired by the leaders of Indonesia, Liberia, and the United Kingdom — will present its assessment of the MDG successes, failures, and inadequacies.
Baum said she hopes that last month’s UNC sanitation study brings more attention to what effective sanitation really is. Meanwhile, Oldfield told Circle of Blue that these types of studies can result in stronger definitions of the problem, in addition to better outcomes.
“This paper will enable stronger policies and it will inform the consultative process,” Oldfield said. “Universal coverage for sanitation is the goal, and this will help us define what exactly we mean by ‘universal coverage.’”
Editor’s Note: In this guest post, Wherever the Need, a UK-based charity that develops and builds eco-toilets, discusses its Sanitation First project in Tamil Nadu, India. A version of the piece originally appeared here.
Tamil Nadu, on the Southeast coast of India, is considered to be one of the wealthiest states in the country, but behind the economic and industrial growth lies another story — one of acute poverty.
We have started to work with six of the poorest villages in rural Tamil Nadu. Not a single family in these communities has access to a toilet, which means that the local environment and water sources are polluted, spreading illness and disease. Diarrhoea remains one of the biggest killers of children in the region.
So what are we doing?
We are putting Sanitation First, and working to make sure every person in all six villages has access to good sanitation facilities. We are building ecosan (composting) toilets for each and every family within the villages.
Why is this innovative?
What’s new and exciting is that we are providing a sanitation service to maintain the programme. We are employing a care-taking team to empty the toilets and make sure the facilities are well-maintained and clean.
How do we pay for this?
This is the great bit — there is money to be made from poo! We store and compost the waste collected from the toilets, and sell it to generate income. This means that the programme is not just ecologically sustainable, but financially sustainable too.
Using this model we can support a cluster of 5-6 villages in one area. In due course we hope to roll out the programme to new areas and communities.
Initial trials have been so successful that our work has come to the attention of both local and central government in India. The Tamil Nadu State government is so impressed that they are subsidising the programme, providing 35% funding for every family ecosan toilet that we build.
Editor’s Note: This guest blog was authored by Fatima Asmal-Motala for the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency. Fatima interviews Jack Sim, the founder of the World Toilet Organization (WTO), about the state of sanitation in Africa and the strategies needed to improve upon it. A version of this post originally appeared here.
When the founder of the World Toilet Organization, Jack Sim, turned 40, he literally began counting how many more days he had to live and felt a sense of urgency to do meaningful things with the remainder of his life.
“Can you imagine a person coming into this world and spending his life only helping himself? When this person dies, his life has had no meaning, so why did he bother coming here?” he asks.
A successful businessman, Sim turned his attention to an area which he felt was severely neglected.
“The toilet was completely neglected in Singapore (his home country). I realised it was the same all over the world. People felt very embarrassed. Now I’ve broken the taboo and legitimised the subject through 12 years of effective advocacy. I am proud to say I have broken the taboo surrounding the subject of sanitation.”
Excerpts of the interview follow:
Why is good sanitation so important?
To grow a country, you need healthy people. You’d rather prevent people from being sick than cure them once they’re sick. Toilets are the cheapest preventative medicine in the world.
Proper sanitation, together with hand washing with soap, will reduce illness by 50 to 80 percent. A lot of illness — diarrhoea, worms and other diseases — are basically due to the spread of pathogens from the feces, transmission paths through the fingers, the feet, the flies and the fluid. If you can break this, people can be healthy.
We need covered toilets which flies cannot reach, people cannot step on, and rain cannot wash away and spread, as well as a place to wash the hands. To achieve this we need education — why is a toilet good for you — to make it a trend rather than a prescription. If it’s fashion, people will follow.
Toilets also need owners. Without an owner it will become dysfunctional very quickly. If someone buys a toilet, he feels he owns it. If he doesn’t own it, a sense of ownership has to be cultivated. People have to be trained as cleaners and as security personnel.
