3.6 billion folks don’t have bogs worldwide; who’s altering that in Africa?

Whereas getting ready to write down this text, I took my editors’ recommendation and watched the Nextflix Restricted Collection, Inside Invoice’s Mind. Though I by no means acquired previous the primary episode, it was sufficient to set me on the precise path in my writing.

In 2011, Invoice Gates, the world’s second-richest man at the moment, had simply learn the World Improvement Report — fairly a hefty tome — and located some fairly disturbing data. Three million instances a yr, mother and father buried their youngsters who had died of diarrhoea.

Due to a scarcity of entry to bogs, clear water, and, most instances, defective drainage programs, human waste typically ended up within the waterways the place they obtained ingesting water.

That very same yr, Gates determined to fund a $200 million analysis venture to reinvent the bathroom as we all know it. Ultimately, he and his crew succeeded, designing a waterless bathroom with a waste therapy system that would create clear water from poo, however not earlier than stunning the entire world with a jar of human faeces.

On the way in which to this, Gates had discovered some attention-grabbing innovations: solar-powered bogs, a screw bathroom, and even a squat bathroom. 

Though my resolution to write down an article about sanitation-tech startups in Africa had already been totally shaped, this was the right head of steam to kickstart my engine.

However to know the place I used to be going, I wanted a quick tour into the historical past of the bathroom

An abridged historical past

The phrase ‘bathroom’ hasn’t all the time been within the English vocabulary as we all know it. It was coined from the French phrase, toilette, which implies ‘a small piece of fabric’. So, at the moment, the phrase bathroom developed from ‘a chunk of fabric used for shaving’ to 1 ‘protecting a desk.’ This was within the fifteenth century.

Within the late 18th century, it grew to become often called the room the place grooming and washing passed off. Nevertheless it was not till the nineteenth century that it was first used to discuss with the fixture, ‘bathroom’.

In line with the Merriam Webster Dictionary, a rest room is “a fixture that consists often of a water-flushed bowl and seat and is used for defecation and urination.”

Following this definition, a gap within the floor is most positively not a rest room; even a pit latrine shouldn’t be a rest room. Nonetheless, the primary actual invention for man to do the ‘quantity two’ was a gap within the floor. 

From there, we had a sea of highs and lows, with early civilisations within the Indus Valley, Egypt, Scotland, and Mesopotamia having some type of ‘plumbing’ which enabled them to hold out waste from their dwelling.

Skai Brae, a Neolithic village in Orkney, Scotland with residence furnishings together with water-flushing bogs 3180 BC–2500 BC. By Wknight94 – Personal work, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Nonetheless, from these ‘innovations’, the world regressed to garderobes or commodes, which had been primarily closets hanging over a wall and from there to disgusting however typically superbly designed little containers referred to as chamber pots.

It wasn’t till 1596 that the primary flushing bathroom — the ‘Jakes’ — was invented by Sir John Harington. It used 7.5 gallons of water from an upstairs cistern to flush waste.

From there, not a lot modified till the invention of the ballcock by Thomas Crapper within the late nineteenth century. It’s that spherical ball in a water tank that retains it from overfilling.

Quick ahead to the current day, and we now have innovations like waterless bogs, bogs with FM Radio and LED lights, and bogs made solely out of gold. They’re so commonplace that most individuals have entry to them, or so we’d wish to suppose.

Visiting the numbers

In line with the World Well being Group (WHO), there are presently 3.6 billion folks with out bogs. This quantity has elevated from 2.3 billion in 2018 when one in three folks didn’t have entry to bogs.

892 million of the 2018 quantity overtly defecated

In Africa, as of 2019, Nigeria was the second-worst nation globally and the primary on the continent the place open defecation was prevalent. 

In 2019, the Water, Sanitation, Hygiene Nationwide Consequence Routine Mapping (WASH NORM) was commissioned by the Federal Ministry of Water Sources (FMWR) and carried out by the Nationwide Bureau of Statistics (NBS), with technical and monetary assist from UNICEF, African Improvement Financial institution (AfDB), and the World Financial institution.

The survey revealed that 47 million Nigerians overtly defecated.

A scarcity of entry to bogs is invariably linked to issues with clear potable water and, in fact, diarrhoea. 

Apparently, based on a research on the Variation in childhood diarrheal morbidity and mortality in Africa, 2000–2015, by Bobby Reiner, Simon Iain Hay, and others, diarrheal ailments had been the third main explanation for dying amongst youngsters under the age of 5 in Africa. 

The numbers unfold unequally among the many nations. The nations with the very best variety of deaths had been Benin, Lesotho, Mali, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone. With a projected market cap of $13 billion by 2025, it does seem to be there’s extra to this area than meets the attention.

So, who’re the gamers in Africa’s sanitation ecosystem, and what tech are they using to assist? I discovered fairly a quantity however centered on simply three.

Innocrave’s Women&Gents

Women entrance to Innocrave Women&Gents. Supply: Provided

Based in 2014 by Saheed and Lola Awojide, Innocrave Options is a service options consulting agency in Lagos State, Nigeria, with options like its Turbowarshit steam expertise and the Women&Gents tech-enabled bathroom.

For the pair, the difficulty of open defecation and sanitation is one thing of a private drawback, having had harrowing experiences within the college.

As Saheed tells me, “Sadly, two of us went to 2 totally different colleges, however we had the identical challenges of sanitation. Sanitation was a giant drawback for the 2 of us. You’ve gotten a WC that’s meant for use by 4 folks, and also you’d see fifty college students utilizing one.”

Having moved to Canada in 2009, the couple determined this was a wonderful alternative to present again to the group — attempting to resolve the open defecation drawback and create job alternatives in a single fell swoop.

