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Preventing Disease in India with Better Toilets

Posted on Sep 24, 2013 by Ailee Slater ()

In April 2010, the United Nations reported that people in India had an easier time accessing a mobile phone than they did accessing proper sanitation services. That U.N. study, entitled ‘Economic Impact of Inadequate Sanitation in India,’ showed that a lack of hygienic toilet facilities and other adequate sanitation was leading to costly health problems, serious illness and even death all across the country. So, how to solve these problems? One Indian company has come up with a unique solution – eToilets.

An eToilet is a portable at-home or public toilet built to be hygienic and energy efficient. Just 45 square feet, the eToilet can automatically flush waste and sterilize, while the toilet user enjoys a hands-free sink and soap dispenser. These and other self-cleaning mechanisms of the eToilet can be monitored and controlled with mobile electronic technology, meaning that if a blockage occurs or a light stops working, maintenance can be performed with haste.

The eToilet concept was developed by a science and technology company called Eran Scientific Solutions. Founded in 2008, Eram is based in the Indian province Kerala, where eToilets have already been commissioned and lauded by the state government. This year, Eram’s eToilets helped the company nab prestigious Skoch Awards in the categories of both Smart Governance and Digital Inclusion.

Besides just offering a cleaner, more pleasant experience to users, eToilets are also designed to improve hygiene by working in connection with one another and with the wider community sanitation system. Every eToilet has an integrated sewage treatment system, meaning that waste can be compacted and decontaminated – a huge advantage for cities in which sewage treatment plants are inefficient or non-existent. Eram is also committed to energy-efficient, environmentally friendly technology, hence the reason that the eToilet concept includes a water recycling system and optional solar panels.

When it comes to global health, sanitation is certainly an important issue. The World Health Organization reports that 2.6 billion people don’t have access to adequate sanitation, and if current trends continue, that figure will rise to 2.7 billion in 2015. Southeast Asia is high on the list of global areas with the most need for sanitation improvement; for example, WHO estimates that in India, 1.1 million liters of raw sewage are emptied into the Ganges River every minute. That much untreated sewage contains an astonishing amount of bacteria, viruses and parasite cysts. Exposure to raw sewage and fecal matter can lead to a host of health problems: cholera, typhoid, hepatitis A and diarrhea, which by itself causes 1.5 million deaths every year. And, when areas with poor sanitation practices experience tropical storms and flooding, the risk of contracting sanitation-related diseases increases further.

Eram’s eToilets improve sanitation by treating waste before it is released into a dumping site. EToilets are also good for health in that they promote good hand washing practices, offering toilet users automatic sinks, soap, and educational signs about the importance of hand washing in preventing disease. Indeed, WHO estimates that around the world, cases of diarrhea could be reduced by 45 percent simply by implementing better education and facilities for washing hands.

Besides encouraging other Indian states to consider purchasing eToilets, as Kerala has, the Eram company has also been focusing on more eToilet possibilities. Recently, Eram debuted the She Toilet, an eToilet specially designed with in mind the needs of women. Improving toilet facilities for women is an important step in India’s work to overcome sanitation problems, and the World Health Organization has even noted that when schools offer clean, separate facilities for girls, school enrollment amongst the female population increases.

Economically speaking, Eram is confident that the eToilet will prove an excellent financial investment. The World Health Organization has said that for every $1 U.S. dollar invested into better sanitation services, an average of $9 U.S. dollars will be returned to the community, due to lower rates of illness and increased productivity from residents. Those figures seem reason enough for local governments in India to investigate eToilets, and Eram also promises that the advertising space available on the sides of all eToilets will bring profits as well. Thinking long term, eToilets could even increase tourism dollars by making a visit to India feel safer, cleaner and easier.

Outside of India, Eram and the eToilet have received a good amount of support. In 2012, Eram won a grant worth nearly half a million dollars from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, money which proved useful in setting up the network of eToilets in Kerala. With recent wins at the Skoch Awards, it seems likely that other local and foreign investors may take another look at working with Eram as the company attempts to expand eToilets and She Toilets into more cities and more households. With poor sanitation putting such a heavy disease burden on India and many other developing nations, hygienic and environmentally friendly toilets will certainly continue to be a sound investment and an important step for improving health and human rights across the globe.

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