Fredrick Mugira and Frank Rijsberman
July 20, 2011

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has announced more than $41 million in grants to spark new innovations in sanitation.

The announcement was made by Sylvia Mathews Burwell, President of the foundation’s Global Development program in her keynote address at the Third Africa Conference on Hygiene and Sanitation (AfricaSan 3). The conference held from July 19-21, 2011 in Kigali, Rwanda is being hosted by the Government of Rwanda and the African Ministers’ Council on Water (AMCOW).

The grants will benefit a group of organizations that are taking the initiative to change the way people think about, and talk about sanitation.

A makeshift latrine

“To address the needs of the 2.6 billion people who don’t have access to safe sanitation, we not only must reinvent the toilet, we also must find safe, affordable and sustainable ways to capture, treat, and recycle human waste,” Sylvia noted. “Most importantly, we must work closely with the local communities we aim to serve to develop lasting sanitation solutions that best meet their needs.”

Proper toilets are fundamental to saving lives. It is time to ditch the taboos associated with talking about waste. It is time stop thinking about waste as waste. It is time to reinvent the toilet.

“It should be a toilet for the 21st century – a toilet for the billions whose needs are not being met,” further noted Sylvia.

“It should be a toilet that is pleasant to use and makes safe sanitation available simply and cheaply to people everywhere. It should save children’s lives by controlling disease. It should eradicate the worst job in the world, that of the latrine emptier. It should bring safety and dignity to all people, especially to women and children.”

She described such a toilet as the one created in partnership with the people who will use it.

This, she stressed demands innovation. Not just new technologies, but new ways of thinking.

Worldwide 1.1 billion people still relieve themselves outdoors

Sylvia argued that although a lot of money has been sunk into improving sanitation in the developing world, more people still live without access to improved sanitation.

“Billions of dollars have been poured into constructing toilets, sewers, and wastewater treatment facilities in the developing world. Still, due to rapid population growth in sub-Saharan Africa, there are now more people without access to improved sanitation in this region than ever before,” Syliva stressed.

“What’s clear to us is that existing sanitation solutions – ones based on 200-year-old ideas –are not meeting the challenges we face.”

Sylvia pledged that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s work would continue to support efforts to raise awareness in poor communities of the consequences of inadequate sanitation – and empower them to take charge of their own solutions using existing technologies.

A brand-new:90 video – “Reinventing the Toilet” – has been produced help tell this story.

Worldwide 1.1 billion people still relieve themselves outdoors. Almost eight out of 10 people without access to both clean water and safe toilets live in rural areas. In sub-Saharan Africa, there are still 570 million people without adequate sanitation.

Water Journalists Africa

Water Journalists Africa (WJA) is the largest network of journalists reporting on water in the African continent. It brings together some 700 journalists from 50 African countries. It was established in...

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