Innovation and initiative to solve a serious problem: Everyone has toilets!

What it would be if you have to think how do you toilet tomorrow morning! According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 2.3 billion people still do not have basic toilets facilities. Mostly, low and middle-income countries are facing this terrible problem in everyday life. In rural areas, it’s common for people of those countries who defecate in the open places due to lack of sanitation facilities. Sadly, it’s increasing in sub-Saharan Africa and some part in the world for their rapid population growth. Access to the toilet is a big challenge for people who are living in these areas. There is a huge discussion going on to solve this terrible problem because of the better health and economy.

If you have experiences to work in developing countries specially with the people who are living in urban slums and rural areas, then you understand the vulnerability of their situation fighting for access to toilet and safe water. Recently, watched a Bollywood movie name ‘Halkaa’; where a young boy Pichku, who lives in a slum of India; and dreaming for a sanitary toilet for his family avoid defecate in the open places or use the noxious common toilet. Confidently he and his friend Goppy fight against the odds and build a toilet which made an example of creating awareness for the sanitary toilet in slums.

Estimated globally 1 billion people live in slums; scarily it’s increasing and anticipated to double this number by 2030. Lack of access to clean drinking water, sanitation, enough living space, healthy foods, and safety are common problems in slums. Children growing up in these surroundings are at a higher risk of disease and death due to chronic malnourished, source from UN-Habitat. The World Bank research findings, “in Guatemala, Niger, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, Yemen, and Bangladesh, the rate of stunting among children under 5 is over 30 percent. And the stunting is a powerful risk factor associated with 53 percent of deaths related to infectious diseases in developing countries.” Infants and women are severely suffering because of the unsanitary living condition and poor nutrition which tends to immense health costs along with a negative impact on the economy and human development.

‘Toilet: Ek Prem Katha’; this is an Indian film based on satirical comedy with a sweet romantic story to campaigning improve the sanitation conditions in rural India. Behind this romance story of a newlywed couple, the tragedy is to get toilet access for a young woman, where the entire villagers defecated in the open places. It is harrowing who are suffering in that situation due to social taboos, poverty, and education. Bill Gates twitted about the film in 2017 and mentioned his inspiration to find a better solution where people are suffering for lack of sanitation. End of 2018, he spoke at the conference ‘The Reinvented Toilet Expo’ in Beijing and took with him to the podium a sealed jar containing human feces. That was dramatic but made attention to find a smart solution of a toilet for all to prevent poor health condition and chronic diseases.

Historically, toilet used from ancient time and same as today that was not available for all. Poor people used to make their toilet with a wooden stool and a hole in it. There placed a container filled with sand underneath the hole, which emptied manually. In the current world, toilets come in various forms like modern flush toilets, pit toilet and add with many advanced features. All we admit need more attention for sanitary, off-grid toilets that can remove harmful by-products from human waste to stop spreading diseases among those people who don’t have clean sanitation facility. Reinvent the Toilet, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation initiative featured 20 toilets in The Reinvented Toilet Expo 2018’ in China. The toilets are developed by experts from around the world, used the clever engineering to separate solid and liquid waste safely and without odor. Remarkably, one of the leading designs ‘Nano Membrane Toilet’ developed by scientists and engineers at Cranfield University, uses a brilliant series of gears, screws, and holding chambers to separate, clean, and store waste.

Indeed, it’s a big challenge to ensure toilet access for more than 2 billion people still who don’t have toilet access because of expensive sewerage systems. To find a smart solution, the inventors and creative entrepreneurs around the world take the initiative and working together on a hi-tech toilet that can operate without mains sewerage infrastructure. It will change a significant impact on peoples’ lives who are living in slums and remote areas. I believe the research institutions and companies with innovative ideas can solve it sustainably. And optimistically by the 2019 ‘World Toilet Day’ it would develop remarkably to save more lives and secure their future.

Naiyer Fatema

Naiyer Fatema is a financial inclusion specialist and women economic empowerment activist. She experienced working with the financial organizations in Bangladesh and designed some financial products for small and medium-sized entrepreneurs (SME). She is a business graduate and a Masters in Development Studies (MDS). Currently, she facilitates programs in Digital Spaces in Adelaide to support communities taking the advantage of emerging technologies and new opportunities. Naiyer is an International Exchange Alumni of the U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs and a member of the Development Network, New Zealand.
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