An inspiring social enterprise is taking two of Africa’s most pressing social crises to task with their inspiring innovation

If the research is to be believed, more than 4.1 billion people around the world lack access to hygienic sanitation with Africa accounting for almost 2.5 billion of that. In sub-Saharan Africa alone the situation is particularly dire where, in many countries, more than 50 percent of people lack access to sanitation facilities, according to UNICEF.

Aside from the indignity of the resulting conditions, these environments become breeding zones for all sorts of potentially life-threatening health hazards resulting in incidences like in Kenya’s slums. The Water and Sanitation Program (part of the World Bank Group’s Water Global Practice) estimates that 19,500 people — including 17,100 children younger than 5 — die each year from diarrhea, 90 percent of which is caused by bad sanitation.

A separate challenge in sub-Saharan Africa is the reliance on wood and charcoal as a source of household energy. According to the Africa Renewable Energy Access Program, some 80 percent of households use either or both as their primary fuel supply. Both sources contribute to deforestation, as charcoal is made from wood, and the smoke and other by-products of burning them are responsible for a huge number of illnesses. Cooking on wood- or charcoal-fueled open fires — mostly indoors in poorly ventilated spaces — has been blamed for nearly 360,000 child deaths and more than 23,000 deaths of women over age 30 each year, according to a 2011 report by the U.K. based charity Christian Aid.

Enter Sanivation ­- a social enterprise on a mission to tackle these two issues with an innovative and beguilingly simple solution to the crisis: charcoal briquettes, or poo briquettes as they’re becoming known. For a small fee Sanivation installs lightweight sit-down toilets in people’s homes for nothing upfront, but charges a monthly fee (about R100) to take away the waste twice a week. Then, at a processing plant, it neutralizes the pathogens and combines that with carbonized agricultural residues. After grinding, the mixture eventually become the charcoal briquettes.

“We didn’t necessarily want to get into the whole business of building toilets, servicing them, treating the waste, and selling a product. But we felt that in order for sanitation enterprises to succeed, they really needed a whole value chain,” Andrew Foote, one of the founders says. “What we realized is that [solving] sanitation crisis is about more than designing cost-effective treatments. It’s about understanding the whole value chain,” he says.

For more on Sanivation check out their website http://www.sanivation.com/.