Innovation in Sanitation: Winner of the Gates Toilet Challenge…NOT SO CLEAR

The winner of the Gates Reinvent the Toilet Challenge is…drum roll please…

WELL, not so clear.

(I have a lot of problems with the Gates Foundation including their inability to communicate clearly what’s going on…)

Gates has decided to give money out in the form of grants; and its not clear what happened with any of those grantees. They got the money, yes…but then what?? Have the toilets been developed? Are they being tested? Are they being deployed?? Does the Foundation really care?? Well who really knows…

One of the grantees was the National University of Singapore, a place I was stationed at from 2010-12 and working in the field of water policy (including sanitation) at the time. Even with all my networking, I never heard about the grantees, or the development of the project. So I was never able to follow or support the project as it developed; nor was there any chance of collaboration.

From this article, it seems like CalTech was the winner of the challenge. Their model and development is innovative, effective and deserving, but a little technologically complex. I could instantly see problems with operation and maintenance in the developing world. But I’m not sure again what happened with it.

More results of the challenge are available here.

Innovation in Sanitation: The Man Who Wore A Sanitary Napkin

Arunachalam Muruganatham at his desk working away on his award-winning sanitary napkin machine.

Lack of toilets and water during a menstrual cycle can mean huge drawbacks for women and girls. They can’t travel or get their work done on a regular basis; families that rely on a woman’s income will often starve during those days when she probably needs it most. Young girls often drop out of school because they can’t use the bathroom when they need, and this has lasting repercussions. Sanitary Napkins have traditionally been out of reach and too expensive for the poor.

Bring in Arunachalam Muruganantham, a poor handyman from a village in India and a high school dropout who was brave enough to take on the project to address the issues his wife was dealing with. It nearly cost him his marriage and made him the laughing stock of his community, but he stuck to his principles. Today, he has pioneered cheap and effective sanitary napkins for the poor in India and potentially the world. Watch his amazing story in his own words here:

Innovation in Sanitation: “She Toilets”

New “She Toilets” are causing quite an uproar in South India

In India, a country with one of the worst sanitation crises, the Hindu (the most respected newspaper in India), reports on a new initiative started by one of the small towns in South India to address the issue for women (women suffer the most with lack of access to toilets).

The “She Toilets”

The smart toilets will clean and sterilise their environments automatically. They have coin-operated sanitary-napkin-vending machines and an incinerator to burn used napkins. The toilets have baby stations to help mothers change the diapers of their children and Indian-style commodes.

Electronic display boards will tell users if the toilet is occupied or not. The toilet operation is remotely controlled. The smart toilets will send automatic SMS alerts to its controllers if the septic tank fills up or water supply is exhausted.

 

There are also security features to ensure the safety of the users. The agency has put up the “she-toilets” as most public toilets lack hygiene and pose health and safety problems to women users. The “she-toilets” have been designed keeping in mind the welfare of women commuters. They will be able to find the location of the nearest public e-toilet by searching on their mobile phones.

 

Sensor systems inside the toilet trigger its cleaning systems. The toilets will have washbasins, mirrors and health faucets. They will have FM radios and provisions to stop intruders.

 

Like everything else in India that is a public entity, I worry about the operation and maintenance, and long term use of this wonderful pilot project.

Sanitation: The Largest Infrastructure Problem in the World

This week is dedicated to sanitation. Around the world over 2.6 Billion people  (that’s almost 40% of the world population today!) lack access to sanitation. The results are catastrophic – high rates of diarrheal disease, typhoid, and other primary water-borne diseases; with numbers of secondary infections (such as HIV and TB) happily taking their toll.  The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that over 1.6 Million people die every year from diarrheal diseases alone, with 90% of these being children under the age of 5.

The worst part is its preventable. Want to learn more?

Here’s a great video to give you some perspective…

Xylem’s Innovative Water Convention

The Xylem World Water Show’s entrance page…look at the virtual classroom that you can “walk” into on the right.

The connective power of the internet and more powerful tools like smartphones and computers are both increasing innovation in otherwise stale areas, as well as decreasing barriers to entry for players who previously couldn’t come to the playing field for a variety of reasons.

Xylem, Inc is a company I had scarcely heard about until recently when I came across their World-Wide Water Show, a virtual trade show and convention that you could attend from the comfort of your living room.  Access to an internet browser and a dial-up connection gave you access to a whole world of international technology, and speakers. Suddenly, third-world citizens have the same access to opportunity as those from the first-world.