Autoflush bidet. Supply: Provided

With a superbly designed inside, the Women&Gents is a tech-enabled facility with touchless bogs, cleaning soap dispensers, and water taps. It’s air-conditioned and makes use of steam expertise for cleansing. The corporate employs an Android Entry Administration system that allows customers to entry the bathroom utilizing biometric expertise.

Presently, the corporate operates two fashions, a subscription-based mannequin and an promoting mannequin. Customers will pay from ₦3,500 ($8) to ₦8,000 ($19) for a restricted variety of entries a month. And firms can promote on digital out-of-home billboards positioned simply outdoors the bathroom facility.

In line with Saheed, since launching its prototype within the College of Ilorin, Kwara State, Nigeria, this yr, the corporate has had over 100 customers and is searching for its first promoting shopper. 

The concept, actually, is to forestall what each imagine can be a illness outbreak of epic proportions.

“Our fundamental aim is to forestall an outbreak of ailments as a consequence of open defecation as a result of college students find yourself overtly defecating; it’s not a secret. Everyone is aware of they do it on campus. So we foresee that an outbreak may occur if we don’t resolve this drawback.”

However what occurs when the bathroom fills up? That is the query Emily Woods and the Sanivation crew are attempting to reply in Kenya.


Andrew Foote (CEO) and Emily Woods (CTO). Sanivation’s Co-founders. Supply: FINCA Worldwide / Alison Wright

In Kenya, Emily Woods, Andrew Foote, and the 60-person Sanivation crew are making briquettes — spherical blocks — from human faeces.

Based in 2011, Sanivation is a sanitation startup that claims to have served over 25,000 folks in its nearly 11-year existence.

I spoke to Kate Bohnert, Sanivation’s Investor & Exterior Relations Supervisor to get a really feel of the corporate’s imaginative and prescient and processes. The corporate companions with governments and water utilities, which provide this waste through exhauster vehicles.  

“We see waste without charge from exhauster vehicles or honey suckers they usually deposit the waste at our web site. It’s fairly liquidy so we need to separate liquids from the solids. So, we’ll simply do a liquid-solid separation course of, the place we then harness the stable waste and warmth deal with it to inactivate pathogens.

“Then we combine that with agricultural biomass like sawdust or rose waste and use a briquette press to truly produce the logs that substitute firewood for patrons.”

Emily’s work at an NGO that centered on constructing bogs led her to ask questions on what is completed with waste after bogs refill. Initially, the main focus was on the best way to make waste therapy cheaper, however ultimately, they determined {that a} waste-to-value product can be a way more viable enterprise mannequin.

“So that they first had been methods during which they might decrease the price of waste therapy. They had been photo voltaic remedies as an choice, and what they got here to grasp based mostly on earlier analysis that had been finished is that there’s lots of worth in waste.

“So that they realised that whilst you may additionally create decrease waste therapy applied sciences, you might additionally discover methods to generate income by making a waste-to-value product. So it was constructing on the learnings of earlier researchers to actually give you this concept.” Bohnert says.

Nonetheless, Bohnert provides that that is versatile and may be finished based mostly on group wants or a mannequin that will be rather more precious. If, for instance, making bogs would serve — as the corporate at one time did — then they might try this.

Sanivation is presently trying to increase its Collection A and welcomes buyers excited by what it’s doing.

A Future Water Institute analysis venture 

Bio brick created from urine. Supply: Provided

The Future Water Institute relies on the College of Cape City, South Africa, and conducts analysis on water delicate initiatives. I spoke with Professor Dyllon Randall, who supervises a number of researchers on the Institute.

In 2017, through the peak of the drought — a scenario he regards as a blessing in disguise — in Cape City, Randall and his crew created a fertiliser-producing urinal that doesn’t require any water to function.

The urine is collected and used to make stable fertilisers. The urinals are periodically eliminated, and the remaining urine is used to make bio-bricks which can be utilized as constructing supplies.

Though we dwelled extra on how bio-bricks are made, I used to be interested by how liquid fertiliser is created from the urine and located this video by a researcher on the Institute. 

Ethanol is added to the urine to create urea — a key compound utilized in making fertilisers — that’s about 91% pure. This can be utilized to create a number of issues, together with a distinct segment urea fertiliser, calcium phosphate — one other fertiliser — and even diesel engine fluid, which can be utilized to cut back air air pollution brought on by automobiles.

The method is kind of totally different for making bio-bricks, as Randall defined to me.

“The way in which the bio-bricks course of works is a particular micro organism breaks down the urea, they usually type two elements: ammonium ions or carbonate ions. And so the carbonate ions mix with calcium ions that are additionally current within the urine, they usually type calcium carbonate. 

“And it’s that calcium carbonate that primarily glues any unfastened materials collectively. It’s form of like a cement, and so for those who do that in a mould within the type of a brick, you primarily get a stable brick forming. You may get any stable you need.”

Whereas we talked, he introduced up an attention-grabbing reality about urine presumably getting used to make explosives or hydrogen — a key ingredient in making jet gasoline — and even chemical substances like phosphoric acid. 

After all, this is determined by how the urine assortment course of may be carried out and the revenue which might be made.

Randall advised me the bio-bricks venture is presently being funded by a mining firm however had its funding minimize for different fertiliser-producing initiatives due partially to Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic.

A world drawback

With 3.6 billion folks with out entry to bogs worldwide, sanitation isn’t just an African drawback.

On November 19, 2021, the annual World Bathroom Day was celebrated. This yr, the start line of the marketing campaign was “Who cares about bogs? 3.6 billion folks do. As a result of they don’t have one which works correctly.”

All of us ought to care extra about bogs, particularly individuals who don’t have any. And if you’re moved to launch a sanitation startup, even higher.

You can even take a look at organisations just like the Bathroom Board Coalition and the Container-based Sanitation Alliance.


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