How to solve the world's sanitation problem

Undisposed waste lying on a street
Image caption Lack of sanitation and hygiene is a big problem in many developing and emerging economies

We go to the toilet about six to eight times a day. We cannot imagine not having a toilet when we need to use one.

Yet despite all the progress in human development, 2.6 billion people - about 40% of mankind - still do not have access to proper sanitation.

Each year, 1.5 million children under the age of five die of diarrhoea caused by unsanitary conditions and poor hygiene.

When open defecation is the common practice, the flies spread diseases from the waste to the food.

Sanitation and hygiene are the cheapest and most effective preventive medicines for the poor.

Lack of attention

Yet this is a Millennium Development Goal that has failed miserably. Why?

The reason is simple: We simply do not talk about it enough to find effective solutions on a global scale.

Most of the time, sanitation sits in the shadow of her more glamorous sister, water.

They call sanitation - waste water, black water, grey water, yellow water, etc - anything but sanitation.

When development banks and governments think of sanitation, they think of urban sewerage pipe systems that cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

But sewerage water pipes often end up in the river, sea or lakes, and pollute the water sources.

Socio-economic impact

Adolescent girls drop out of school when they menstruate, because without toilets at school, it is impossible to change sanitary napkins.

Missing school for one week each month often causes them to drop out of school altogether. Without education, the poverty cycle continues.

The poor who have been used to open defecation also may not think they need a toilet.

In this way, demand is muted. Supply is non-existent. Market is fragmented.

How shall we solve a problem that people do not want to talk about?

The World Toilet Organization was founded in 2001 with its acronym WTO.

With our unique mix of serious facts and humour, we took the global media by storm and shocked the world into realisation of such a massive global sanitation crisis.

As media gave legitimacy to the subject, politicians became advocates for proper sanitation to win popularity.

The academia, with its publish-or-perish culture contributed by publishing their researches on technologies and findings. Small sanitation-related NGOs started to get attention for their cause.

Our founding day, 19 November, became World Toilet Day and this is celebrated by an ever-increasing number of people each year.

Last year, by coincidence, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was launched in cinemas worldwide on 19 November.

It ranks 4th on Twitter that day, and World Toilet Day ranks 5th.

Google also showed 16 million mentions of World Toilet Day on the web search.

Charity or business

Image caption Better sanitation can help improve living standards in many developing countries

Our World Toilet Summits series, now in its 10th year, has travelled to Singapore, Seoul, Taipei, Beijing, Belfast, Moscow, New Delhi, Macau, Philadelphia. And this year, it'll be hosted by the Hainan Provincial government in Haikou, China.

Advocacy has been very successful in breaking the taboo of toilets and sanitation.

But charity cannot solve such a massive problem.

We need to transform the world toilet crisis into a great business opportunity.

Through our SaniShop micro-franchising, WTO trains local poor to become entrepreneurs producing small stand-alone sanitation treatment systems.

We also train the village women to sell these toilets and earn a commission from the producer for each sale.

At an affordable price of $33 (£20) per family sanitation system, SaniShop helps create jobs while delivering proper sanitation and public health sustainably.

We have made good success in Cambodia and are now entering India with the same franchising strategy.

We want to replicate SaniShops in as many countries as possible so that one day, every person, anywhere, will have access to proper sanitation whenever they need to go to the toilet.

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