I am often asked the best way to help improve the world’s shit crisis. The answer is: there is no best way but there are plenty of ways. My first advice would be of course to talk about it. Write to your local government representative and enquire about the state of your sewers. Go and tour the local wastewater treatment plant with or without children, if you have them. Children are the best ambassadors for all sorts of health messages, but they are particularly good around toilets and poop because they often haven’t yet been educated into being embarrassed by a natural and inevitable human activity. Look into the public toilet provision where you live, and if it is poor, as it probably is, find out what you can do to change that by lobbying, enquiring, writing. By “public toilet,” by the way, I don’t mean the local Starbucks. I mean a freely accessible toilet that is open beyond shopping hours and suitable for the elderly, young and disabled. As for whether that toilet is fee-paying or not, my position is that I don’t mind a small fee being required as long as that fee goes towards cleaning and maintenance and, ideally, an attendant. Attended toilets are safer, and usually cleaner. They also pay for themselves over time in reduced vandalism and anti-social activity.
Then if you want to support non-governmental organizations doing good work, here are some ideas. Check out your local Age UK or your national, regional or local equivalent, as they are probably doing some campaign on providing better toilets for elderly people. For the developing world, I rate all these organizations for different things, and do not prescribe one over another. The list will definitely be imperfect but I’ll keep updating it. They don’t all follow the charity funding model but they are all doing good and important things in sanitation. N.B. This is not a definitive list by any means. But it’s a start.
Begin by checking out the clearinghouse of information that is the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, a UN agency with a deceptively clunky name. Its media packs are very useful, and its advertising from 2007 is still amongst the most creative and striking I’ve seen in sanitation. (There’s one example below.)
Other organizations I rate include:
WaterAid The most frank-speaking sanitation NGO, even though their name begins with Water. Their campaigns are fresh and interesting, and they are doing plenty of interesting projects on the ground too. Here’s a story I wrote about going with them to Liberia to interview President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
WASH United haven’t been going long, but they are making up for that in energy. I spent three weeks travelling around with their Great Wash Yatra, a sanitation carnival in rural India so can vouch for them at very very close quarters (dorm room accommodations, no privacy, a lot of fun).
Water.org Co-founders Matt Damon and Gary White are doing interesting public campaigns around WASH and sanitation these days. Keep your eye on them (not a difficult request I suppose, when it’s Matt Damon). If you haven’t seen Matt’s great going-on-toilet-strike press conference, it’s here.
Water for People
(spot the theme: where is Sanitation for people or sanitation.org???)
PATH, and specifically its Defeat Diarrhea initiative, is worth looking into.
BRAC is the world’s largest non-governmental organization and has been active in sanitation for decades though I have never visited their projects.
The World Toilet Organization is where I went to first when I started researching sanitation, and they are still doing annual conferences and fieldwork, and have high hopes for toilet universities and other grand ideas. Here is a lovely short film about WTO founder and my good friend Jack Sim, a man unlike any other, who likes to be known as Mr. Toilet.
Toilet Hackers are also pretty new but again they are keeping very busy with big game-changing ideas such as mass hackathons, where clever people try to come up with technological solutions to the shit crisis, and “give a shit ” manifestos.
Oxfam, UNICEF and many other more generalist organizations do great work on sanitation. UNICEF is particularly interested in the intersection of sanitation and education, which I mentioned in my talk.
For information, I follow Sanitation Updates and WASHLink, amongst others.
I also follow closely what the Gates Foundation is doing, as they have been so instrumental in legitimizing the unspeakable cause of shit and sanitation, by reinventing the toilet for one, but also for continuing to fund a wide variety of solutions and innovations in sanitation. Also, they have recruited the Cookie Monster. Their Water & Sanitation pages start here. The Water and Sanitation Program at the World Bank is also a good source for background and foreground reading on what’s what in the governmental and non-governmental world. For those of you who like numbers and statistics, there is no better source than the WHO/UNICEF joint initiative the Joint Monitoring Program. A vague name but a very rich resource.
For sanitation tweets, follow my sanitation list on Twitter, although it is also incomplete and in need of updating. For a musical sanitation experience, there is this sanitation song, by Sanitation Worldwide.
And of course, read my book in any language edition you choose.