The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has announced the launch of the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge – China, the latest wrinkle in an ongoing initiative aimed at driving the research, development, and production of "the next-generation toilet."
Through the program, the foundation will invest $5 million to support the efforts of Chinese scientists and entrepreneurs working to design toilets that capture and process human waste without piped water, sewer, or electrical connections and then transform that waste into valuable resources such as energy and water at an affordable price. Launched in 2011, the Reinvent the Toilet initiative aims to spur innovation and creative thinking around the development of inexpensive, hygienic toilets. To date, the foundation has funded sixteen research institutions across Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America as part of the initiative. The program in China is the first effort targeted at a specific country.
According to the foundation, 40 percent of the world's population, or 2.5 billion people, lack access to safe sanitation facilities. Food and water tainted with fecal matter cause 1.5 million child deaths a year, most of which could be prevented with the introduction of adequate sanitation facilities, along with safe drinking water and improved hygiene.
According to the Xinhua news agency, Zhang Yong, a senior official of the disease control and prevention department of China's National Health and Family Planning Commission, said that as of 2012 about 30 percent of the rural Chinese population did not have access to a hygienic toilet. "China aims to raise the percentage of rural residents using hygienic toilets to 75 percent by 2015 and 85 percent by 2020," said Zhang, adding that the government was ready and willing to promote nationwide any "suitable" toilets developed through the Gates-supported program.