Gates Foundation Reinvents the Toilet

June 2, 2012
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Water and sanitation, WatSan, and WASH – there are many words to convey the idea that water and sanitation are linked. But as we learned during the PHLUSH visit to the Gates Foundation sponsored Luminaries of Science: Reinventing the Toilet event yesterday – the problem with this compound subject is that the idea of sanitation is often lost in translation. More people globally lack safe toilets (2 in 3 people without flush toilets) than clean water (1 in 7 people without clean water), but over 90 percent of funding going to these combined projects is allocated to water.

The Gates Foundation takes this stark discrepancy seriously. PHLUSH learned their Water, Sanitation, & Hygiene Department dedicates 90 percent of funding to sanitation with 10 percent to water. They state “We focus on issues with the potential for long-term impact, particularly those that are neglected by other funders.” They especially support development of sanitation technology and have dedicated over $42 million dollars to a “Reinvent the Toilet” initiative. Water-based toilets are expensive, and not all places have water. Re-inventing toilets that don’t need water and cost only 5 cents per day will allow more people to have safe sanitation.

Abby Brown, Arvind Khurana and Poonam Sharma at Seattle Science Center

Last night, the Foundation co-hosted a special Reinventing the Toilet event to get people talking locally about the importance of sanitation globally. Rose George, author of The Big Necessity, and Jack Sim, founder of the World Toilet Organization, were keynote speakers. Both talked in real-people terms about something usually whispered about behind closed doors – sh*t. Rose mentioned her heartbreak that a planeload of little children dies every two hours from sanitation-related diseases. Jack emphasized the importance of getting people to be proud of owning a toilet. PHLUSH had a table for the over 600 guests during intermission to see that re-inventing the toilet is not a foreign issue. When thinking about emergency sanitation, we need to reinvent the toilet locally.

All in all, the last couple of days have been fully inspirational thanks to the Gates Foundation and the Reinventing the Toilet event. To stop a silent killer from taking a small child every 15 seconds, we all need to think about reinventing the toilet, stay abreast of local and global sanitation concerns, and start talking about sh*t. Jack Sim says “live a meaningful life”. He says that we’re only on this planet for around 80 years each, do something to make a difference. Toilets are your opportunity.

Postscript: PHLUSH is excited to bring Jack Sim back to Portland for three days of visits and interviews. Jack Sim will be taking a tour of the Portland Loos on Monday at 10:30 am, giving a public talk at Mercy Corps on Monday at noon, and meeting with a variety of students, media professionals, and local organizations. Stay tuned to www.phlush.org for more information.

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Public Hygiene Lets Us Stay Human (PHLUSH) was founded in Portland, Oregon and today collaborates with groups across North America.

PHLUSH is a member of the World Toilet Organization and a partner in the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance.

Our Mission Through education and advocacy, PHLUSH helps local governments and citizen groups to provide equitable public restroom availability and to prepare for a pipe-breaking seismic event with appropriate ecological toilet systems.

Our Vision Toilet availability is a human right and well-designed sanitation systems restore health to our cities, our waters and our soils.

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