If you have no toilets, you get unhappy, unhealthy people — as a result of which you have low productivity, and low income. You then have to incur expenditure due to illnesses and this can break subsistence survival, creating a poverty cycle, which becomes a political problem. Good sanitation can prevent all these time bombs.
What progress has been made on the African continent in terms of sanitation?
The good news is that Africa is currently experiencing one of its most peaceful periods in recent history. Because of that, its economic growth is on average faster than even the Asian growth rate. When people have a little bit more money, they have higher expectations. So the demand for toilets is easier to create.
On the African continent there has been some progress in terms of the community-led total sanitation approach which triggers people to dig their own holes, thereby encouraging them to have their own rudimentary toilets.
Through this approach, people realise the need for a proper toilet quickly. They start by digging a hole and going to a fixed place to defecate. This is already a big change of behaviour — they suddenly feel disciplined; they feel the need to be private, to protect their neighbours.
So the first phase is just to go to a fixed place, and to cover the hole. It’s very rudimentary, but it’s better than being outside, where women can get molested.
In the second phase, people are encouraged to buy toilets, which cost between 50 to 100 dollars. Once they own them, jealousy and comparisons set in — and nobody likes to be looked down upon.
How high is that “demand” currently in Africa?
What we need to do is to move the toilet to a higher level on the list of personal priorities — as high as the cell phone. For most people on the continent, the priority has been a television set, then a cell phone, but not a toilet. What we need to do is to make it fashionable to own a toilet — to convey the message that if you don’t have a toilet, you’re living in an animal state. People don’t want to be classed as living in an animal state.
What about the supply side — how easy is it for an individual to access a toilet?
We have to make toilets available either by the government, or affordable for people to buy, with on-site treatment, safe sanitation, and maintenance cleaners who are also professionally trained as technicians. And we also have to provide education for the community to care for their toilets so they can continue to enjoy using them. In other words, on the supply side, the effort requires a combination of people, the government and the private sector.
What about South Africa? Has any progress been made here?
A little bit. But the growth of informal settlements is creating a lot of difficulties, not just in terms of provision of toilets, but also where to put them. You can’t put a permanent structure on illegal land. Yet people need toilets. There needs to be some legal policy reform that allows a permanent toilet.
Why should it be mobile? Sometimes a mobile toilet is too far away to comfortably access. Also people are practising open defecation — so there’s a habit change barrier. They may ask, why should they use toilets which are not well-maintained, which are dirty and smelly and full and which can’t even be used?
The government is also not fast enough in terms of provision, but I think they are interested in speeding up the programme because they know that you can’t have a nation of sick people.
How is the World Toilet Organization involved in improving sanitation in Africa?
We have partnered with Unilever to launch an academy. We are going to go to schools and encourage children to start using toilets earlier; when they use toilets at school, they’ll promote usage at home.
Supply of toilets on the African continent has not caught up with demand. This academy will train people to manufacture toilets in very small factories, thereby creating businessmen who are making affordable products at a profit, selling to their own communities.
What happens is that sanitation now goes beyond health and hygiene. When a woman has an income, she has more power at home; she can use her money wisely for the family; she has a bigger say when talking to her mother-in-law and husband.
So we’re creating gender equality and sustainability. We did very well in Cambodia. In three years 24,000 toilets were manufactured, generating 48,000 dollars for sales agents. We look forward to the day every person everywhere has access to a clean safe toilet at any time they need to go.
Editor’s Note: This guest blog was authored by Aliki Zeri for BPD Water and Sanitation, a nonprofit working to bring safe water and sanitation to poor, urban communities in developing countries through effective stakeholder relationships at the local, national, and international levels. Aliki captures the discussion taking place among sanitation professionals about the need to reassess perceptions of failure and the dilemma of “marketing” failure in WASH. A version of this post originally appeared here.
What do we mean when we talk about ‘failure’? How can NGOs in the development sector and, in particular, in the field of sanitation use ‘failure’ as a learning mechanism? Is it prudent to ‘market’ ‘failure’ and if so, is there a right way of doing it?
