Why East Meets West Just Got $10.9 Million from Gates to Improve Sanitation in Asia

Having just experienced a clogged main sewer line on a holiday, I realized that I, like many of us who enjoy indoor plumbing, never truly appreciate it until something goes wrong. Those sentiments aren't so true for the East Meets West Foundation, which recently received a $10.9 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to improve sanitation and hygiene practices in Cambodia and Vietnam. Toilets and sinks are kind of their thing — and for good reason.

Related: Gates Foundation: Grants for Global Health

Sure, we appreciate the jobs our plumbing has to endure. If you've ever been camping, you really come to appreciate a hot shower and a running toilet. However, we rarely think of how our sinks, toilets, bathtubs, and washer keep us from contracting a whole host of diseases. I'm talking about diseases that cause an estimated 17,000 deaths and economic losses of more than $1 billion — and that's just in Cambodia and Vietnam. By the way, 90% of those 17,000 deaths are children under age five.

Related: Brian Arbogast

Half of Vietnamese households and 80% of Cambodian households do not have any sort of bathrooms, washrooms, or sanitation facilities. With its grant money, the East Meets West Foundation wants to flush these statistics down the drain and give Cambodian and Vietnamese residents of 290 communities the opportunity to install toilets and hand-washing devices in their homes. East Meets West hopes these installations will benefit an estimated 1.7 million people.

To make these toilets and sinks happen, East Meets West chooses the recipients of this community-driven program. Those chosen will have to come up with an initial investment for the installation of their toilets and sinks. The foundation offers cash rebates once the installation is complete. The program also includes increased education regarding proper hygiene and sanitation techniques, and communities that achieve at least a 30% increase in sanitation installations will also receive a cash transfer to benefit the community.

Related: Trevor Mundel

Education on proper sanitation methods may seem a bit elementary to many of us, but if you had spent your entire life without a modern toilet or sink, you would need to learn a thing or two about their proper use. Plus, preventing diseases caused by poor sanitation and hygiene begins with each person adapting proper hygienic methods. Think about it this way: Have you ever wondered why the majority of conjunctivitis or "pink eye" sufferers are children? It's because they haven't perfected their hygienic practices and touch their eyes and other children, who then touch their eyes. Think about it.