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For many, a toilet is utopia

The intention of World Toilet Day is to bring attention to the vast amount of people still living without proper toilets.

2.3 billion people live without access to proper sanitation.

Since 2001, World Toilet Day has been observed on the 19th of November. The intention of World Toilet Day is to bring attention to the vast amount of people still living without proper toilets. On average, 1 800 children die due to diarrheic diseases every day.

A seminar held at Aalto University on Wednesday brought together policymakers, researchers as well as representatives from businesses and universities.

“The amount of people living without proper sanitation, water supply and sewerage has halved during the 2000s, in accordance with UN Millennium Development Goals. That is a positive signal. Even though there still is a lot of work to do, we are allowed some optimism,” said Professor Olli Varis from Aalto University.

In the seminar, Varis outlined the overall picture of sanitation. His presentation described the variety of developmental measures taken around the world to tackle the issue.

“In China, for example, where urbanisation is rapid, investments are directed toward the kinds of centralised sewage treatment systems found in Western countries. Sanitation and water treatment services are built for cities, but they do not reach the countryside. Development followed a similar path in Europe in the 1960s and 1970s.”

There is a great difference between the measures taken in developed countries and large cities compared to villages in Africa, for example. Various types of earth closets are very common in small communities, while water closets remain rare.

Finnish expertise

According to Varis, Finnish companies have a hard time participating in the largest sanitation and sewage programmes, for example those in Chinese markets, which are worth billions of euros. However, smaller opportunities do exist.

”Finland has much expertise in both technology and natural sciences. A use for that expertise can surely be found, for example within traditional development cooperation. Companies should also try participating in the development cooperation projects of other EU countries.”

Water treatment and sanitation projects in developing countries are often long-term and tied to politics, Varis notes. For those reasons they are not as prone to risk as completely market-driven projects.

The Finnish Water Forum – one of the seminar’s organisers – aims to make it easier for companies to reach export markets. In addition to companies, the Finnish Water Forum’s members include universities, including Aalto University.

The Water and Environmental Engineering research group at Aalto University has for a long time immersed itself in the water-related issues of developing countries. Water is studied as a natural resource, a cornerstone of economy and when considering matters such as water supply, sewage and sanitation, it is studied as a basic service.

The current top project related to sanitation is the Tekes-funded strategic research opening The New Global. Tekes funding for the project amounts to 1.8 million euros for 2014–2015. The project’s goal is to develop frugal innovations for markets with scarce resources and to create new avenues of business for Finnish companies.

The New Global combines the expertise of the different schools of Aalto University in the fields of responsible business, renewable energy technologies, design, architecture and water engineering.

Contact information:

Professor Olli Varis

[email protected]

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