These were just a few of the questions the 11th Sanitation Community of Practice (SanCop) meeting, which was held on the 14th of November 2012 at the Water, Engineering and Development Centre (WEDC) atLoughborough University, strived to answer. ‘Strive’ appears undoubtedly to be the right word, since after considerable debate a number of issues still remained unanswered. And although this may be perceived by some as a ‘failure’, for me it represents a clear indication of the meeting’s success. Bringing together more that 40 academics, engineers, NGO representatives and sanitation experts, the meeting provided a ‘safe space’ where ‘failure’ was recognised and embraced as part of the development-aid organisations’ learning curve.
Is there a difference between ‘lessons learnt’ and ‘admitting failure’?
‘Failure’, ‘lessons learnt’, ‘learning opportunities’ and ‘learning return’ were used interchangeably by participants throughout the debate; illustrating the difficulty of defining the precise context and the ambit of this concept. Is the term ‘lessons learnt’ radically different from the term ‘admitting failure’? Participants appeared to think so. The former was perceived as indicating a backward-looking process, a mechanism of revisiting a project/programme and assessing what went wrong. On the contrary, an ‘admission of failure’ is associated with a process of learning which is embedded within the project’s/programme’s structure, allowing implementers to constantly re-assess the project/programme and adapt it to changing and often unforeseen circumstances.
Reassessing perceptions of failure
Within this context participants were implicitly prompted to reassess their perceptions of ‘failure’. The commonly shared understanding that a failed project or programme means that potential beneficiaries are no worse off than they were before the intervention took place was accordingly challenged. There was consensus for the need to “reframe the public image of development” (traditionally perceived as something that is inherently benign and could therefore have no negative effect).
Incentives and disincentives of recognising failure
Having recognised the malleability of ‘failure’ as a concept, participants shifted their attention to the incentives and disincentives of recognising ‘failures’ — the fear of displeasing donors and the associated ‘competition for a piece of the donor pie’ appeared to be the main concerns. Could EWB Canada’s ‘safe spaces’ counteract these disincentives? And more generally could they provoke a fundamental change in the ‘donor culture’, one that would result in donors not only actively promoting an honest reflection of what is not working, but also rewarding NGOs that are openly admitting their failures?
The dilemma of marketing failure in WASH
Building a ‘safe space’ across the development sector (the WASH sector included) is unarguably challenging; expanding this ‘space’ outside this limit is expected to be even more difficult. ‘Marketing failure in WASH’ was the title BPD Water and Sanitation chose for its discussion group. Is it indeed advisable or even prudent for NGOs to ‘market’ (i.e. communicate) their ‘failures’ to the public? Could Bellemare’s cynical argument that: “admitting failure is the not-for-profit world equivalent of corporate social responsibility in the for-profit world” be the answer to this question? As Terence argues: “if you’re the first NGO trying to do it, you’ll find yourself at the sharp end of a ‘first penguin to leap off the ice sheet’ type collective action dilemma (i.e. it’s the first penguin that has the highest chance of getting chomped by the sea lions). Who’s going to keep giving money to the one NGO that’s forever feeding journalists with stories of what it did wrong?” Even though there is some truth in this argument, it is equally true that: “the more people who are honest about how challenging the work is and how rife it is with failures — not because of incompetence but because we are courageously taking on some of the most complex and dynamic problems — the more the public will see the admission of failure as a sign of transparency, humility and learning/innovation cultures and not as a sign of weakness.”
An encouraging first step in the ‘development-aid failure’ debate
Acknowledging the novelty of the issue and the breadth of arguments that could be raised within each of the aforementioned themes is unarguably the first step in engaging the sanitation sector with the ‘development-aid failure’ debate. Taking this first step within the context of the 11th SanCop was for me a particularly challenging, yet fulfilling experience. The high level of discourse and the enthusiasm and commitment of all participants (not only during the formal sessions but also during the breaks and the group discussions) were indeed admirable. In this sense, the participants’ promise to revisit the issue in the future SanCops was particularly encouraging.
Read more about the Sanitation Community of Practice (SanCop).
