Technology to Toilets: Can Microfinance and IT Help Solve the World’s Sanitation Crisis?

Technology to Toilets: Can Microfinance and IT Help Solve the World’s Sanitation Crisis?

Karl Dayson, Jack Sim
Copyright: © 2010 |Pages: 11
DOI: 10.4018/jeco.2010070105
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Approximately 2.5 billion people do not have access to a toilet; instead, they have no choice but to practice open defecation, having a potentially detrimental effect on their health. This paper asks whether microfinance and IT can play a role in tackling the problem. By drawing on experience from Grameen Telephone, the authors argue that this is analogous with attempts to promote the purchase of toilets, in particular the technological leap where expensive infrastructure is bypassed. Based on three case studies, the authors show that such a processes is underway. Although a limited number of microfinance institutions (MFIs) are engaged in this market, it is insufficient to address the myriad of both organizational and cultural problems. However, the use of a prospective web portal may help create the environment for a viable market to emerge.
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Background: Open Defecation: Scourge Of The Poor

In ‘Clean: a history of personal hygiene and purity’ (2008) Virginia Smith details the evolution of cleanliness from the Neolithic period. Though the book is a social and cultural history Smith reminds readers that human waste is a chemical reaction. However, it is one thing accepting that the body excretes ‘toxins’ and ‘poisons’ (Smith, 2008), quite another to change behaviour, or increase the supply of loos. Yet in most societies there is cultural avoidance of human waste, thus those involved in working with this material invariably have a low social status (McLaughlin, 1971; George, 2008; Smith, 2008). It would seem that our responses to human waste are both a product of nature and nurture. Elias (2000) describes the latter as a civilizing process in which habits of cleanliness are first imposed from without before being internalized through self-compulsion.

Today in the developing world there is a preponderance of open defecation, that is, answering the call of nature behind a bush or in any other open area where they can minimize the likelihood of prying eyes. Open defecation attracts flies, spreads pathogens, and contaminates water used for drinking, washing and bathing. The health statistics are stark: poor sanitation, hygiene, and water supply lead to diarrheal diseases that cause 1.8 million deaths a year, of which ninety percent are children under the age of five (UNDP Report, 2006). What’s more, up to 400 million school children suffer intestinal worms that rob them of their nutrition, worms that often propagate through fecal contamination. In total diarrhea kills more children under five than HIV, malaria and tuberculosis (George, 2008).

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