Good Sanitation For All
Our ambition is to improve the lives of people with access to poor or insufficient sanitation.
Good sanitation is widely recognised as one of the greatest advances in public health, yet it remains unavailable to billions of poor people in developing countries.
Piped sewage systems and treatment plants are unaffordable, leaving them no alternatives to on-site systems, which collect, store and supposedly decompose their contents at or near the household. Around 1.7 billion people worldwide still use one of the most basic forms of on-site sanitation, the pit latrine. And they face a recurring problem: the contents don’t decompose fast enough or fully, and the pits fill up.
This seriously undermines people’s health and quality of life. As well as flies and odours, users suffer anxiety, embarrassment and significant expense. They can either replace or empty their pit. Both options can be costly or unfeasible due to lack of space – especially in unplanned settlements or emergency camps. People who can’t afford these options have little choice other than to defecate outdoors. This is a serious public health risk – and is also socially demeaning.
Sanitation Ventures is a three-year project to tackle these problems, with a grant of US $4.8 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine given in June 2009. Until then, little research had been done on what controls the decomposition of pit contents, so no proven, effective solutions had been found to speed it up. We’re working to develop those solutions.
Building on the latest advances in science and technology, we’re generating new knowledge about pit latrines and developing innovations in on-site sanitation that users want and need. We’ll then help make sure these solutions are successfully brought to market where they can have real impact on users’ lives. We want a world where safe, sustainable sanitation is accessible to everyone.
What We Do
We’re developing innovations that will offer longer-lasting, affordable sanitation for low-income users of on-site sanitation. This will have a tangible impact on poor people’s health and livelihoods across the world, in a sustainable and environmentally safe way, reducing their exposure to disease and freeing up income that can be used to support their families.
We’re building a solid platform of knowledge about decomposition processes in latrines, and evaluating the potential of biotechnology and improved design to accelerate decomposition. By coupling this information with a better understanding of the needs and aspirations of users, we’ll generate affordable, sustainable solutions to extend the lifetime of on-site sanitation systems. And we’ll help new business ventures bring these innovations to market.
Within 5-10 years, users of on-site sanitation will have more affordable, effective solutions to their sanitation needs.
We have two core beliefs:
- Many recent scientific advances, particularly in biotechnology, can be readily applied to reducing the rate at which latrine pits fill
- Market-led approaches are the best way to provide novel, sustainable interventions to address key development challenges.
These beliefs underpin our five-step approach to improving on-site sanitation in developing countries:
- Identify scientific advances from a variety of fields that could improve pit latrine performance, for example, by accelerating content decomposition
- Understand content decomposition processes and the influence of on-site sanitation design factors on performance, to increase overall knowledge and drive innovations
- Assess the current and potential market and understand consumer needs and aspirations for on-site sanitation, so any new products or designs will be adopted and used
- Generate new on-site sanitation concepts for further development and commercialisation, to dramatically increase performance, cost-effectiveness and user adoption
- Promote the commercialisation of potential ventures to take innovations to market and maximise our impact.
We view Sanitation Ventures as only the first step in realising the innovative solutions we are developing for the on-site sanitation market. When the project ends in July 2012 we aim to have a pipeline of ideas at different stages of development. These will range from early stage ventures starting to be commercialised, through to technology proof-of-concept and to more fundamental research avenues. We hope to secure further funding to be able to drive all the ideas in the pipeline through the different stages of demonstration and evaluation to reach the market.
Our open innovation approach means we welcome input from anyone able to help solve the exciting challenges we face. We also offer Venture Development Grants to help businesses fast-track our ideas and deliver them to market.