Sanitation ServicesThough ubiquitous in countries like the U.S. and U.K. and easy to ignore, basic sanitation services remain unavailable to more than 1.7 billion people. Without private toilets, almost 500 million of these individuals practice open defecation, going to the bathroom in places like street gutters or into bodies of water. 

Human waste that is not disposed of properly can come into contact with other humans, usually by contaminating drinking water, causing diseases like cholera, dysentery and polio. Poor sanitation causes almost 450,000 deaths each year as a result of diarrhea in addition to contributing to malnutrition. While it is true that the number of people who openly defecate has almost halved in the past two decades, there is still a dire need for sanitation services to become accessible to all. 

In fact, even the idea of adequate sanitation services in developed countries is not at all sustainable: it is estimated that 5 billion people will be unable to flush their toilets in the next decade so as to not flood centralized sewer systems. 

One invention, the iThrone, is a portable toilet that hopes to provide a solution for the issue of substandard sanitation that persists in the developing world and is encroaching on developed nations.


Diana Yousef is the founder and CEO of change:WATER Labs, a startup launched in 2015 that is focused on inventing and investing in solutions that address the inadequacy of current sanitation standards in many developing countries. The iThrone is the startup’s primary product. Yousef first found inspiration for the iThrone in 2009 while working with NASA to create a water treatment initiative. She wanted to see if the techniques that they conceptualized for the project, an attempt to develop a method of recycling water for space agriculture, could extend to water sustainability in poor countries. Since securing early funding from MIT, change:WATER Labs has received financial support from organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the UN Development Program. 

How It Works

The iThrone is able to circumvent many of the existing barriers to quality sanitation services. Firstly, it does not require any water to function. For communities that face a scarcity of nearby water sources, the iThrone is an invaluable form of sanitation. It can work without water because it operates by dehydrating human waste, which is mostly water, and converting it to water vapor rather than flushing it away into a sewer system. 

The little waste that is left over can then be used as fertilizer for farming. Due to this aspect of its design, the iThrone is extremely low-cost and efficient, only needing to be emptied every few weeks rather than every day like other non-flushing toilets. 

Even more impressive, four iThrones can be installed for the same price as one communal toilet. As a whole, the iThrone is completely off-grid and needs neither access to plumbing nor power. This means that installation is possible in practically any location, no matter the state of its infrastructure. Due to the simplicity of its construction, it is able to fit in crowded areas, eliminating the need for people to travel long distances just to go to the bathroom. The toilet is also capable of deodorizing deposited human waste by utilizing a biobattery that uses that waste to power a ventilating fan. 

Gender Imbalances

Open defecation presents a particular risk to women and young girls, as having to go to the bathroom in the open, and often in remote locations, makes them vulnerable to sexual assault. In order to relieve themselves without attracting the attention of men, some women restrict their water and food intake so that they need to go to the bathroom very late at night or early in the morning. The iThrone’s ability to provide proper sanitation even in crowded locations reduces the risk of sexual violence, providing women and girls with a sense of safety when they are performing one of their most private tasks and allowing them to eat and drink freely. 

Open defecation also increases the possibility for women and girls to contract reproductive and urinary infections and also renders the entire process of menstruation frustrating and degrading. Girls in regions without adequate sanitation will often skip school during their period, meaning that they miss weeks of instruction. The iThrone acts as an answer to these problems and effectively supports the health and well-being of women and girls in developing countries.  

Future Distribution

Before COVID-19, the iThrone was distributed during its first pilot deployment to a district school and hospital in Uganda. The toilets wound up servicing more than 400 people and received a wholly positive reception from locals. The pandemic unfortunately prevented further distribution from occurring, though the Turkish government expressed interest in purchasing a number of toilets for use in refugee communities in late 2021. The iThrone has also been eyed by construction companies in Central America and Indian companies wanting to test out the toilets in port-a-potties and on transportation and maritime equipment. 

Yousef and her team spent the duration of the pandemic refining their product, ensuring that when distribution does restart, the iThrone can help as many people as possible as effectively as possible. Though the iThrone has yet to be fully deployed, it is clear that it represents exactly the kind of innovation that is required to combat global poverty.

– Sofia Oliver
Photo: Unsplash

lunik IXAn uncomfortable reality is that there are many children in the world who do not have essentials such as food, water, electricity and a safe, sheltered home. This is the reality for the people living in Lunik IX in Slovakia.

Roma People in Lunik IX

There a several reasons why Lunik IX is an area that is neglected and overlooked by Slovakia. One is due to the large population of Roma people, a minority group unfairly discriminated against and long labeled as a reason for many problems in the country. The slum mostly consists of Roma people who lack the very things they need to rise out of poverty. The Roma population’s 97% unemployment rate is the biggest reason for poverty in the area. Many try to get jobs but are denied them purely based on their ethnicity.

This, as a result, heavily impacts children in Lunik IX. Their parents cannot provide for them, forcing them to live in a rundown area where there is little to no electricity and basic needs go unfulfilled. There is also little opportunity for them to break the cycle of poverty. All these issues have made the area a seemingly hopeless place for many of the children who live there.

