Sanitation Grants Launched by Gates Foundation, USAID and Partners

A mother and her daughter sit on the steps of a newly built toilet in Sri Lanka. Photo by: Russell Watkins / DfID / CC BY

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation plans to spend $42 million on innovative sanitation strategies for the developing world, including a newly launched grant challenge with the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The collaboration with USAID, dubbed WASH for Life and part of the foundation’s Development Innovation Ventures program, will fund projects that identify, test and help scale up evidence-based approaches to delivering water, sanitation, and hygiene services to the poor. Both organizations will shell out $8.5 million each.

Another $12 million will be provided by the foundation for the development of sanitation pilot projects in sub-Saharan Africa through the African Development Bank’s African Water Facility, while $10 million will be allotted for scaling up sustainable sanitation services for up to 800,000 people and water services for up to 200,000 residents in low-income urban areas in Kenya. This initiative is co-funded by the German and Kenyan governments.

Gates also will provide an $8 million grant for efforts to transform the postgraduate water and sanitation education system through the UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education.

And the foundation oversees a $3-million grant dubbed “Reinventing the Toilet Challenge,” which supports eight universities across Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America in developing waterless, hygienic toilets that do not rely on sewer connections for less than 5 cents a day.

The Gates Foundation is among the biggest funders of water and sanitation initiatives in the world, spending around $265 million over the past five years alone. Frank Rijbersman, the foundation’s director of water, sanitation and hygiene, expects this amount to grow even more over the next few years.

Rijbersman concedes that the issue of sanitation is largely neglected and often bypassed by the donor community for the more appealing issue of access to water. Perhaps, it’s because sanitation is “something you don’t talk about in polite conversation,” he says.

And yet, providing safe sanitation to 2.6 billion people who don’t have access to it will require “hygienic, affordable, and sustainable ways to capture, treat, and recycle human waste,” says the foundation’s global development program president, Sylvia Mathews Burwell.

The Gates Foundation has long placed a premium on innovations that breathe new life to age-old development challenges. Apart from its own Grand Challenges Explorations (whose next round will open in September 2011), the foundation is engaged in a $50-million, five-year partnership with USAID, the World Bank, Norway, and Grand Challenges Canada dubbed Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge for Development.

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  • Che de los Reyes

    As a senior staff writer, Che focuses on international development breaking news coverage as well as interviews and features. Prior to joining Devex, Che handled communications for local and international development NGOs and government institutions in the Philippines.