An affordable toilet

Dealing with human waste is still a challenge for many countries. Sulabh International, a NGO based in New Delhi, India has created an ingeniously simple latrine which costs $100 with the following characteristics:

  • it first empties into one pit, and then, when it is full into a second pit
  • it flushes with 2 litres of water vs. 10 litres required by a standard cistern toilet
  • it takes 10 people two years to fill one pit, by which time the waste in the other has turned into composted manure, clean enough for growing vegetables.

Sulabh has built 1.2 million of these latrines across India. Along with this they have helped 60,000 manual scavengers (people who clean feces from streets/houses that lack flushing toilets.)

What I really like about Sulabh is that they have chosen a very clear and focused task mission to create affordable, environmentally sustainable toilets for every person in India along with a social mission to provide livelihood training for the scavengers put out of work by this improvement.

My question is … isn’t this a social business opportunity now that Sulabh has done the hard work of inventing the product and proving the model? Why not license their technology, apply market capital and scale this up much faster to accelerate the deployment of toilets throughout India and around the world?

I want to give credit to The Economist for reporting on Sulabh in their July 12, 2008 edition.

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