Billionaire philanthropist displays jar of human waste at Beijing forum to draw attention to lack of toilet facilities globally
As one of the world’s richest men and most active philanthropists, Bill Gates usually has his hands full. Just not with poop. So it came as a surprise when the founder of Microsoft brandished a jar of human waste at a forum on the future of the toilet in Beijing on Tuesday.
The stunt was an effort to draw attention to a problem affecting developing countries around the world: not enough toilets.
“In places without sanitation you have got way more than that,” Gates said, pointing to the feces inside the clear canister resting on a table. “And that’s what kids when they are out playing, they are being exposed to all the time, and that’s why we connect this not just with quality of life, but with disease and death and with malnutrition,” he told attendees.
The billionaire said more than half of the world’s population suffers without clean, comfortable sanitation facilities. “When you think of things that are basic right up there with health and enough to eat, you think that having a reasonable toilet certainly belongs on that list,” Gates said.
Gates has previously used shock tactics to draw attention to his disease-battling efforts. In 2009, he loosed mosquitoes at a Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) Conference in California to make a point about the deadly sting of malaria—waiting a minute or so before assuring the audience the liberated insects were disease-free.
Gates was in Beijing on Tuesday for the “Reinvented Toilet Expo,” a forum hosted by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation showcasing various cutting edge toilet technology in lieu of sewers, making them easier and cheaper to install the devices.
The world’s number two economy is in the midst of a drive to improve its notoriously malodorous bathrooms; a campaign President Xi Jinping has dubbed the “toilet revolution.”
“China has made great progress in improving health and sanitation for millions of people,” Gates said. “China has an opportunity to launch a new category of innovated non-sewered sanitation solutions that will benefit millions of people worldwide.”
According to UNICEF, 892 million people worldwide have no choice but to defecate in the open. India’s government says its public health drive has slashed the number of people in the country forced to defecate in the open from 550 million in 2014 to less than 150 million today.