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Sustainable Sanitation Services
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is an organization dedicated to fighting poverty, disease, and inequity around the world. It has been working to create a world where every person has the opportunity to live a healthy and productive life. In order to reach their goal, in 2021 alone, the Gates Foundation has been responsible for funding 2,051 grants and contributing a total of $6.7 billion of charitable support to build economies across the globe. With $653 million going to global growth and opportunity, the Gates Foundation has been a leader in improving water, hygiene and sustainable sanitation services globally.

Sustainable Sanitation

Since the main objective of a sanitation system is to provide a clean environment to people living in a community, promote better health and break the cycle of disease in the process. It is imperative that all societies have access to clean, filtered water and sewage systems. Sustainable sanitation is a sanitation system that is economically viable and institutionally appropriate. For example, sustainable sanitation measures should be both socio-culturally acceptable and easy to operate. It should also be low-cost and effective in mitigating disease and preserving the health of the community.

The Importance of Sanitation Services

The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that “poor sanitation is linked to the transmission of diarrheal diseases.” As the spread of diseases like cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio contributes to the spread of antimicrobial resistance, proper sanitation is crucial to the development of a community. Often linked to reducing the well-being and economic development of society, sustainable sanitation services are crucial to reducing poverty. However, improving and providing sustainable sanitation services can lead to many more benefits such as:

  • Reducing the spread of neglected tropical diseases.
  • Reducing the impact of malnutrition.
  • Promoting safety and empowering women and girls to employ safe feminine hygiene practices.
  • Promoting school attendance.
  • Encouraging the potential recovery of water and renewable energy.

However, WHO reported that in 2020, only 54% of the world’s population were using safely managed sanitation services and more than 1.7 billion people still don’t have access to basic sanitation services. Since roughly 830,000 people die every year due to the effects of poor hygiene and inadequate water sanitation in low/middle-income countries, it is important to take steps to mitigate the problem.

The Gates Foundation and Its Goals

The Gates Foundation has been working with government leaders and technologists to revolutionize sanitation standards and practices around the world. Their core initiatives include:

  • Promoting and creating policies and outlets for global governments to take in order to establish sustainable sanitation services.
  • Investing in the following priority demographics:
    • Low-Income populations
    • Racial and ethnic minorities
    • Women
    • Children and adolescents
    • Elderly
    • Individuals with special needs
  • Investing in the adoption of new technologies that can radically change the management of human waste in an affordable manner.
  • Conducting research to help the sanitation section develop data and evidence about what works and what does not.

The Four Focus Regions

The Gates Foundation recognizes that the implementation of sustainable sanitation services is most pertinent in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Even in the sub-Saharan countries with the best water coverage rates, as much as 25% of people still lack adequate access to proper sanitation services. The Gates Foundation reports that governments are now beginning to acknowledge the need for more innovative sustainable sanitation solutions as the population of towns and cities begins to grow rapidly. The organization has been focusing on four complementary areas, which are as follows:

  1. Investing in transformative technologies and commercialization is key to making sustainable sanitation accessible. Since 2011, the Gates Foundation has been working to “reinvent the toilet,” by designing a low-cost toilet that does not need access to an electrical grid, water or a sewer system.
  2. The foundation works with local governments, organizations and partners to stimulate the market and community demands to improve urban sanitation conditions.
  3. It also works to improve government policy and advocacy regarding sustainable sanitation by setting guidelines and providing funding. These efforts particularly work to increase women’s participation in sanitation decision-making areas.
  4. Lastly, the Gates Foundation invests in more research to measure the effectiveness of various sanitation services in order to reach its goal of providing equitable and safely managed sustainable sanitation services for all people by 2030.

Goals for the Future

Because poor sanitation is responsible for so many health complications, the Gates Foundation recognizes the importance of expanding access to clean water and providing sustainable sanitation. Solving sanitation challenges in the developing world will require new technologies that are both reliable and cost-effective. It is therefore crucial to invest in proper sanitation to lift poverty-stricken nations.

– Opal Vitharana
Photo: Flickr