Bill Gates' charity project focuses on new types of toilets for Third World health
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Computer billionaire Bill Gates wants to inspire inventors to rethink a basic fixture we use daily and take for granted -- the toilet. A charitable foundation carrying his name and his wife's offers $42 million in grants to support toilet innovation and other developments in sanitation. While bathrooms and flushing away waste are ordinary in developed countries, an estimated 2.5 billion people lack that type of facility. That creates a huge risk of disease from polluted drinking water, insects and other drawbacks from using latrines (open ditches) or similar unsanitary disposal.
"We need to reinvent the toilet," Sylvia Mathews Burwell of the foundation said recently at a conference in the African nation of Rwanda (pronounced ruh-wahnda. Installing customary toilets isn't possible in impoverished areas without water mains and residential plumbing. Limited global water resources also complicate a solution. New research incentives from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, set up in 1994 by Microsoft's co-founder, are meant to find new ways to collect, store and dispose of waste, as well as process it into energy, fertilizer and maybe even fresh water -- weird as that sounds. One $3-million grant will start a worldwide university challenge to invent a toilet that costs less than 5 cents per day and operates without piped-in water, sewers or outside electricity.
This research can be a tough sell because of the "yuck factor," but the need is urgent and eight universities will join the project. The World Health Organization says about 1.5 million children die each year from diarrhea-related disease, and improved sanitation could cut that toll sharply. "Though certainly less glamorous than most of Gates' contributions to innovation, an improved loo [toilet in British slang] could drastically better the lives of more people than any computer software or high-tech machinery," business blogger John Harrison says at an online magazine called Portfolio.
Gates associate says: "No innovation in the past 200 years has done more to save lives and improve health than the sanitation revolution triggered by invention of the toilet." -- Sylvia Mathews Burwell, head of global development for the Gates Foundation
Blogger says: "We may not only discover a solution to the developing world's sanitation crisis -- we may also find the planet's next great inventor." -- John Harrison at Portfolio.com, a business site
UN consultant says: "The Gates initiative . . . aims at coming up with a solution for sanitation while avoiding wasting precious water flushing toilets." -- Catarina de Albuquerque, adviser to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva
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