The coalition is a global partnership helping to broaden the reach of start-ups and small firms that deal with sanitation by connecting them with established corporations in low-income countries. While the gap in services in places like India can appear daunting, Rodger said it also offers opportunities. Unlike cities in the West with old and difficult-to-upgrade sanitation systems, cities like Pune have newer systems and offer a cleaner slate.
“Our focus is on communities with less infrastructure, so you are in these leapfrog opportunities where you don’t have to repeat these mistakes,” Rodger said.
The Toilet Board Coalition sees the money-making potential of the “sanitation economy” — which ranges from high-tech toilets to the extraction and use of biofuels from waste — and estimates that it will be worth $61 billion in India alone by 2021.
The coalition is looking beyond improving facilities.
A project being developed by the European Space Agency will include toilets with specialized sensors that extract information from waste. These sensors will be able to detect disease outbreaks such as cholera before individuals begin to show symptoms, allowing health officials to react early and potentially limit the spread, according to Sunil Agarwal, the director of the coalition’s Smart Sanitation City Project in Pune.
The sensors will also be able to look for vitamin deficiencies and other indicators to assist with public health activities.
The health data collected will not be tied to individual users of the public facilities in order to ensure privacy, Agarwal added.
The information from sensors could be groundbreaking not only in limiting the damage of an outbreak, but saving health authorities money as well. Poor sanitation leads to $200 billion a year in health care costs and lost income worldwide, according to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s biggest private philanthropy organization.
Rodger said identifying health issues early could result in thousands of people who don’t “need to go to the doctor, who didn’t need to use health care services.”