The South Africa Toilet Organisation (SATO) is a part of the World Toilet Organization (WTO), who organized the Annual World Toilet Summit-2012 in Durban during December 3-6, 2012.

world-toile-summit-2012Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, Founder, Sulabh Sanitation and Social Reform Movement, who was invited as the keynote speaker at the Summit – one of the largest gatherings of experts on sanitation from all over the world, attended the conference along with three erstwhile women scavengers from Rajasthan. It was a celebrated visit for them to the land, where Mahatma Gandhi started his crusade against racism, and untouchability and for independence of India, as they themselves were the manifestation of the Mahatma’s dream come true (victory over untouchability). It is worth mentioning that on the proposal mooted by Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak in the Meet in Singapore in the year 2001 it was decided that World Toilet Day should be regularly observed on November 19 the date of birth of Mrs. Indira Gandhi, former Prime Minister of India.

Speaking during the inaugural ceremony Mr. Alfie Heeger, Founder, SATO, said: “Your attendance here serves as a confirmation that we all share a common vision and goal that is to solve the problem of sanitation in the world for 2.6 billion people, most of them being in Africa. Our collective measures are the only solution, let us combine our resources. In the course of the three-day event we will debate, discuss and evolve strategies on a verity of subjects in an attempt to give directive and definition to our collective vision and mission bringing dignity to all”.

After his speech he introduced Mr. Jack Sim, the founder of WTO, and said, “The World Toilet Summit (WTS) was created with the founding of the World Toilet Organization, we played this part to grab the attention of media. Let us share a common dream/vision that everyone everywhere, any time will have access to clean safe sanitation”, he said in his inaugural speech.

Also present on the dais during the opening ceremony were government officials from South Africa Hon’ble Mrs. Zuo Kota-Fredericks, Deputy Minister, Department of Human Settlement, Mr. James Nxumalo, Mayor, Durban, and Mrs. Nomhle Dambuza (Chairperson, Portfolio Committee of Human Settlements).

Exemplary work done in the field of sanitation was awarded during the ceremony:

Hall of Fame Award was given to

1. Mr. Piers Cross, International Spokesperson and Strategist in the Water Supply and Sanitation Sector

2. Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy, Republic of Indonesia.

3. Mr. Jon Lane, Executive Director, WSSCC

world-toile-summit-2012-2Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak started his speech introducing the three women present on the dais from Alwar and Tonk and the nature of work they used to do before their liberation and said. “Fortunately we are having this conference in Durban where Mahatma Gandhi lived for many years, one of the experiments he did for the independence of South Africa was that he managed the treatment of human waste in his Phoenix Ashram where he had trench latrine”.

The Sulabh Founder said: “I thank the South African Toilet Organisation and Mr. Jack Sim for giving me the opportunity to share my experiences of 44 years. I was just 25 when I started this work. What is important that when Mahatma Gandhi came to India, the country had many problems, and two of them related to sanitation – open defecation and cleaning of human excreta by scavengers (untouchables). Gandhiji wanted to solve this problem and he suggested use of trench latrines as far as possible which he used in Durban. My contribution in this field is seminal. I made a paradigm shift from centralized treatment of human waste that is sewerage system which was installed for the first time in London in 1850 and in 1870 in India, I gave a quantum leap in the field from centralized to decentralised system. Earlier, there was only the centralized system. On the one hand we have talked about motivation and education, but what is as important is, as the Mayor in his speech mentioned, the ‘best practice’ without which you cannot achieve the target. In 2002 in this country in Johannesburg the figures were given 2.6 billion for people going for defecation in the open. It went down to 2.5 and 2.4 and then again it came to 2.6 billion; so from 2002 to 2012 the situation in the entire world remained the same. India had the sewerage system for the first time in 1870 and from 1870 to 2012 only 160 towns out of 7933 have sewerage treatment plants. With this pace India will take 3000 years to cover the whole country with the sewerage system. Similarly, the three continents – Africa, Asia and Latin America – cannot afford to provide sewerage system because of costly construction, maintenance and the requirement of enormous quantity of water to flush. So the basic question is what is the best practice that is adoptable in different countries all around the world. I have developed two practices: one for individual household and the other for public places, which I will show you during my presentation”.

The three women along with Dr. Pathak also visited the Phoenix Ashram in Durban. Mrs. Usha Chaumar, President, Sulabh International Social Service Organisation said, “it is a dream come true for us: visiting Gandhiji’s house where he had initiated the struggle against untouchability in South Africa”. They also chanted ‘Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram’ the favourite devotional song of Gandhiji in front of the Mahatma’s statue in the Ashram.

During their visit the Information Officer of the Gandhi Settlement, Mr. Mthemu Bo, described their visit as significant inasmuch as the practice of untouchability was almost identical in entire Africa with that prevailing in India, and that their visit would prove to be a beacon of hope.

Dr. Pathak in his address said “this visit is a symbolic tribute to the Father of the Nation who started his movement from this very place”.

Dr. Pathak met the officials of the Gandhi Ashram located within the Phoenix Settlement and assured them of building a vocational training school for the benefit of the local population living within the settlement.

Dr. Pathak said that Sulabh would request the South African and Indian governments to allow such a venture to serve the people there.