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World Toilet Day wants you to give a sh-t about sanitation in the developing world

You just did it this morning. But one billion people around the world won’t be sitting on a loo today. A further 2.5 billion — largely in the developing world — don’t have access to improved sanitation.

Wednesday’s UN World Toilet Day aims to change that.

“It’s about ending open defecation by 2025 and making sure everyone in the world has access to a toilet and adequate sanitation, whether that’s at home or at their schools and workplaces,” says Antoine Pouliot, campaign manager for the Global Poverty Project Canada, a Toronto-based advocacy group launching a campaign Wednesday that asks Canadians to demand the federal government support international efforts to improve sanitation worldwide.

It’s a call that has already been taken up by University of Toronto engineering professor Yu-Ling Cheng and her team. They are building a toilet that uses a sand filter and UV light to disinfect urine and a smoulder chamber to turn feces into ash. The design uses a solar panel and battery, can be set up anywhere without the need for electricity or running water, and won $2.2 million in grant funding from the Gates Foundation.

“We have partners in Bangladesh who can do field trials when we have something ready to go,” noted Cheng.

Open defecation can cause diarrhea, which kills 1.5 million children a year, and it leaves girls and women open to the risk of sexual violence.

Not only will most of us avoid those risks when we return to the relative luxury of a toilet, but we could soon get the kind of treatment common in Japan, where automated toilets (selling for a reported $5,000) link to smartphones and play your favourite songs while you go.

Japanese toilet maker Toto is reportedly developing models that test our urine, prompting a Wired article claiming that waste and sewer systems will soon become laboratories “with automated sampling and lab-on-a-chip bio sensors enabling the real-time prediction of viral outbreaks.”

American Standard’s toilet and toilet seat (the AT200 and AT100) are bringing the luxe loo experience to North America, with an automated toilet, adjustable heated front and back bidets and an automatic “soft night light” to illuminate the bowl, all for a reported $4,200. The company estimates it will sell $50 million worth through 2018.

A dangerous game of thrones

Diseases spread through open defecation include diarrhea, typhoid, cholera, polio and hepatitis.

  • $450,000. Toronto’s automated self-cleaning toilets’ cost (each)
  • $600,000. Waterfront Toronto’s spending on public loos at Cherry Beach
  • $29 million. A solid 24-carat gold toilet with gems and its surrounding display at the Hang Fung Gold Technology showroom in Hong Kong
  • $139.99. Canadian Tire’s cheapest toilet for sale online

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