When shit hits the fan – the Bill & Melinda folly

Caltech’s solar-powered toilet won the $100,000 Reinventing the Toilet Challenge issued by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The UK’s Loughborough University picked up the $60,000 second prize.

Last summer, Hoffmann, the James Irvine Professor of Environmental Science at Caltech, and his team were awarded a $400,000 grant to create a toilet that can safely dispose of human waste for just five cents per user per day. The lavatory can’t use a septic system or an outside water source, or produce pollutants.

Hoffmann’s proposal, which won one of the eight grants, was to build a toilet that uses the sun to power an electrochemical reactor. The reactor breaks down water and human waste into fertilizer and hydrogen, which can be stored in hydrogen fuel cells as energy. The treated water can then be reused to flush the toilet or for irrigation.

The challenge is part of a $40 million program initiated by the Gates Foundation to tackle the problems of water, sanitation, and hygiene throughout the developing world. According to the World Health Organization, 2.5 billion people around the globe are without access to sanitary toilets, which results in the spread of deadly diseases. Every year, 1.5 million people—mostly those under the age of five—die from diarrhea.

So, you’re one of those 2.5 billion who lack toilets in the world. You live in 5 sqm in a slum in Delhi. You’re getting ill because your water is full of coliform bacteria. What do you do?

You sit back and relax, because your knights in shining armor are here. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently (some X months ago) published a request for a toilet that took no inputs and produced no output (laws of physics be damned). It seems that they didn’t quite get that (bummer, I never liked that Newton guy anyway, too many apples) .

Instead they got toilets that cost less than 3 Rs per flush (oh man, wow!) with amazing, gleaming technical contraptions that will fit perfectly well in the muddy monsoon soaked streets of your neighborhood basti.

Of course, these toilets will work great and the service and distribution network that will allow them to work for 365 days a year will be amazing, and each flush being worth a daily meal will no doubt be appreciated by its users.

Go B&MG.

Abducted children from Delhi sold to slavery

MAHENDRA WAS taken to Karnal, in Punjab, by a Sikh man. “From Karnal we were taken to Sandgaon, where he lived. At Sandgaon, he took us first to his sugarcane fields, and then later to the buffalo shed and told me that I have to wake up at four in the morning, clean the shed and prepare fodder for the buffaloes before sunrise. I was then supposed to work in the fields all day,” he recounts.

“It was only after the morning chores that I was given the morning chai and two rotis for the day. I then had to work in the fields.” Mahendra worked in the fields with Shehnewaz, another abducted boy. “He was the one who told me that the sardar had bought me for Rs 4,000 from a local agent.”

When pressed for the sardar’s name, Mahendra mumbles, “His name was Gijja Singh, and his sister was called Preeti. His son’s name was Dilbagh Singh. They have a big house in Sandgaon surrounded by high walls on all sides, so I could never run away. They abused and beat me whenever I talked about going home. We weren’t even given enough food to eat. The sardar used to say that food would make us lazy.”














*Till 15 April 2012, Source: Ministry of Home Affairs

In the meantime, Mahendra’s parents left no stone unturned in their efforts to trace their son. They travelled from Delhi to Haridwar pasting ‘missing child’ posters in every nook and corner along the way, as the police in Delhi refused to register and FIR. “I ran to Jahangirpuri police station the same day my son was abducted. But the lady-in-charge asked me for mithai in return for registering the FIR. I gave her the Rs 200 I had in my pocket then, but she only made a diary entry. I was asked to look for my child myself. After making numerous rounds of the station, an FIR was finally registered, but I wasn’t given a copy,” says Ram Ratan, Mahendra’s father, who works as a daily wage labourer in a tobacco factory.

Amazingly, an NGO working in these regions have commented in the article : “ACCORDING TO Kailash Satyarthi, head of Bachpan Bachao Andolan “such events are examples of the shortsightedness of schemes like the MNREGA, which led a big chunk of agricultural labour to shift towards welfare schemes, resulting in acute shortage. Keeping local children is always riskier as their parents can come searching so sugarcane farmers have started bringing children from Delhi.”

So… the conclusion is that if agricultural labour goes short because of a government scheme, it’s quite natural that land owners abduct and buy children as bonded labour?