Recreational Developments in Lunik IX

In the past few years, significant progress has been made in Lunik IX to improve living conditions for people. For one, there have been a lot of projects built purely for the purpose of giving children safe spaces to play in instead of playing in garbage and rubble. A gym, ping pong tables, a playground and a park have all been built, giving the residents safe recreational spaces. While these seem like small solutions to big problems, these spaces allow kids to be kids. The children of Lunik IX do not live typical childhoods and these projects allow them to engage in children’s play activities.

Other Key Developments in Lunik IX

Three important new developments in the area are the implementation of regular garbage disposal, the establishment of clean drinking water facilities and new construction projects. Lunik IX has been long plagued with poorly disposed of trash and a regular garbage disposal system eliminates this problem entirely. This alone can improve the health of people tenfold, as many of the diseases they face arise from unsanitary living conditions.

Clean drinking water is a necessity and it is something that Lunik IX lacks. There are plans for the reconstruction of water pipes with a prepaid system, which will ensure nobody accumulates debt from water payments.

Newer construction efforts are on track to solve the decay of many buildings and the lack of employment opportunities. Many of the newer buildings can be worked by residents, allowing them to have jobs they have previously been denied based on ethnicity.

Despite Lunik IX’s reputation as on of Europe’s worst slums, efforts are being made to change this and improve living conditions for the people.

– Remy Desai-Patel
Photo: Flickr

University of Southern California (USC) has a course called “Innovation In Engineering and Design for Global Crises.” As part of the class, a team of USC undergraduates visited the Moria refugee camp to learn from and engage with the displaced peoples about their experiences. The need for more livable housing was the impetus for students’ project development. The result was Torch Tile — an adaptable, low-cost, user-friendly solution to the sheltering challenges of the displaced peoples in Moria.

Living Conditions of the Sprawling Moria Refugee Camp

On the eastern coast of the Greek island of Lesvos, is the Moria refugee camp. Moria is the largest refugee camp in Europe. It is the landing pad for the daily stream of refugees fleeing from Afghanistan, Syria and Turkey via a harrowing boat trip across a six-mile stretch of the Mediterranean Sea. The camp was originally designed to shelter 3,000 people. Currently, it is overflowing with over 13,000 refugees.

Tents sprawling the foothills surrounding Moria have constituted as impermanent shelters or “homes” for these refugees. Some asylum-seekers have even established residence with flowers, hand-made tandoori ovens and power cords for hijacking electricity. Despite these additions, the tents are no match for the temperature swings of Greece’s climate. In the summers, heat waves can break 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Winters on the island bring lasting snow from the sea moisture. Asylum-seekers can expect to wait a year before their asylum applications are processed ensuring they will experience both extreme weather conditions.

In the past, asylum-seekers have employed cardboard and tarps in an attempt to block out the extreme cold and heat. Increasing the temperature a few degrees led to refugees living in environments with dank, humid air that condenses on the tent inner walls. Running water is only available inside of Moria, and these moist environments put asylum-seekers at risk for health complications. Many suffer from pneumonia and heat stroke, which there are limited resources with which to treat.

In stepped the Torch Tile.

The Product

After over thirty different prototypes and dozens of hours of overnight testing, the team created the Torch Tile. The users’ needs were at the forefront of the creation’s design. The product comes in 36 or 55 sq. ft. sheets that can be laid side-by-side (like tiles) to fully surround a tent. The sturdy, lightweight and flexible material of the tiles is Aluminet.

The knitted screen-like material allows for airflow, reduces indoor humidity and lets light into the tent for visibility. Secured using zip ties and draped over the tent ceiling, the Torch Tile cools the interior by deflecting outdoor heat and light on warm days. Similarly, in winter weather one layers a tarp over the Torch Tile to warm the tent by 5-15 degrees by reflecting body heat inward.

Then, the team founded Torch Global Inc., a nonprofit currently fundraising to mass produce tiles for distribution. The goal is to provide tiles for those in Moria and for the unsheltered populations in Los Angeles.

Protecting Homes during the Coronavirus Pandemic

The distribution of Torch Tiles has been paramount to enabling people to self-isolate during the coronavirus pandemic. One Torch Tile user from Los Angeles shared, “I have COVID and can’t isolate because my tent is too hot. This product will keep my tent cooler, so I can actually stay inside and isolate.” Recently Torch Global Inc. fundraised $13,000 for the ordering of 1,500 more Torch Tiles — protection for 1,500 more people in their homes.

The collective, global mobilization and coordination of resources necessary to resolve the refugee crisis in Greece is unlikely to occur soon enough. Even when it is, situations and conflicts will likely displace more people in the future, and asylum-seekers living in tents will be inevitable. By thermo-regulating shelters, Torch Tiles alleviate one aspect of refugees’ vulnerability and address the downstream effects of displacement.

Tricia Lim Castro
Photo: Flickr