Portal to Portaloo: Can Microfinance and IT Help Solve the World’s Sanitation Crisis?

Portal to Portaloo: Can Microfinance and IT Help Solve the World’s Sanitation Crisis?

Jack Sim (World Toilet Organization, Singapore) and Karl Dayson (University of Salford, UK)
Copyright: © 2011 |Pages: 18
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-993-4.ch018
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Abstract

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. The chapter asks whether microfinance and IT can play a role in tackling the problem. Drawing on the experience of Grameen Telephone it is argued that this is analogous with attempts to promote the purchase of toilets, in particular the technological leap where expensive infrastructure is bypassed. Drawing on three case studies we show that such a process is underway and while there are a limited number of microfinance institutions (MFIs) 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. However, though the book is a social and cultural history Smith reminds readers that human waste is a chemical reaction:

“..the kidneys filter the blood and keep the cellular water pool clean, excreting the waste products as urine. By the time the food reaches the colon whatever remains is surplus to requirements, and ready to be rejected via the bowels through the anus. Human excreta or dung consists mostly of water dead bacteria, and cells, indigestible matter, and various gases and chemicals, such as bilirubin, which is made when the body takes old cells apart – bilirubin is a brown color” (p11)

It is one thing accepting that the body excretes ‘toxins’ and ‘poisons’ (Smith 2008), quite another to change behaviour, or indeed increase 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 describes the latter as a civilizing process in which habits of cleanliness are first imposed from without before being internalized through self-compulsion. That’s not to say it cannot retrench, as during the seventeenth century when hygiene declined due the legitimate fear of water borne diseases, reducing the use of public bathhouses. (2000[1939]: 520, n.128).

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