Poor sanitation contributes to 1.5 million child deaths from diarrhea each year. Chronic diarrhea can also hinder child development by impeding the absorption of essential nutrients that are critical to the development of the mind, body, and immune system. It can also impede the absorption of life-saving vaccines.
Any investment in better sanitation—including the construction of pit latrines—can help improve public health and quality of life. Better sanitation reduces child diarrhea and improves overall child health. For women and girls in particular, improved sanitation offers greater dignity, privacy, and personal safety.
But solving the sanitation challenge in the developing world will require radically new innovations that are deployable on a large scale. Innovation is especially needed in urban areas, where billions of people are only capturing and storing their waste, with no sustainable way to handle it once their on-site storage—such as a septic tank or latrine pit—fills up.
One promising approach is to seek solutions that have the appeal of the flush toilet connected to a sewer network, but don’t require that infrastructure so would therefore be more affordable, better for the environment, and less wasteful of resources.
Groundbreaking improvements in toilet design, pit emptying, and sludge treatment, as well as new ways to reuse waste, can help governments and their partners meet the enormous challenge of providing quality public sanitation services—particularly in densely populated urban neighborhoods.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation through its Water, Sanitation & Hygiene program has organised the Reinvent the Toilet Fair 2014 in New Delhi that focuses on the development of tools and technologies that can lead to radical and sustainable improvements in sanitation in the developing world. Although they support some clean water and hygiene projects, sanitation is their top priority because they have identified it as a neglected area in which they can spur significant change.
I am currently at the Fair and believe me, I have witnessed some of the most innovative technologies of this century. One that especially caught my eye is Raya who was unveiled at the event. Whether in America, Asia, Europe and even Africa, I doubt there many urban dwellers who have never heard of the muppets from Sesame Street, I wouldn't be surprised if people in the rural areas know them too.
Raya is a six year old aqua-green girl muppet, and she loves to learn and remembers every fact she reads or hears. Some of it is useful, some not so much. For example she knows that giraffes have seven bones on their necks.
"I make sure to wear my sandals everywhere - espcially to the latrine. Wearing my sandals helps protect me so I can stay clean and healthy," she says in an interview with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Director, Mr Brian Arbogast.
Having orginal co-productions in Banglsdesh, India and Nigeria, and an extensive history of addressing and meeting the needs of children locally, Sesame Street is primed to harness the appeal of the beloved Muppets to deliver this important conent in meaningful ways.