Give me a place to squat … World Toilet Day 2011

In one of my former lives, I (and my family) spent three years in India.  Our work took us all over the country, both urban and rural areas.  I still remember driving the country roads in the dusk of early evenings, and seeing sari-clad women walking along the road with brass containers in their hands.  They were headed out to the fields to the privacy afforded by the darkness so they could finally, at the end of the day, perform their daily ablutions, as they were called.  Somehow they had waited the entire day before they could finally seek relief.

Talk about defecation, taking a crap, or taking a shit is not polite dinner-time conversation.  It may not even be polite for a blog seeking readers who appreciate a measure of respectability.  But that is part of the problem.  Even though most of us hope for the regularity which allows for a daily movement of our bowels, it is not usual to discuss it.  And the fact that we don’t talk about or even acknowledge that we did or didn’t crap today has contributed to not addressing the problem of one billion people who still defecate in the open every day!  We are going to have to start talking about this so we can get on to addressing the issue. 

iDE has been involved in sanitation marketing in Vietnam and Cambodia for several years, and successfully so, but I wasn’t always been convinced that iDE with its income creation mission should be involved in water & sanitation programs.  I have changed my mind.  I’ll tell you why.

It’s a health issue.  Open defecation and unsanitary latrines are a huge source of fecal matter in food which then leads to diarrheal disease.  Never mind the inconvenience this causes adults, diarrheal disease kills more than 1.5 million children a year!  It’s incredibly sad to lose a little person in this way!  The grandfather in me can easily identify with this pain.

It’s a women’s issue.  Women should not have to suffer the indignity, the inconvenience and the personal safety risks associated with open (field) defecation.  They should also not have to wait until nightfall to deal with their daily physical routines.

It’s a children’s issue.  Chronic diarrhea can hinder child development by impeding the uptake of essential nutrients that are critical to the development of children’s minds, bodies, and immune systems.   Reduced incidence of diarrhea has the effect of increasing school attendance, especially for girls.

It’s an economic issue.  In a recent policy statement, the Gates Foundation estimated that the economic benefits of improved sanitation can reach $9 for every dollar invested by increasing people’s productivity, reducing healthcare costs, and preventing illness, disability, and early death. For an organization like iDE with a focus on creating income opportunities, this is huge.

It’s a market opportunity.  Several years ago, iDE Vietnam engaged in a project to help local suppliers construct and supply low cost latrines through the local market place.  A post-project evaluation conducted 3 years after the close of the project showed that high latrine sales rates continued even though the project was long over.  More recently, iDE Cambodia working with an IDEO product designer developed a simple, award winning “easy latrine.”  In the first year after this was introduced to local producers and marketers, more than 10,000 units were sold and installed (and are now in daily use).  These units sell because they align with the value structure of our customers.

iDE is gratified to report that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,  the Stone Family Foundation, and the World Bank Water and Sanitation Program have recognized iDE’s leadership and proficiency in sanitation marketing with $6 million in grant funding to  expand our work in Southeast Asia.  We are poised to also move into Nepal, Bangladesh, and several African markets.

One of iDE’s historical heroes is Archimedes.  He said “give me a lever long enough, and a place to stand, and I will move the earth.”  We think a good variation of this might be “give me a place to squat (in dignified privacy, safety, and convenience), and I will move my bowels to change the world.”


About Al Doerksen

I'm sort of a vocational tramp; my working career divides about evenly between non-profit and the business worlds. I have lived in Mexico, India, Germany and Canada, and now USA. I've had the good fortune to travel to 90 countries of which at least half are developing countries. The last 25 years of my "career" have involved significant (and enjoyable) international management challenges: travel industry, furniture manufacturing, food (aid) programming and ultraviolet water treatment among others. I'm now leading a development enterprise called IDE.
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4 Responses to Give me a place to squat … World Toilet Day 2011

  1. Ed Buller says:

    Good article – call me if you have time next time UR in Winnipeg.

    Ed Buller at 204 952 5559

  2. sudarshan suryawanshi says:

    Hi Al,
    I completely agree with you and iDE should contribute to WASH programs. Through MUS project we have sucessfully demonstrated that villages can be transformed into 100 % latrine households. But its a long way to transform 100 % of Indian villages / rural households with access to safe drinking water and sanitation. The minster of Rural Development in the Govt. of India remarked that these days rural women can own and use cell phones but do not have access to latrines. Its a big challenge and iDE should take it. We should have a group within IDE to start working on WASH and find out opportunities where we can contribute.


  3. I started my work in the development sector peddling low cost latrines & clean drinking water in Uttar Pradesh/ Bengal /Gujrat……reading about it 16 years on brings back memories of those times….issues remain the same….hopefully we have increased coverage significantly…

  4. Jim MacSween says:

    Great thought.
    Could this be coupled with The Water School, and Rotary International’s Clean Water programs?

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