“In short, we need to reinvent the toilet.” That’s what Sylvia Mathews Burwell, president of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Development Program, recently declared. She was speaking at the AfricaSan Conference in Kigali where she called on called donors, governments, the private sector, and NGOs to reinvent the toilet. Yep, the toilet.
The idea is noble. The majority of the developing world does not have access to flush toilets. As Burwell points out, no other innovation in the last 200 years has saved lives and improved health as the flush toilet but the defecation revolution only reached one-third of the world. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation hope to rekindle the fire and improve the life of untold millions.
The foundation is standing behind its call to arms with $42 million. The aim is to improve the capture and storage of waste, as well as turn it into some usable like energy, fertilizer and fresh water. These new grants join the foundation’s commitment to Water, Sanitation & Hygiene which now total $265 million.
Of course it’s not going to be easy. More than 2.6 billion people are lacking a proper toilet, but more importantly, a proper waste disposal infrastructure. A next-gen toilet would have to be sustainable, hygienic, but yet not reliant on sewers. The end-all goal would be a device that actually converted the waste into fuel or even safe drinking water.
This innovation challenge joins the United Nations’ 2015 Millennium Development Goals to cut in half the number of people who do not have access to basic sanitation. The World Health Organization states that proper sanitation doesn’t just counter health concerns. It also increases productivity, reduces health care costs and every $1 invested can be worth $9 in the backend.
So inventors and tinkers, you’ve heard the call. It’s time to start building a better shitter.