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.
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.
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.