ANSI is currently working with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on ISO projects relating to next generation toilets. This idea might seem surprising to some people in the privileged world, who can easily take for granted the basic necessities that they have little trouble accessing but could truly never live without.
Sanitation is a global crisis
According to the WHO, 2.5 billion people on our planet currently lack access to toilets. This means that over one third of the entire human population today lack the ability to relieve themselves in a sanitary and private manner. For many, the only option is “open defecation”. To combat this, the next generation toilets will remove pathogens and not require traditional sewage infrastructure, costing less than 5 cents per user.
The current sanitation crisis is a product of Modernity, in which the practices from the natural world have clashed with society. Homo sapiens, originating about 200,000 years ago, has spent most of its time as part of an ecosystem, no different than animals in the wild, in which the waste of its members contributed to the growth of its overall environment.
The move away from living with nature into cities, towns, and villages required different efforts for sanitation. Humans were smart enough to tackle this issue, and we have evidence of toilets and sewer systems dating as far back as the Indus Valley Civilization circa 2600 BCE.
Toilets and sewer systems gave much of the world the ability to manage waste, and while there have always been health problems related to poor sanitation, there has never been a crisis comparable to that which is happening now. In the century since the year 1900, the human population has skyrocketed; it was at about 1.5 billion at the start of the Twentieth Century, a feat that took hundreds of thousands of years, and as of 2016, it is 7.4 billion. This population explosion was so rapid in the grand scheme of events that it became difficult for the infrastructure to keep up. In wealthier places of the world, this population growth didn’t lead to any drastic problems.
However, in the poverty-ridden areas of many nations of the underprivileged world, there has been an inability to provide proper sanitation requirements. Currently, 82 percent of the people practicing open defecation is concentrated in just 10 countries: India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Sudan, Niger, Nepal, China, and Mozambique. Most have undergone rapid population growth since 1900, particularly Ethiopia, which grew from 4 million people to 90 million today, a growth of 22.5 times. From this burst of population in concentrated areas, it is easy to understand how sanitation and waste infrastructure have lagged.
Obviously, a key concern with the lack of toilets in the world is health. Human excreta always contains large numbers of germs, but when people become afflicted with diseases such as cholera and typhoid, their excreta will contain large amounts of the disease. In the case of open defecation, this gives flies significant access to feed on the excreta, which they will have on their feet and bodies and can pass onto food or people. Open defecation near water sources can spread the pathogens into the drinking water. It is estimated that 1 million preventable deaths occur every year due to unsanitary conditions, and it has claimed the lives of at least 10 million children under 5 since 2000.
The other major issue that derives from lack of access to toilets is the danger that open defecation poses to people, particularly women and young girls, who can become the victims of sexual assault and other violent crimes. Not being able to simply use a toilet in their homes, these women either wait until late at night due to embarrassment of being seen during the day or even just because that’s when they need to go. This places them under cover of the night, where they are very susceptible. In July 2014, in a brutal example of this, in the remote village of Katra Sahadatganj in Uttar Pradesh, two girls were raped and hanged from a tree. In response to vicious attacks like these, there has been public outrage, and nonprofit organization Sulabh International has already installed over 1 million toilets in India. You can listen to more about this story here:
With the installation of these toilets, it is essential that current open defecation practitioners’ mindsets move away from the methods that have spread disease and threatened people’s lives. Even though there are so many clear problems coming from open defecation, many people still prefer it over the safe, sanitary option. For example, some men in India who, even after having toilets installed at home, prefer going outdoors for a few minutes of quiet. When a young Indian mother who open defecates was asked why she prefers the activity, she stated that “Feces don’t belong under the same roof as where we eat and sleep.” This ideology fails to grasp the dangers of diseases that are invisible to us.
In addition, it is not always ideal to introduce toilets that are common in the Western World into these areas since the sewage systems in these regions, such as Southeast Asia, simply pour the wastewater into waterways that people use for bathing and drinking water. The project that ANSI is a part of handles this problem by having toilets that are not connected to sewage systems, which also makes them easier to install.
The need for more toilets and sanitation shouldn’t diminish the accomplishments already made on the subject. In 1990, 49 percent of the world occupied healthy sanitation conditions, and now that amount is above 65 percent. Installing more toilets can act as the first step in improving the quality of life for billions of people.