About 1.5 million children die each year from diarrhoeal diseases, according to the United Nations. But most of these deaths could be prevented with proper sanitation, safe water and better hygiene.
“No innovation in the past 200 years has done more to save lives and improve health than the sanitation revolution triggered by invention of the toilet,” says Sylvia Mathews Burwell, president of the foundation’s Global Development Program.
"But it did not go far enough. It only reached one third of the world. What we need are new approaches. New ideas.”
Gates is challenging eight universities to come up with the toilet of tomorrow – a stand-alone unit without piped-in water, a sewer connection or outside electricity. The latrines must be easy to install and maintain and cost no more than five cents per person per day.
The foundation, which has announced $42 million in new sanitation grants, is also encouraging innovations to turn human waste into fuel for local communities, fertiliser and even drinking water.
Some 2.6 billion people don’t have access to safe sanitation and more than a billion defecate in the open, the foundation says.
Safe sanitation not only reduces illness, disability, death and healthcare costs, but it increases people’s productivity and school attendance.
And it makes a massive difference to women and girls who often miss work or school when they are menstruating and risk sexual assault when they have to defecate in the open or use public latrines.
The United Nations wants to halve the number of people who don’t have access to toilets by 2015 – one of the targets of its Millennium Development Goals.
Click here for an outline of the toilet innovations being developed by the eight universities. And if you need any more persuading, have a look at this short video.
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