Toespraak van de Prins van Oranje bij ‘Reinvent the Toilet Fair’ in Seattle

14 augustus 2012

De toespraak is uitgesproken in het Engels.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, friends

I am so happy to be here among friends of sanitation. As most of you know, I do spend a good deal of time advocating for more toilets. So, it is exciting to get a close-up look at all the state-of-the-art toilets here. I know that they can make a big contribution in solving the sanitation crisis.  

These toilets could mean better lives for those who lack access to improved sanitation. These toilets can improve their health, dignity and development.

If there is one thing I have learned as Chair of the Secretary-General's Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation, it is that innovation is crucial for sanitation. And so I congratulate all the innovators here today and thank you for dedicating your technological know-how and your brains to overcoming a challenge that holds human development hostage in many parts of the world. 

Just months ago, we learned that the Millennium Development Goal target for improved access to drinking water has been met. We still have work ahead to make sure we sustain and build on those gains. But this was welcome news. 

Unfortunately the same report had bleak news about sanitation. It showed that between 2008 and 2010 only minor progress was made.  In fact, sanitation is arguably the most off track MDG target.  

Why so little progress on sanitation?  Different experts will offer different explanations, but this much is clear:  Politicians, leaders, and people in general worldwide don't like to be associated with toilets. Even state-of-the-art toilets. Toilets are simply not sexy. 

Is that a problem? Yes it is. This sanitation stigma distorts international and national development agendas.  And we must continually fight, and insist that sanitation be at the centre of development discussions. 

I think everyone agrees that all human beings have the right to health, dignity and development. But that is not the only way to look at this issue. There is also an economic side. Healthcare is becoming prohibitively expensive. Curative healthcare is ten times more expensive than preventive healthcare. By shifting dollars from curative to preventative health, sanitation is extremely cost effective public health intervention.  According to the readers of the British Medical Journal, sanitation is the most important medical invention of the last 150 years, even more important than penicillin and all other medication and medical technology that we know and rely on. 

Ladies and gentlemen, Sanitation is a deeply complex challenge where cultural values, social mores, political priorities, and development objectives are tangled together. Innovative technology by itself is unlikely to be enough to instil lasting change.  To be a true success, these innovative toilets will have to effectively engage with this complex dynamic. 

Solving the sanitation crisis is not just a technological challenge. Education, demand creation, cultural perceptions, advocacy, supply chains and public policy must all be grappled with. Some call these "soft" issues, but they are no less real. 

Sanitation solutions will be very different for rural and urban communities, for dry or tropical ecosystems, and for democratic or centralized states. 

These winning toilets are a real achievement and a tremendous advance. They deserve investment and widespread distribution. Carried out with careful attention to context. 

Before I wrap up, please allow me a quick plug for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  Our Board advocates for greater political will and investment for both sanitation and drinking water. And I have to say the Foundation's investment in sanitation is immeasurably valuable. For the dollars committed, of course, but also for the message it sends to the broader development community about the importance of basic sanitation. 

Sanitation is more and more part of the global development discussion. All UN member states have endorsed theSanitation Driveto 2015, which advocates for redouble efforts to meet the MDG sanitation target. 

And with these toilets joining forces with the Sanitation Drive, national efforts and community campaigns, I am optimistic that instead of being held hostage, human development will flourish with better sanitation. 

Again, my sincere congratulations to the winning teams!