"Reinventing the Toilet" in India

15 October 2013

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have announced a new partnership with The Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India, in joint funding the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) to launch the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge – India.

At the moment, 2.5 billion people don’t have access to safe sanitation. Safe sanitation, that could save the lives of 1.5 million kids under the age of 5 globally every year and prevent so much sickness and suffering for 40% of the world’s population.

At 1.27 billion people, India is the second most populous country in the world. Although, around 275 million people gained access to improved sanitation between 1990 and 2011, 615 million still defecated in the open in 2011.

And, millions of tons of fecal sludge collected from pit latrines and septic tanks are discharged untreated into the environment, creating a horrendous health hazard. A recent UNICEF report on sanitation in India showed that poor sanitation is responsible for the stunting of 62 million children under the age of 5; these kids will never reach their full physical or mental potential.

This is why opportunities are being investigated that extend affordable sanitation services to poor communities through innovations in business models, government policies and technologies that will develop a “next generation toilet” that kills all pathogens, is self-contained, is affordable, and that people want to use.

So, India has a sanitation problem, and it recognises this. The exciting thing about the new partnership with the Indian government and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is that India is ranked fourth in manufacturing competiveness by Deloitte, and sees a way to reduce poverty through innovation and manufacturing, while having “the capacity to emerge as the second best destination for manufacturing in the world in terms of its strength in design and technology, resource base, rich pool of young talented people and entrepreneurial spirit” (Ajay Shankar). That, to us, sounds like a recipe for a solution to the sanitation crisis, not just for India, but also the entire planet.