The African Ministers' Council on Water, an initiative of the African Union, has announced a three-year, $2 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to build its capacity for sanitation policy development, monitoring and evaluation coverage, and WASH-related advocacy across the continent.
Awarded through the foundation's global development program, the grant will be used to provide training and technical assistance in four countries working to develop and adopt effective sanitation and hygiene policies and plans; organize the fourth AfricaSan conference as a mechanism for tracking progress, refining targets, and enabling peer support and advocacy for implementation of the 2008 eThekwini Declaration and AfricaSan Action Plan; and help countries fulfill their obligations to report to the AU.
"We face tremendous challenges of diminishing access to clean water and safe sanitation," said AMCOW executive secretary Bai Mass Taal. "AMCOW is committed to working with partners such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to reduce this scourge and improve access to safe sanitation, thereby achieving our overall goal of decreasing poverty and disease in the continent."
Source: “African Ministers' Council on Water (AMCOW) Gets US$2 Million Grant to Improve Sanitation Coverage in Africa.” African Ministers' Council on Water Press Release 12/18/12.
Editor’s Note: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation issued a press release announcing the winners of the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge. Over the course of a year, eight finalists were chosen and Bill Gates announced the winning team yesterday at the two-day Toilet Fair at the Foundation’s headquarters in Seattle. Big congratulations to the winning team and to everyone who participated in this creative challenge.
Yesterday Bill Gates announced the winners of the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge in Seattle — an effort to develop “next-generation” toilets that will deliver safe and sustainable sanitation to the 2.5 billion people worldwide who don’t have it. The awards recognize researchers from leading universities who are developing innovative ways to manage human waste, which will help improve the health and lives of people around the world.
California Institute of Technology in the United States received the $100,000 first prize for designing a solar-powered toilet that generates hydrogen and electricity. Loughborough University in the United Kingdom won the $60,000 second place prize for a toilet that produces biological charcoal, minerals, and clean water. University of Toronto in Canada won the third place prize of $40,000 for a toilet that sanitizes feces and urine and recovers resources and clean water. Special recognition and $40,000 went to Eawag (Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology) and EOOS for their outstanding design of a toilet user interface.
One year ago, the foundation issued a challenge to universities to design toilets that can capture and process human waste without piped water, sewer or electrical connections, and transform human waste into useful resources, such as energy and water, at an affordable price.
The first, second, and third place winning prototypes were recognized for most closely matching the criteria presented in the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge.
Teams have been showcasing their prototypes and projects at a two-day event held at the foundation’s headquarters in Seattle on August 14 and 15. The Reinvent the Toilet Fair is bringing together participants from 29 countries, including researchers, designers, investors, advocates, and representatives of the communities who will ultimately adopt these new inventions.
“Innovative solutions change people’s lives for the better,” said foundation Co-chair Bill Gates. “If we apply creative thinking to everyday challenges, such as dealing with human waste, we can fix some of the world’s toughest problems.”
Unsafe methods to capture and treat human waste result in serious health problems and death. Food and water tainted with fecal matter result in 1.5 million child deaths every year. Most of these deaths could be prevented with the introduction of proper sanitation, along with safe drinking water and improved hygiene.
Improving access to sanitation can also bring substantial economic benefits. According to the World Health Organization, improved sanitation delivers up to $9 in social and economic benefits for every $1 invested because it increases productivity, reduces healthcare costs, and prevents illness, disability, and early death.
Other projects featured at the fair include better ways to empty latrines, user-centered designs for public toilet facilities, and insect-based latrines that decompose feces faster.
“Imagine what’s possible if we continue to collaborate, stimulate new investment in this sector, and apply our ingenuity in the years ahead,” said Gates. “Many of these innovations will not only revolutionize sanitation in the developing world, but also help transform our dependence on traditional flush toilets in wealthy nations.”
Gates added: “All the participants are united by a common desire to create a better world — a world where no child dies needlessly from a lack of safe sanitation and where all people can live healthy, dignified lives.”
