From Coca-Cola to A Better Sanitation #1

If current predictions hold, 70 percent of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050. Fueling this urbanization trend is a massive number of people in emerging economies migrating from rural to urban areas in search of employment opportunities and a higher standard of living. Africa alone is expected to gain about 25 million new city dwellers per year through 2050, and Asia will add another 35 million. To survive and thrive, emerging cities in these developing regions must attract inflows of capital – and prevent outflows. Foreign investment is fundamental to economic health, promoting growth, innovation, and tax revenues, and creating new jobs.

Given the large number of cities competing for capital, what does it take to draw investment and new businesses? Two major factors are an available workforce and infrastructure – and sanitation services are essential to both. Cities with effective sanitation management are cleaner and more livable, and have healthier populations. By contrast, the health consequences of poor sanitation are staggering. More children die every year from diarrhea caused by poor sanitation than from measles, malaria, and HIV/AIDS combined. Even when diarrhea doesn’t kill, it can deplete the body of nutrients, stunt growth, cause children to miss school, and make people more susceptible to other diseases. The result is a decrease in healthy, well-educated, able-bodied citizens.

Investments in sanitation dramatically improve a city’s quality of life, removing fecal sludge from the environment and properly treating human waste reduce a city’s pollution levels, eliminate the foul odor of open drains, and help curb disease outbreaks. Making better sanitation a priority pays off: low-income countries that invest in clean water and sanitation achieve annual average GDP growth of 3.7 percent, compared with only 0.1 percent for those that don’t. Nations that do not prioritize sanitation pay a significant economic price – in some cases, a loss of more than 6 percent of GDP.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), just one dollar invested in water quality and sanitation yields an economic return of anywhere from $5 to $28, depending on the country. For these reasons, sanitation services are indispensable to a city’s development and competitive advantage.

And here is the sanitation challenge

How many of you are washers and how many of you are wipers? Well, I guess you know what I mean.

If you’re a washer, then you use water for anal cleansing. That’s the technical term. And if you’re a wiper, then you use toilet paper, or in some regions of the world where it’s not available, newspaper or rags or corncobs.

And this is not just a piece of trivia, but it’s really important to understand and solve the sanitation problem. And it is a big problem.

There are 2.5 billion people in the world who don’t have access to adequate sanitation. For them, there’s no modern toilet. And there are 1.1 billion people whose toilets are the streets or river banks or open spaces, and again, the technical term of that is open defecation, but that is really simply shitting in the open. And if you’re living in fecal material and it’s surrounding you, you’re going to get sick. It’s going to get into your drinking water, into your food, into your immediate surroundings. So the United Nations estimates that every year, there are 1.5 million child deaths because of inadequate sanitation. That’s one preventable death every 20 seconds, 171 every hour, 4,100 every day.

In Indonesia, World Bank has recorded that there are 56 billion diseases related to inadequate sanitation. Moreover, 120 million Indonesians were reported to get diarrhea per year (WSP-EAP, 2008).

Otherwise, a study from WHO shows that an adequate sanitation – especially in household – is able to decrease 94 percent of diarrhea numbers. The reduction of diarrhea numbers are correlative to enhancement of citizen’s productivity and life quality (Project Sunlight – Unilever Indonesia). This fact also shows that an adequate sanitation is indeed required to create a healthier and better lifestyle.

Rethink Sanitation

So ask yourselves, how can we solve this sanitation problem and why don’t we just build Western-style flush toilets for those people? The answer is, it’s just not possible. A common thing going on in Indonesia for years, which is also accepted by the government bureaucracy and all those matter, is that poor people deserve poor solutions and absolutely poor people deserve pathetic solutions. This, combined with a Nobel Prize-worthy theory that the cheapest is the most economic, is the heady cocktail that the poor are forced to drink. We feel that the poor have been humiliated for centuries. And even in sanitation, they should not be humiliated. Sanitation is more about dignity than about human disposal of waste. And so you build these toilets and very often, we have to hear that the toilets are better than their houses.

I think we make a fundamental mistake. We make an assumption that we think that, if people need something, we don’t have to make them want that. And I think this is a mistake. There’s some indications around the world that this is starting to change. One example is sanitation. We know that a million and a half children die a year from diarrhea and a lot of it is because of open defecation. But there’s a solution: you build a toilet. But, what we’re finding around the world, over and over again, is if you build a toilet and you leave it there, it doesn’t get used. People reuse it for a slab for their home. They sometimes store food stocks in it.

The case of building toilets has something in common with these messages, “Use a condom, don’t get AIDS.” “Wash your hands, you might not get diarrhea.”. It doesn’t sound anything like “Wavin’ Flag” to me. What they actually need is healthy education, the facilities like toilets are just supporting the education. But in fact, it’s not as easy as saying “Wash your hands, you might not get diarrhea”.

Learn from Coke’s Success

Coke is everywhere.

If you think about Coca-Cola, they sell 1.5 billion servings every single day. That’s like every man, woman, and child on the planet having a serving of Coke every week. So why does this matter? Well, if we’re going to speed up the progress and go even faster on the set of Millennium Development Goals that we’re set as a world, we need to learn from the innovators, and those innovators come from every single sector.

Coke’s success is relevant, because if we can analyze it, learn from it, then we can save lives. There are really three things we can take away from Coca-Cola. They take real-time data and immediately feed it back into the product. They tap into the local entrepreneurial talent. And they do incredible marketing.

How can we apply those lessons for the public good?

(Next: From Coca-Cola to A Better Sanitation #2)

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