By TOM ODULA and DONNA BLANKINSHIP
NAIROBI, Kenya —
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.
"It was too much," he said. "I had to do something, so I picked up a bucket and drained it myself. I realize that many other landlords were facing similar problems and a business opportunity presented itself."
Irungu's enterprising spirit was echoed across the continent Tuesday, 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. Instead of using toilets connected to sewer lines, most leave their waste on the ground or in a ditch or pit. The result is unsightly, unsanitary and contributes to illness.
Some 1.5 million children die each year from diarrhea-related diseases. Because the Gates Foundation believes most of these deaths could be prevented with proper sanitation, safe drinking water and improved hygiene, foundation officials are in Africa this week to launch this new initiative.