Dilapidated neighborhood environments are often thought of as the result of poverty, but sanitation entrepreneurs around the world would like to think that it’s the other way around: poverty is, in part, the result of unsavory living conditions. So instead of grappling with the complex monster of economics, why not make changes that are tangible to the people?
The Ashoka-Lemelson Fellowship Program supports inventors and entrepreneurs who do just that. Five Fellows in particular are working diligently to assist in the U.N. Millennium Development Goal of halving the 2.6 million people who do not have access to basic sanitation facilities:
Juan Carlos Calizaya Luna of The Urban Development Institute in Peru offers sustainable dry toilet systems to one of the driest countries in the world. If population growth and water use in Lima continues at its current rate, the city is projected to run out of water in the year 2025. Luna encourages Peruvians to invest in the dry toilet systems in order to curb these grim prospects and cope with the water rationing that the government has put into effect.
Sameh Ghali has provided low-cost community-based latrine systems to approximately 30,000 villagers in Egypt. The water byproduct from the sewage is clean enough to use for irrigation purposes.
Isaac Durojaiye is the founder of Dignified Mobile Toilets in Nigeria. Until their start in 1999, there were only 500 ill-maintained public toilets in the country. People often defecated openly in natural water sources that were also used for cooking, drinking and washing, resulting in diseases such as dysentery, diarrhea and cholera. Now, over 3,000 mobile toilets have been made available. Along with improving the general health of Nigerians, the program has created hundreds of jobs in a country where unemployment is rampant. Empowered young men and women make profits by maintaining the mobile toilets leased to them, and, within a few years, they are able to afford sole ownership of the facilities. The positive impact of DMT on Nigerian life proves their motto—“Shit Business is Serious Business”—to be absolutely true.
Similar to Nigeria, Indonesia faces severe problems due to water pollution. Many shanties in crowded urban slums lack proper washing or toilet facilities, and as a result, citizens line up at their local rivers to perform their daily routines. In response, Agus Gunarto has created mini-sewerage systems that can service 200 households with a septic plant that occupies only four by six meters. Additionally, Ashoka reports, “Nothing is wasted in the process: sediment is sold as fertilizer; water hyacinths, which are used to reduce odor in the first two tanks, are dried and chopped up and mixed with corn as chicken feed since they make egg shells stronger; and finally, the relatively clean water in the last tank is used to breed catfish, which creates an extra source of income.”
Finally, Jack Sim, founder of the World Toilet Organization in Singapore, uses humor to address the uncomfortable subject of poor sanitation. The WTO has enthusiastically promotes development programs and challenges government leaders to improve conditions. In addition, they promote World Toilet Day (Nov. 19) and the annual World Toilet Summit. For the International Year of Sanitation 2008, Sim says, “We need to make toilets and sanitation sexy.”