The Water, Sanitation & Hygiene initiative is part of the foundation’s Global Development Program, which addresses issues such as agricultural development and financial services — problems that affect the world’s poorest people but do not receive adequate attention. The initiative has committed more than $370 million to this area, with a focus on developing sustainable sanitation services that work for everyone, including the poor.
The foundation also announced a second round of Reinvent the Toilet Challenge grants totaling nearly $3.4 million. The grants were awarded to: Cranfield University (United Kingdom); Eram Scientific Solutions Private Limited (India); Research Triangle Institute (United States); and the University of Colorado Boulder (United States).
Editor’s Note: This post was authored by Diane Scott, senior communications officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and originally appeared on their blog, Impatient Optimists. Last year, the Gates Foundation issued a challenge to create a toilet without piped-in water, a sewer connection, or outside electricity for less than 5 cents per user a day. At this year’s Reinvent the Toilet Fair on August 14-15, eight finalists will display working prototypes and full scale models, and Bill Gates will announce the winners.
I’d like to think I’m beyond giggling when I see “Synthetic Feces Update” on a meeting agenda. But let’s face it, I’m not. At the foundation’s main campus in Seattle, Washington, we’re talking about “fake poop” quite a bit these days as we get ready to host the Reinvent the Toilet Fair on August 14 and 15. We’ll be featuring toilet prototypes created over the last year by our grantees, some of which will be vying for the coveted “Reinvent the Toilet Challenge Award.”
The reinvented toilet is the brainchild of our Water, Sanitation & Hygiene program that aims to bring sanitation (i.e. toilets) to those who don’t have it and must resort to extremely unsanitary means (open defecation — as in doing it out in the open) to relieve themselves. And, to give these newfangled toilet prototypes a test drive while at the fair, we need synthetic feces. About 50 gallons of it.
Why do we even need to reinvent the toilet? First, there hasn’t been much serious innovation in the flush toilet for nearly 200 years. In public health terms, the flush toilet has improved health immensely; it has done a phenomenal job saving lives by helping safely dispose of urine, feces and nasty pathogens. But, it uses a lot of water, and isn’t a realistic solution for people in the developing world, where pipes aren’t already under neighborhoods to carry away the water and sewage, and there isn’t the money and electricity needed to treat sewage properly. Too many people still do not have access to a toilet. How many people? We’re talking about 2.5 billion people.
Here’s the theory behind the “reinvent the toilet” initiative: Innovation in science and technology has done amazing things to help people lead better lives from the introduction of vaccines to prevent against deadly diseases, to the increasingly widespread use of mobile phones in remote areas of the world to share information, transfer money and even pay bills.
Why can’t that same creative thinking be used to solve the problem of dealing with human waste? We believe it can.
Imagine a toilet that isn’t connected to the sewer or electricity — one that takes waste and converts it to energy, is affordable for people in the developing world and is so fabulous that everyone will want to use it. These are the ideas the Reinvent the Toilet Fair is looking to highlight.
But I digress from the topic of synthetic feces (and yes, I did just write that without snickering). Researchers from around the globe are bringing their reinvented toilet prototypes to the fair, and we need synthetic feces for the demonstrations. (And no, we can’t use real feces). Figuring out how much to order is just one part. The other piece of the puzzle is answering questions from exhibitors who need to know all about the “fake poop”: What’s the density? What’s the recipe? What stool size will you be giving us? Does it contain the right amount of energy? (I’m not really sure what that means, but it’s somehow important.) And, finally, will it have an odor?
We know that these “commode creators” are hard at work right now. We’ll be writing blog posts at Impatient Optimists and at partner publications around the web over the next few weeks about the reinvented toilet to get the perspectives on this fascinating issue from environmentalists, social good-doers, technologists and others, so stay tuned.
And, for those inquiring minds, what are synthetic feces made of? The recipe for the fair is simply soybean paste and rice — there’s a more complex recipe for hard-core research and development work. Finally, no, the synthetic feces won’t be scented — even my great recommendation for rose-scented fake poop didn’t fly!