Campaigner gives low down on loos

Technological advances have put toilets within the reach of the even the poorest people in developing countries but millions of people are still dying from diseases caused by sub-standard sanitation, according to World Toilet Organization founder Jack Sim.

Mr Sim will tell the Pathfinders 2010: Challenge and Change Conference at the Alice Springs Convention Centre this week (May 26–28) that a lack of awareness of appropriate sanitation technology, a flush toilet mindset and taboos on discussing excretion are hampering the installation of cheap, clean, environmentally-friendly toilets in city slums and rural villages in developing countries.

The WTO is a non-profit organisation working to improve sanitation world wide. It was established in 2001 by Mr Sim, a plain talking Singaporean businessman turned development campaigner. Its 203 member organisations in 56 countries lobby governments and run education campaigns, including World Toilet Day on November 19.

Mr Sim said cholera and other forms of diarrhoea were among diseases hitting people hard because communities lacked toilets. “Each year, 1.5 million children die unnecessarily from diseases spread by contaminated food and water, and by flies,” said Mr Sim, who was named a “hero of the environment” by Time magazine in 2008.

The big social costs were compounded by economic costs on the national scale as workers’ productivity plummeted and medical bills soared. “For every dollar that is invested in toilets, there is a nine dollar return on the country level,” said Mr Sim.

He said water got a higher priority than toilets in policy on sanitation. “We want to redress the balance by talking toilets,” he said. “The result of not talking toilets is that 2.5 billion people do not have proper sanitation.”

The focus on water meant that flush toilets were seen widely as the solution. “But most people can’t afford to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in big sewerage systems,” he said.

Many designs of stand-alone toilets, such as composting units, costing between zero and $100 per family, were now available. Some did not need water, and Mr Sim wants to see them mass produced.

The WTO wants to use a market system rather than charity to get toilets based on appropriate technology installed around the world. “The poor have the ability to pay,” he said, citing as an example a successful campaign to sell toilets to impoverished people in Cambodia.

The Pathfinders Conference is organised by the Cooperative Research Centres Association. The CRCA represents Australia’s 50 CRCs operating under a federal government program to drive collaborative research between universities, science agencies, industry and government departments.

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Mr Jack Sim, World Toilet Organization Ph: +65 8111 5050

Email [email protected]

Laurelle Halford (Alice Springs Convention Centre, May 26–28)

Ph: 0417 222 211 Email: [email protected]

CRCA Media Ph: 0419 250 815 Email: [email protected]