As I’ve stated previously, new ideas and innovative solutions are critical to address the 2.5 billion people who lack access to proper sanitation. Lack of access to clean water and sanitation kills more than 4,000 children a day and results in billions of dollars in economic losses to developing countries. Given that more people have access to a mobile phone than to a toilet or latrine, the timing of last weekend’s Sanitation Hackathon was perfect.
Last year the World Bank and partners held a Water Hackathon, which brought together water and information-technology experts to think of new solutions to address the world’s water crisis. About 60 water-related innovations were created by mashing up data, building on open-source technology platforms, and developing new systems. Some of the apps provided a platform for citizen feedback, while others opened up data never previously made public, such as the Open Peruvian Water Map, which allows citizens to report water-related events (pollution, social conflicts, floods, etc.), providing a tool to civil society to monitor the nation’s water issues.
On the heels of the Water Hackathon’s success, and of World Toilet Day on November 19th, the first-ever Sanitation Hackathon brought sanitation experts and IT professionals together in dozens of cities simultaneously to solve problems over an intensive weekend dedicated to creating new solutions to sanitation challenges.
For the past 18 months, John Kluge and Michael Lindenmayer have worked on, researched and sought partners for what they call the “War on Poop.” As co-founders of the non-profit Toilet Hackers, their mission is to find solutions for the nearly 2.5 billion people who do not have access to sanitation and hygiene and to create international awareness around the global toilet crisis. With the launch of Toilet Hackers and the launching of the Sanitation Hackathon, they are doing just this.
The War on Poop is an ugly one, but one that is important to spotlight. In the past 10 years, diarrhea has killed more children than all the people lost to armed conflict since World War II, mostly due to unsafe water, inadequate sanitation, or insufficient hygiene. Ninety percent of all deaths caused by diarrheal diseases are children under the age of five in developing countries. Toilet Hackers was formed to change these statistics, stressing that clean water, improved sanitation and hygiene are basic human rights.
Toilet Hackers presented a three-pronged approach to fight this crisis. They enlisted a community of leaders and builders to develop breakthrough innovations with Toilet Hackers’ first Sanitation Hackathon. They are also launching a grassroots advocacy campaign to raise awareness about the world’s toilet crisis. Lastly, they are raising money. Donations to Toilet Hackers, whether from individuals or corporations, directly fund life-saving sanitation and hygiene programs.
“Although the majority of Toilet Hackers’ work is focused on international development, the destruction from Hurricane Sandy highlighted our mission. For the first time many people, including our friends and neighbors in New York and New Jersey, experienced life without a running toilet.” says John Kluge. “Due to the in-depth media coverage of Hurricane Sandy, people in the US are just realizing how hard it is to manage without a toilet. Then consider that nearly 40 percent of the world’s population is without proper sanitation; the global nature of this problem feels more urgent. The Sanitation Hackathon will create disruptive methods to combat this.”
While this weekend was important for the Sanitation Hackathon community, Sunday was really just the beginning. It will continue, virtually, for the months to come as apps are iterated and operationalized. Follow the events from this past weekend and beyond at #SanHack.