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Monday, November 12, 2007

Birds do it, bees do it

While going through my news feeds this week and surfing around the web, I noticed a curious theme that kept repeating.

First, several articles on The World Toilet Summit 2007 that was recently held in New Delhi. Did you know that according to the WHO, 2.6 billion people on this planet, or 40% of the world, has no access to hygienic toilets? Or that diarrhea kills 1.6 million children a year, more than that killed by malaria, and that the principle cause of which is water polluted by human waste? An interesting excerpt from one of the articles:

“Experts all agree that the two most important public health measures in the world, measures that saved more lives than either vaccines or antibiotics, were in place by the time of the Roman Empire: running water and toilets that carry feces safely away. But, because of the expense of pipes and plumbing, they have remained for over 2,000 years the province of the relatively rich of the world, even though measures that save far fewer lives — from cinchona bark for malaria to antiretrovirals for AIDS — have been hailed as godsends […] …lack of adequate toilets threatens more children than, for example, global warming does.” [Emphases mine]

And then, this article from last year that quotes another UN study that surveyed nearly 4,500 schools in Bangladesh and found that as a nation we average one latrine for every 152 pupils. In one case, the survey found 500 students sharing just one latrine. Compare this to a world average of only 20-30 students per latrine. This causes obvious health risks, as well as irregular school attendance, especially for girl pupils.

Of course most Bangladeshis, especially those living in urban centers, are well aware of the lack of proper facilities available to the general pubic (not to mention the “sidewalk surprises” that can often punctuate our day). I started to wonder if there was a business opportunity here to start a self-sustaining social enterprise. And lo and behold, the Internet did not disappoint yet again.

I found this interesting concept on the Adeamus site from a social planner in Calcutta who envisions a “Toilet Bus” for women slum dwellers. The idea is to convert a double-decker bus into a mobile toilet service that would be parked near slums at certain times of the day. The waste would be safely stored in a storage tank on the vehicle and then disposed in a dedicated landfill site using a “twin sanitary pit” system. Once a pit is filled with waste, it is closed and a new one started. When the second pit fills up, the first one would be reopened and the refuse in it (which by then is inert) removed and used as (presumably organic?) manure which can be sold to generate revenue. This approach would potentially kill many birds with one stone: provide relief to poor slum dweller women, raise public awareness on sanitation, perhaps contribute to our fertilizer crisis, and create income generating opportunities for the poor. This is one business that will never run out of input (by which I mean, of course, “output”).



Saeed Bin Rouf said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Saeed Bin Rouf said...

This post reminds me of my School (Govt. Lab. High School, DHK) and College (Dhaka College, DHK). The tiolets were worth using!

"one latrine for every 152 pupils" - I saw it happen.

The idea of a 'Toilet Bus' is a nice one. Though it does not meet the avg. daily usage of a human being, it's a cool idea anyway. You can't fix certain time for a mass, can you? It needs to get developed.