New Designs on an Old Fixture

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As a follow up to our post on travel philanthropy, a word of caution in regards to a common problem affecting areas trying to recover from destructive events: poor sanitation systems.

Diarrheal diseases, including those linked to improper sanitation, are the second leading cause of death in the developing world, taking 2 million lives annually.   Fecal contamination of drinking water is the main source of most diarrheal illnesses, and is almost inevitable in areas without working toilets and sewage treatment facilities.

Research intended to end this scourge is a small fraction of what is spent on AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. But now the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation is funding eight university teams developing new designs for the toilet. Some divert and capture urine, from which water can be recovered. Others produce energy from excrement by turning it into charcoal or gas. None of the new systems require the toilet be connected to a grid for sewage treatment.  One of the conditions of the Gates Foundation funding is that the overall cost of future toilets, including maintenance, cannot exceed 5 cents per user per day.  The benefits, in terms of improved health care and lower mortality, would easily outweigh such a modest investment.

Distributing this new technology will take time, of course. Until a solution is in place, if you are traveling to help out in an area where poor sanitation is an issue, make sure to purify all water before drinking it or washing with it.

Photo from The Gates Foundation.

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