The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced on March 20, 2014 that they were awarding $2 million worth of grants to multiple teams of researchers in India to work towards solving global sanitation issues.
These grants are part of the foundation’s “Grand Challenges,” a series of grant programs that was started ten years ago. The Gates Foundation describes Grand Challenges as a way to work with partners to “support innovative research to radically improve key problems in health and development around the world.”
In India, the foundation has partnered with the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) IRK Knowledge Park, and the Department of Biotechnology in hopes of designing a toilet that will provide sanitation services to the billions of people who currently lack those services.
Currently, 2.5 billion people worldwide do not have access to safe means of sanitation, which leads to the deaths of 1.5 million children under the age of five every year. Additionally, UNICEF reported that 2,000 children die every day because of poor sanitation and contaminated water. Many of these children die due to diarrhea, which can originate from the use of unsanitized toilets.
In India, more than half of the population does not have access to basic sanitation, which necessitates the building of proper toilets.
In the announcement of the grant, professor and biotechnologist K.Vijay Raghavan said, “Effective and comprehensive sanitation seems an impossible dream for India.” Raghavan went on to say, “Yet today we see a congruence of new and applicable science and technology, its affordability and sustainable implementation.”
The day after the announcement, the Reinvent the Toilet Fair took place in New Delhi and featured a variety of new devices, such as solar-powered electronic toilets. Other prototypes included a portable toilet that is capable of collapsing as well as another that emptied into a pit with waste-consuming insects.
The Gates Foundation’s goals for the scientists participating in the fair were to sanitize any waste, use a minimal amount of water or electricity, and produce a “usable product at low cost.” Another requirement was for the toilet to be something that people would want to use.
The World Bank currently estimates $260 billion to be the total global cost of poor sanitation every year, with India accounting for $54 billion of that total. These poor sanitation in India warrants change before things get worse and more lives are lost.
India is considered to have the worst conditions worldwide in regard to sanitation, an issue that is considered to be more of an annoyance in the Western world. Additional regions that lack basic sanitation include sub-Saharan Africa, southern Asia, Oceania and various islands in the Pacific Ocean. In countries where sanitation is a major issue, people commonly lose their lives due to preventable issues.
The Gates Foundation previously partnered with the BIRAC and Department of Biotechnology for the “Achieving Healthy Growth through Agriculture and Nutrition” program in August 2013.
In continuing its work with innovators in India, the foundation hopes to prevent these unnecessary deaths and improve sanitation worldwide.
– Julie Guacci