Gates Foundation Launches Effort to Reinvent the Toilet

Flush toilets are unavailable to the vast majority in the developing world, and billions of people lack a safe, reliable toilet or latrine. More than a billion people defecate in the open. Nearly 40 percent of the world’s population does not have proper sanitation.

The foundation also announced $42 million in new sanitation grants that aim to spur innovations in the capture and storage of waste, as well as its processing into reusable energy, fertilizer, and fresh water. In addition, the foundation will support work with local communities to end open defecation and increase access to affordable, long-term sanitation solutions that people will want to use.

Access to safe sanitation would reduce child diarrhea by 30 percent and significantly increases school attendance.

Unsafe methods to capture and store waste lead to serious health problems and death. About 1.5 million children die each year from diarrheal disease, and most of these deaths could be prevented with the introduction of proper sanitation, along with safe drinking water and improved hygiene.

The foundation and its partners are working to develop new tools and technologies that address every aspect of sanitation—from the development of waterless, hygienic toilets that do not rely on sewer connections to pit emptying to waste processing and recycling. Many of the solutions being developed involve cutting-edge technology that could turn human waste into fuel to power local communities, fertilizer to improve crops, or even safe drinking water.

One of the foundation’s partners is the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which is launching WASH for Life through its Development Innovation Ventures program to fund projects that identify, test, and help scale up evidence-based approaches to delivering water, sanitation, and hygiene services to the poor. Both organizations will contribute $8.5 million to the four-year venture.

The foundation and its partners are focusing on affordable solutions. Sanitation services must cost no more than 5 cents per person per day and be easy to install, use, and maintain. The foundation’s strategy involves gathering evidence to determine what people want and measuring what really works. It includes stimulating demand for improved sanitation in both rural and urban communities through education and raising awareness. It also involves advocacy efforts to engage governments and other public and private partners to prioritize sanitation policies that address this urgent issue.

Sanitation brings substantial economic benefits. According to the World Health Organization, improved sanitation can produce up to $9 for every $1 invested by increasing productivity, reducing health care costs, and preventing illness, disability, and early death. People with access to clean and convenient sanitation services also experience greater dignity, privacy, and security. This is especially true of women and girls, who often miss work or school when they are menstruating and risk sexual assault when they are forced to defecate in the open or use public restrooms.

New investments announced today include:

Reinventing the Toilet Challenge
Totaling $3 million, this grant supports eight universities across Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America in the challenge to reinvent the toilet as a stand-alone unit without piped-in water, a sewer connection, or outside electricity—all for less than 5 cents a day. Grantees include California Institute of Technology; Delft University of Technology; Eidgenössische Anstalt für Wasserversorgung, Abwasserreinigung und Gewässerschutz (EAWAG); National University of Singapore; University of KwaZulu-Natal; University of Toronto; WEDC at Loughborough University; and Stanford University for a Hertz Fellows Multi-University Research Collaboration. Contact: Amandine de Coster / +32.479.811.866

WASH for Life
A collaboration with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) totaling $17 million, of which USAID and the foundation are each providing $8.5 million, to use USAID’s Development Innovation Ventures program to identify, test, and help scale evidence-based approaches to delivering water, sanitation, and hygiene services to the poor. For more information, go to

African Development Bank, African Water Facility
The foundation will provide $12 million in funding for the development of sanitation pilot projects that may include fecal sludge management services in sub-Saharan Africa. The goal is to serve up to 1.5 million urban poor who now lack access to sanitation services. Contact: Katia Theriault / +

Water Services Trust Fund and German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ)
In a project co-funded by the German and Kenyan governments, the foundation is providing $10 million to support efforts to scale up sustainable sanitation services for up to 800,000 people and water services for up to 200,000 residents in low-income urban areas in Kenya. Contact: Felgona A. Ochieng, WSTF / +; Roland Werchota, GIZ / +254.20.2719987; Dr. Charis Pöthig, KfW / +49.69.7431.4683

UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education
This $8 million grant supports efforts to transform the postgraduate water and sanitation education system through an increased focus on solutions that work for the poor and a robust online curriculum to reduce costs and increase accessibility to higher education. Contact: Alida Pham / +31.15.2151722

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