The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has promised $42 million in new sanitation grants that aim to "spur innovations in the capture and storage of waste, as well as its processing into reusable energy, fertilizer and fresh water," a foundation release said Tuesday.
Speaking at the 2011 AfricaSan Conference in Kigali, Rwanda, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, president of the foundation's Global Development Program, urged action on the problem affecting nearly 40 percent of the world's population.
Flush toilets are unavailable to the vast majority in the developing world, she said, and billions of people lack a safe, reliable toilet or latrine.
"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," Burwell said. "But it did not go far enough. It only reached one-third of the world. What we need are new approaches. New ideas. In short, we need to reinvent the toilet."
Conference attendees agreed.
"Across Africa, improved sanitation is an essential human need that we must take action to address," Mamadou Dia, president of the African Water Association, said. "We welcome efforts to focus new attention, ideas and resources on this important issue."
In Washington, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., hailed the foundation's announcement and its cooperation with the U.S. Agency for International Development.
"Access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation is a right that everyone in the world ought to enjoy but too few are able to realize," Durbin said. "I applaud the Gates Foundation and USAID for working together to find new solutions to improve access and address this devastating problem."