In the Western world, it’s easy to take both plentiful water and disease-preventing sanitation for granted. But in many developing countries, including India, access to both of these things is not a given. Almost three out of four Indians still have no access to basic sanitation, and water wars are pitting neighbors against each other.
Indian sanitation expert Bindeshwar Pathak has addressed both issues at once with a twin-pit, pour-flush toilet called the Sulabh that uses a pair of tanks to store waste matter with no smell and uses significantly less water than a standard toilet. The Sulabh saves trillions of water each year and the waste can be recycled into soil fertilizer.
Pathak’s Sulabh Sanitation Movement has provided more than 1.2 million eco-friendly toilets to households, with the price adjusted according to the family’s ability to pay. Another 7,500 public toilets cost $1 per month for use by subscription, which is waived for slum dwellers, women and children.
"For the whole month, you can go to the toilet, you can have a bath, you can drink water," Pathak told AFP.
That’s a big deal in a country where poor sanitation, including open-air defecation and the use of bucket toilets, causes up to half a million deaths each year from diseases like cholera. The Sulabh toilet has been exported to Afghanistan and Bhutan, and many more will soon be shipped to 15 other countries, most of them in Africa.
Pathak was awarded this year’s Stockholm Water Prize and received a check for $150,000 for his work to conserve water, improve public health and raise awareness about sanitation issues.
"I feel very happy because what we have been doing for the last 40 years, now it feels that we are going in the right direction,” Pathak said.