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$42m offered for ideas for better toilets

Associated Press / July 20, 2011

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NAIROBI - At dawn every Sunday, Joseph Irungu leads an army of 50 men pushing hand carts fitted with old 42-gallon oil drums through the narrow alleyways of one of Kenya’s most populous slums.

With their bare hands, they use buckets to draw the feces from the pit latrines in Korogocho, fill the oil drums, and push them to a river to deposit the waste. Every trip leaves the men with splotches of sewage on their faces and hands.

Irungu has been leading this sanitation brigade since 1998, when the Nairobi City Council refused his request to drain the pit latrine at his plot of rental houses.

Irungu’s enterprising spirit was echoed across the continent yesterday, when the world’s largest charitable foundation announced its newest venture: an effort to reinvent the toilet to bring safe, clean sanitation to millions of poor people in the developing world.

At the AfricaSan Conference in Kigali, Rwanda, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced $42 million in grants to encourage innovation in the capture, storage, and repurposing of waste as an energy resource.

More than 2.6 billion people around the world don’t have access to safe sanitation.

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