At the 2011 AfricaSan (African Conference on Sanitation and Hygiene) Conference in July in Kigali, Rwanda, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation called on all of the major players in international development to help make proper sanitation services available to more people around the world. Sylvia Mathews Burwell, president of the foundation’s Global Development Program and keynote speaker at the conference, issued the challenge, citing the nearly 40 percent of the world’s population affected by the crisis. “No innovation in the past 200 years has done more to save lives and improve health than the sanitation revolution triggered by invention of the toilet,” she said. “But it did not go far enough. It only reached one-third of the world. What we need are new approaches. New ideas. In short, we need to reinvent the toilet.”

Burwell wasn’t imploring those in attendance with only words–she also announced $42 million in grants from the foundation to support the toilet’s reinvention and the implementation of sanitation systems. In giving out these grants, the foundation will focus on affordable solutions, with the goal being that they’ll cost no more than 5 cents per person, per day. Burwell also said the foundation would help support the efforts of local communities to stop open sewers and increase people’s access to affordable sanitation.

Several other prominent developmental organizations also announced new or renewed efforts to deal with the problem. Primary among them was the U.S. Agency for International Development Aid (USAID), which along with the Gates Foundation launched its WASH for Life program that will help identify those services that best help provide water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities to the poor. In total, both organizations will commit $8.5 million to the project over the next four years. Other organizations announcing initiatives included the African Development Bank, German Agency for International Cooperation, and UNESCO.

Increasing worldwide access to clean sanitation also is among the major objectives of the United Nations’ 2015 Millennium Development Goals, which call for reducing the number of people without it by half. Access to hygienic facilities has been shown to reduce the incidence of childhood illness and increase school attendance, among other benefits.