MIT Startup Addresses Sanitation at Refugee Camps

Refugee Camps

MIT Sloan recently published an article on change:WATER Labs, a Cambridge-based startup co-founded by biochemist and Columbia MBA ’04 Diana Yousef. change:WATER Labs qualified for the Hult Prize social entrepreneurship competition last month with its water-less toilet to help out refugee camps.

The “compact, evaporative” toilet, which requires no power or plumbing, has a polymer material that soaks up liquids and releases it as vapor into the air. According to the article, “It also contains residual waste, preventing pollution. Because sewage is mostly water, it’s possible to rapidly vaporize it, eliminating up to 95 percent of daily sewage volumes.”

The toilet was designed with young women at Middle Eastern refugee camps in mind, where they often risk “being attacked using communal toilets late at night.” According to the article, some contract UTIs by refusing to expel their bladders while others dig “pits in the ground and drain the sewage through trenches.”

Team member Conor Smith, MBA ’18 elaborates, “Safe sanitation for all is a motto and mission of the organization. Initially, we’re focusing on refugee camps like Zaatari [in Jordan], where lack of affordable toilets have turned these camps into massive cesspools. And beyond the camps, there is incredible potential to apply this solution to the more than a billion non-sewered households around the world.”

Smith credits Sloan resources and community as a major source of inspiration for the work at change:WATER Labs. “When I came to MIT, I knew that the entrepreneurship programs were well-known and strong, but the resources at Sloan and the greater MIT community have been even better and more plentiful than I expected. In many ways, it has inspired my own endeavors and provided the connections to entrepreneurs with whom I’ve been able to bounce ideas around, seek advice, and collaborate.”

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