Sanitation Solutions with Jack Sim

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Posted by Jack Sim on
Wed, 02/19/2014

Student Rebuilders: The world water crisis has many complex parts that are all related: drinking water scarcity, food insecurity, declining ocean health, gender inequality and climate change—just to name a few. In this blog post, Water Wisdom is focusing on the Sanitation Crisis. Like drinking water, access to sanitation facilities is recognized as a basic human right, yet billions of people continue to live without it, contributing to the spread of disease and even death. Many sanitation activists feel that drinking water gets all the glory, while sanitation remains taboo; but they are both equally essential for a safe and healthy community. Jack Sim, Founder of the World Toilet Organization wants to make toilets as cool as cell phones — read more below to see how his solutions can impact the problem.

There are many things we can choose not to do but we cannot choose not to go to the toilet.

Yet about 40% of all human beings still do not have a proper toilet.

We're at the 11th hour of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) for Sanitation put forth by the United Nations, but we know already we've failed badly. We wanted to half the 2.4 billion without access to proper sanitation when we begin the MDG, but now we've 2.5 billion instead. That’s roughly one third of the world’s population living without adequate sanitation facilities.

In addition, around one billion people in our world today face the indignity of defecating in the open. The lack of clean and safe toilets at schools leads to higher dropout among girls once they reach puberty. Diarrheal diseases – a direct consequence of poor sanitation – kill more children every year than AIDS, malaria and measles combined.

Clean and safe toilets are prerequisites for health, dignity, privacy and education.

How did we get so behind on the Millennium Development Goal for Sanitation, and what can we do to bring universal sanitation coverage?

The world was too embarrassed to address the Toilet Agenda and thus neglected it as money flowed in to support Water instead. What we don't discuss, we can't improve.

Sanitation action is now urgent. Together with the global community, the World Toilet Organization (WTO) has broken the taboo over the last 13 years by engaging massive media coverage, and last year the U.N. General Assembly adopted Singapore's U.N. Resolution for WTO's founding day, November 19th, to be officially named U.N. World Toilet Day.

Let's now leverage this highest legitimacy and bring commitment from all of the 193 countries that passed this U.N. Resolution to design programs that will transform the Sanitation Crisis into a massive demand for toilets with treatment.

I am certain that the Sanitation Crisis is solvable through a vibrant marketplace. A market-based approach can also create jobs and profits that can be sustainable and scalable over time, which will continue to improve sanitation systems around the world.

To be successful, we need to make sanitation fashionable and a status symbol. Where it was once a norm to openly defecate in the bush, we need to create a trend when everyone aspires to buy a toilet. We need to mobilize all of our local media, and our authorities and celebrities to promote Toilet Ownership. Only when Sanitation is sexy will it become an object of desire, like cellphones. Everyone knows hygiene and health are important but to get them to act, we need to influence behavioral change by retriggering aspirations. We buy emotionally and justify it rationally. We need to turn Poop Culture into Pop Culture! It's a mind game.

With the volume of demand we can drive the cost of products and distribution down to very affordable levels. The World Toilet Organization’s SaniShop trains the local entrepreneurs to produce and sell toilets and small off-grid treatment systems at affordable prices.

The model is easily replicable and scalable.

Let's think and work at massive scale. Tokenism will not do for a market of 2.5 billion - which converts to 500 million home toilets and another 500 million away from home toilets in schools, workplaces, religious buildings, markets and transport centers. A total of 1 billion toilets is the potential demand. That’s tremendous!

To have speed, we need to collaborate with distribution channels across other poverty sectors like housing, education, health care, water etc. By simply using existing channels, we do not have to reinvent the wheel; existing local relationships can bring in new investments to grow the impact.

One day soon, we'll solve the Sanitation Crisis. Healthy people are productive people, and they can get out of poverty.

Toilets can save the day.


The Students Rebuild Water Challenge, in partnership with charity: water and Global Nomads Group, will help to bring clean, safe drinking water to those who need it most. Take the Water Challenge today! By May 16, 2014, make a paper bead and mail it in to generate funding for water projects in Tanzania. Every 20 handmade beads will provide access to clean water for one person. This school year, your handmade beads can provide more than 16,000 people clean water in Tanzania because the Bezos Family Foundation through Students Rebuild will match your beads with funding for 41 water projects that serve schools and communities.