India has made great strides tackling major large-scale health challenges. On February 11, we celebrated three years without a single case of polio in the country. We have been increasing the wide-spread use of life-saving vaccines, reducing the infant mortality rate, and controlling the spread of HIV/AIDS.
These successes also demonstrate that we have great potential to find innovative solutions to the sanitation challenge we are faced with today.
As we enter 2014, momentum is building to ensure that all people have access to safe, affordable sanitation. Now is the time to harness- and hasten-this momentum. That’s why we’re holding the Reinvent the Toilet Fair: India later this month.
The fair is co-hosted by the Government of India’s Department of Biotechnology and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The event will highlight creative approaches to develop affordable and sustainable sanitation solutions.
Finding better ways to deal with human waste is an important component to reducing child mortality and improving child health because many traditional pit latrines, flush toilets, and sewer systems in India have limitations. They often don’t safely dispose of or properly treat human waste, discharging harmful sewage into the environment. Large-scale sewage systems are expensive to build and maintain and require large quantities of scarce water and energy.
Improvements in dealing with human waste dramatically reduce diarrheal disease, which is the leading cause of under-5 child deaths and a major factor in the development of a child's mind, body, and immune system. Reducing diarrheal disease also increases the absorption and therefore the effectiveness of life-saving vaccines.
For women and girls in particular, access to improved toilet options offers greater dignity, privacy, and personal safety.
Improving access to safe sanitation is all about helping people around the world realize their full potential.
The solutions to sanitation challenges are as varied as the challenge – whether it’s changing behaviors and social norms or bringing creative and innovative products or services, India has great talent in research and development, manufacturing, and social innovation that can help address this complex global problem.
In 2011, the Gates Foundation launched the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge (RTTC) to develop toilets without connections to sewer, electrical, or water systems, and we look forward to seeing 16 of those prototypes at the Reinvent the Toilet Fair: India. The fair will also feature other products and approaches that aim to bring safe sanitation to those who need it most. These include efforts to: improve the collection, treatment and disposal of human waste; address behavior change; and raise awareness of this critical issue for governments, stakeholders, and local communities.
We are proud that the fair will be a truly global event, with exhibiting teams representing 15 nations and general participants representing 42 nations. The fair will coincide, appropriately enough, with World Water Day on March 22.
This year’s fair is an opportunity to recognize India’s leadership and commitment to improving child health. India is uniquely positioned to be a global leader in the development of new sanitation technologies and the promotion of innovative approaches to achieve sustainable gains in development in India and abroad.
Note: due to space constraints, attendance for the Reinvent the Toilet Fair: India is by invitation only.
If you would like to learn more about sanitation or support efforts to improve global sanitation, please visit UNICEF’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene website.