In a world where over 2.5 billion people do not have access to any toilet facility, the concept of ‘Reinventing the Toilet’ must not be brushed aside as something trivial, says Doulaye Koné, Senior Programme Officer of the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene wing of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

It is only a minority who have the luxury of a flush toilet, but to make available such a system for greater numbers is simply not feasible because the amount of water and energy it consumes and the filth that it flushes out.

“That is why the foundation has put up a programme to challenge scientists around the world to accelerate the access to sanitation. We are inviting innovative solutions that will ensure low costs, will have a self-cleaning mechanism, and will not release any pathogen out into the environment,” Dr. Koné said at a press conference here on Saturday.

The foundation’s idea of cheap use is ‘five cents per user per day,’ a figure that will take into account both capital and operational expenditure, he said.

The foundation, essentially, provides a platform for various research organisations to come together and start building synergies. Dr. Koné is being hosted by Eram Scientific Solutions Private Ltd., a city-based enterprise that has set up around 400 Electronic Public Toilets or ‘e-Toilet’ across the State. Eram is one of the grantees of the foundation, having received a grant of Rs.3 crore last year for conducting research in this field. During the conference, Dr. Koné said he was particularly impressed by how Eram’s model boasted an effective self-cleaning mechanism.

Dr. Koné believes that in the next three years, a commercial solution to the ‘five cents per user per day’ model will be available owing to the host of ideas put forward by the various organisations benefiting from the research grant of the foundation.

A civil and environmental engineer with the University of South Florida Daniel H. Yeh was present at the press conference. The university is also a partner working towards waste management solutions.

On whether this presents a capital intensive and technologically advanced endeavour, Dr. Koné has a simple argument. “When I first bought a computer in 1996, the storage was of 500 MB. Now, I have a phone that can store up to 32 GB. With demand and we believe in a very short span of time, something hi-tech can be something cheap,” he said.