The one-day show on Nov 29, 2012, meant that you could attend at ANY point in the world’s 24-hour cycle. Like any convention, there was a calendar and agenda for when things were being showcased at what times. You could “wander” into a conference room that had a live speaker who was being simulcast; there were moderated forums for chat during the speech and a space to ask questions. Or you could go to the trade floor and “meet” virtually with experts from sponsor companies who “displayed” their wares and answered any questions. Forums or “live chats” took the place of face-to-face interactions.

Xylem also worked hard to incorporate features that made you feel like you were in a conference room or trade floor, by looking at the screen and letting you play like you were in a “Second Life” style setting.

If you are interested, the content and features are still up for another 85 days. Highly recommend it!! Go hereregister and click on the “on demand” button.

I’ll be honest… even as a water engineer, it is a little boring, so I didn’t stay too long. But its still worth visiting to check out the idea in action, the platform and the overall design/user experience…it was extremely innovative and brilliantly done at a fraction of the cost of a real convention. Granted there was no face-to-face interaction…but this could easily lead to that through.

Innovation in Sanitation: Waste Enterprisers

 

WE Founder, Ashley Murray has a PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering from UC Berkeley

A small group of poo-advocates have parked themselves in Accra, Ghana and creating an eco-energy business, transforming sewage into precious fuel.

 

Called the Waste-Enterprisers, their business model works as follows:

Inspired by the widespread use of sewage sludge as a fuel for cement plants, we’re developing a business around processing fecal sludge as a fuel for industrial boilers and kilns. Through our work with the FaME consortium in Ghana, Senegal and Uganda, we’ve found that the solids portion of fecal sludge has an energy value similar to coal.

Our business will harness that energy by processing, branding and marketing fecal sludge as a clean, renewable fuel to industries.

Here’s the best embeddable video I could find of theirs that showcased their business model:

Oh, and bTW, they are hiring. See here for more details (couldn’t find anything on their website, but heard about this from a friend). Follow them on twitter @WEnterprisers

Innovation in Sanitation: Sanitation Hackathon

Thankfully, several innovative Sanitation projects are popping up around the world. Take the recent Sanitation Hackathon from Dec 2012, when 1100 developers and technologists convened to address Sanitation problems from the developing world. This featured a collaboration of public, private, and non profits from around the world.

From what I could tell, there was an onsite challenge, and an offsite one for app development. You can track and see the results here.

 

 

Sanitation: Great Report from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

This stunning report from the LSHTM aims to encapsulate and capture the measure of the sanitation crisis in the world today.

This stunning report from the LSHTM aims to encapsulate and capture the measure of the sanitation crisis in the world today.

The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has come out with a beautiful report on the state of Sanitation that is accompanied by strong visuals, including pictures, maps and graphics. Check it out here:

Here's an example of data that LSHTM has taken from the UN Database and turned into a visual representation.

Here’s an example of data that LSHTM has taken from the UN Database and turned into a visual representation.

Innovation in Sanitation: The Dry Bath by Ludwick Marishane

22 y/o inventor/entrepreneur Ludwick Marishane has created DryBath, a gel-based solution that allows you to take a bath without water.

Growing up in a country with enormous dichotomies in its infrastructure access, South African innovator and entrepreneur, Ludwick Marishane was seeking to solve the sanitation and hygiene problem that he saw taking over his country. The 21 y/o Cape Town Native and founder of HeadBoy Industries came up with a product called DryBath, that gives people the chance to take a bath without water.

In this interview, Ludwick talks about how he came up with the idea:

The idea came to me in the 11th grade in 2007. It was a cold winter’s day; I was sunbathing with some friends of mine, when one of my best friends had to go bathe. After we nagged him to hit the shower, he eventually said, “why doesn’t someone invent something you can just put on your skin and avoid the need to bathe?”

 

A light bulb went on as I realized that I would be willing to pay money out of my pocket to buy such a product. Bear in mind that we were in the middle of the rural Limpopo province, with almost non-existent resources. I went home that day and used my web-enabled basic cellphone to research if such a product existed. My research showed that the product didn’t seem to exist, and there was a huge market of 2.5 billion people in the world without proper access to water who were in dire need of such a product (that number doesn’t include the billion more like my friend, who were lazy to bathe). Coming from a poor background myself, I felt compelled to create the product. It took 6 months and endless time on Google & Wikipedia to do it.

 

And here’s a great TEDtalk that he gave recently:

Invest in his indiegogo project here; Follow Ludwick Marishane on twitter at @theheadboy.