• Inside Development
Exclusive interview: Peter Morgan

Innovation for better sanitation in Zimbabwe

By Eliza Villarino02 September 2013

U.N. officials concede that the chances of meeting the Millennium Development Goal on sanitation are slim. But the story is different for Zimbabwe: according to the latest MDG report for the African country, the goal on sanitation is likely to be achieved there by 2015 “if current efforts continue.”

That’s thanks in part to the innovative work of Peter Morgan, who back in the 1970s, invented the Blair Ventilated Improved Pit Latrine.

This odor-free toilet was named after the Blair Research Institute, now Zimbabwe’s National Institute of Health Research, where the scientist developed a device that has been adopted in many other countries. Morgan’s portfolio also includes the “B” type Bush pump and upgraded family well, both of which have also become standard in Zimbabwe.

On Sept. 5, the British-born naturalized citizen of Zimbabwe will receive the 2013 Stockholm Water Prize from King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden. The ceremony is part of World Water Week, an annual gathering of thought leaders on global water issues.

“Many currently existing solutions to provide clean water and sanitation are unaffordable, impractical and out of reach for the world’s poorest people,” the Stockholm Water Prize Committee said in a statement. “As a result of Dr. Morgan’s pioneering work to develop practical water and sanitation technologies for those most in need, countless communities now enjoy safer water, a cleaner environment and quality of life.”

See the above video for Morgan’s reaction to the award.

Ahead of the event, we asked him about how the aid community can help improve sanitation and scale up innovation in global development. He also has advice for development innovators.

According to the United Nations, meeting the MDG target on sanitation means “extending sanitation services to an average of 660,000 people a day, every day, between 2011 and 2015.” What can the aid community do to help meet the challenge?

This is a huge challenge, which is unlikely to be met in reality. The needs of the underprivileged are immense.

Part of the challenge must be met in encouraging health and hygiene awareness campaigns fully supported by governments. Self-help will be essential, but by encouragement. Poor people have few resources, and other priorities, like food to eat and schooling for children. I believe small material incentives can help start a self-help process off. A step by step, start very simple with the possibility of upgrading is perhaps one way forward. It is indeed a great challenge.

What role does land administration and governance play in improving water and sanitation?

Ownership of land is important  those who own their own land are more likely to do self-help developments than those who do not. The issue of land is complex. I have much to learn myself.

What do you see think as major challenges in scaling up innovation in water and sanitation and in international development in general?

Many approaches are being tried, only time will tell. [But it will take] looking and examining the various methods which have been tried before and examining them, and re-examining them to see which show the most promise for the future. Global problems with finance hinder much development within the poorer countries of the world.

What do you see as the next big innovation in water and sanitation and international development?

In terms of innovation, yes, indeed, it is widely known that the flush toilet and supporting infrastructure made modern life possible in towns and cities throughout the world.

I believe that the technical answers of the future may not lie in any single innovation, but a range to suit very different conditions. Mankind lives in a huge range of different environments. The answer really lies in producing innovative answers which cover the range of living conditions, but where the possibility of improvement can take place.

In this sector, [it’s] the person who moves the whole sector forward in one giant leap — like the cell phone — well that person deserves the prize!

What is your advice to development innovators?

Use your eyes and ears, listen and look. Ideas are often built by placing together observations and experiences and building upon them.

Keep it as simple as possible. It must be understandable to those who will use it.

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About the author

Eliza villarino 400x400
Eliza Villarino

Eliza Villarino currently manages one of today’s leading publications on humanitarian aid, global health and international development, the weekly GDB. At Devex, she has helped grow a global newsroom, with talented journalists from major development hubs such as Washington, D.C, London and Brussels. She regularly writes about innovations in global development.


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