Flushing money down the toilet? – Tearfund's Policy Blog

August 17, 2012 by stephaniekgill

So Bill Gates has actually been flushing his money down the toilet – as the BBC reports here! In between addressing malaria, TB and other killer diseases, Mr Gates has been trying to re-invent the toilet – an endeavour that has received a good deal of media coverage recently, with good reasons too.

The current flush toilet doesn’t make a lot of sense –about 10 litres of drinking water are used when flushing a toilet and then the waste has to be filtered out. This is followed by the challenge to then clean up the water again to a quality that can be drunk – or flushed down the loo once more…

The competition stipulated that designs did not require running water and was especially aimed at countries where piped water to that volume is a constant challenge. The entries to the competition were quite something – with the winner being a solar-powered toilet that can generate hydrogen gas and electricity.

Sanitation, or lack of it, is a problem faced by over a third of the world’s population. The statistics about the lack of sanitation in the world are both well rehearsed and shocking – 2.5 billion people lack access to a basic toilet and around 4000 children everyday die as a result of poor sanitation from diarrhoea.

It’s easy to forget the human story behind every statistic but I was strongly reminded on my recent trip to Ethiopia. I met 30 year old Aeylech Tomas who lives in village, Kisho, about 300km south of Addis Ababa. She talked about the fears she experiences everytime she has to go to the toilet – ‘I am always afraid that someone might see me. If the boys or men see us they might attack or rape us. I feel sad; this is not a good life.’

I am pleased to see that in between reporting on the various toilet inventions the The Gates Foundation have highlighted the health impacts of the sanitation crisis and I hope that some positive public awareness comes from this. For people like Aeylech, it is not necessarily a toilet producing hydrogen gas and electricity she needs, but somewhere safe and clean that will provide her with dignity. Let’s hope that out of this competition, positive public awareness is raised and that ultimately, lives like Aeylech’s can be radically transformed.