The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in partnership with the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade and the China Chamber of International Commerce, development banks, donor governments, and corporations, has announced a major commitment to accelerate the commercialization and adoption of "disruptive" sanitation technologies.
Announced this week at the Reinvented Toilet Expo in Beijing, the Gates Foundation's commitment is aimed at dramatically reducing, over the next decade, the human and economic toll of unsafe sanitation, including the deaths of half a million children under the age of 5 each year and the more than $200 billion lost due to healthcare costs and reduced income and productivity. The foundation, which has invested $200 million since 2011 in the research and development of early-stage reinvented toilets and small-scale waste treatment plants (called omni-processors), plans to spend an additional $200 million in support of R&D that can help reduce the costs of new sanitation products for the poor and bolster market development in regions where new, non-sewered sanitation products are likely to have the greatest impact.
In conjunction with the Gates announcement, a number of development finance institutions, including the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and the African Development Bank, announced commitments of their own — representing the largest-ever coordinated set of investments in urban sanitation — that could unlock $2.5 billion in financing for sanitation projects that provide people in crowded mega-cities with safely managed sanitation services. More than half the world's population, 4.5 billion people, continue to live without access to safely managed sanitation, and in many cities in the Global South more than 50 percent of human waste is released into the environment untreated.
In addition, UNICEF announced a new sanitation market-shaping strategy designed to help scale and deploy product and service innovations and increase private-sector engagement in the sector, while the French Development Agency pledged to double its funding for sanitation work globally, to €600 million ($683 million) annually, by 2022. At the event, companies from China (Clear, CRRC, EcoSan), the United States (Sedron Technologies), India (Eram Scientific, Ankur Scientific, Tide Technocrats), and Thailand (SCG Chemicals) also announced that first-generation reinvented pathogen-killing toilets and omni-processors are ready for market, while Japan-based LIXIL announced plans to pilot a household-level reinvented toilet based on a leading prototype.
"This expo showcases, for the first time, radically new, decentralized sanitation technologies and products that are business-ready," said Bill Gates during the event's opening plenary. "It's no longer a question of if we can reinvent the toilet and other sanitation systems. It's a question of how quickly this new category of off-grid solutions will scale."
(Photo credit: Reinvented Toilet Expo)