14 June 2011
Despite all the progress in human development, 2.6 billion people (about 40% of mankind) still do not have access to proper sanitation; this is a Millennium Development Goal that has failed miserably. Charity cannot solve such a massive problem, however. The World Toilet Organization therefore aims to transform the world toilet crisis into a great business opportunity.
The reason for this failure is simple: we simply do not talk about it enough to find effective solutions on a global scale. Each year, 1.5 million children under the age of five die of diarrhoea caused by unsanitary conditions and poor hygiene. When open defecation is the common practice, the flies spread diseases from the waste to the food. Sanitation and hygiene are known to be the cheapest and most effective preventive medicines for the poor. Sanitation is referred to as anything but sanitation (e.g. wastewater, black water, grey water and yellow water), however.
When development banks and governments think of sanitation, they think of urban sewerage pipe systems that cost hundreds of millions of dollars. But sewerage water pipes often end up in the river, sea or lakes, and pollute the water sources. Adolescent girls drop out of school when they menstruate, because without toilets at school, it is impossible to change sanitary napkins. Missing school for one week each month often causes them to drop out of school altogether. Without education, the poverty cycle continues. The poor who have been used to open defecation also may not think they need a toilet. In this way, demand is muted, supply is non-existent and the market is fragmented.
How shall we solve a problem that people do not want to talk about? The World Toilet Organization was founded in 2001 to this end with its acronym WTO. With its unique mix of serious facts and humour, it took the global media by storm and shocked the world into realisation of such a massive global sanitation crisis. As media gave legitimacy to the subject, politicians became advocates for proper sanitation to win popularity. Academia, with its publish-or-perish culture, contributed by publishing research. Small sanitation-related NGOs started to get attention for their cause. Our founding day, 19 November, became World Toilet Day and this is celebrated by an ever-increasing number of people each year.
Our World Toilet Summits series, now in its 10th year, has travelled to Singapore, Seoul, Taipei, Beijing, Belfast, Moscow, New Delhi, Macau, Philadelphia. It will be hosted by the Hainan Provincial government in Haikou, China, this year. Advocacy has been very successful in breaking the taboo of toilets and sanitation.
Charity cannot solve such a massive problem, however. We need to transform the world toilet crisis into a great business opportunity. Through our SaniShop micro-franchising, WTO trains local poor to become entrepreneurs producing small stand-alone sanitation treatment systems.
We also train the village women to sell these toilets and earn a commission from the producer for each sale. At an affordable price of USD33 (GBP20) per family sanitation system, SaniShop helps create jobs while delivering proper sanitation and public health sustainably.
We have made good success in Cambodia and are now entering India with the same franchising strategy. We want to replicate SaniShops in as many countries as possible so that one day, every person, anywhere, will have access to proper sanitation whenever they need to go to the toilet.