THERE are few international conferences these days at which delegates can hope to be presented with a souvenir ball of dried human faeces. Indeed the World Toilet Summit, which was convened in Delhi last week, may be the only one.
I know, I know, it sounds pretty funny (or um, gross). But really, the fact that 2.6 billion people worldwide, or about one-third of the population, do not have access to functional toilets is no laughing matter.
The excrement was a gift from one of the organisers, the Sulabh International Social Service Organisation (SISSO). An Indian NGO, it has built over a million toilets in a country where over 700m people still have no access to one.
The culprits behind the lack of worldwide toilets: money and water. That is why the innovations at the 2007 World Toilet Summit, which took place from October 31 to November 3, did not include expensive sewage or septic systems, but instead relied on technologies that used little water and in many cases used heat harnessed from solar panels to help speed up the decomposition process.
The organisation’s toilets, which include 6,500 public facilities, are based on two simple innovations. By setting the bowlâ€”of a shallow Asian varietyâ€”at a downward slope of 22 degrees, the toilet can be washed clean with two litres of water (a flush toilet uses 10 litres). The toilet empties into one of two cess-pits, which are rotated every three or four years. That is long enough for the contents of a full cess-pit to turn into a harmless fertiliser, or paperweight.
What is more, SISSO’s latrines can be designed to send the excrement to underground bio-gas digesters that will encourage the natural production of methane gas (otherwise emitted to the atmosphere) and store the gas so that it can be burned for home cooking and heating or used to generate electricity.
The purpose of the summit, which was attended by distinguished guests, including the Netherlands’ Prince of Orange, was serious indeed. At issue was the UN’s Millennium Development Goal of providing lavatory access for everyone in the world by 2025.
Thanks to my ninja Anura for the link!