The jokes just write themselves, really. But poor sanitation is no laughing matter, especially if you're one of the 2.6 billion people on Earth without access to a toilet. And for pennies on the dollar, a Swedish entrepreneur is hoping to help that 40% of the world's population in more ways than one.

Anders Wilhelmson, an architect and professor in Stockholm, is the inventor of the Peepoo. It's not just a clever name - the Peepoo is "a biodegradable plastic bag that acts as a single-use toilet for urban slums in the developing world," reports the NY Times. "Once used, the bag can be knotted and buried, and a layer of urea crystals breaks down the waste into fertilizer, killing off disease-producing pathogens found in feces."

Wilhelmson found that in urban slums in Kenya, people would "collect their excrement in a plastic bag" and fling it away, earning it the name of helicopter toilet or flyaway toilet. That, along with the open spaces in the slums where waste could be buried, inspired Wilhelmson to create his Peepoo. It will sell for 2 or 3 cents, he said, which is comparable to the price for plastic bags.

He thinks it will turn a profit - and with the market for low-cost toilets in the developing world priced at about a trillion dollars, I tend to agree.

There are private groups working on the problem, developing low-cost toilets. But for the poorest of the poor, who often are the ones living in these squalid conditions, low-cost is still out of reach financially.

Of the 2.6 billion without toilets, about 1.7 billion live in eastern and southern Asia.  The lack of toilets affects both society and the individual through the contamination of fresh water and ground water, according to the Peepoo site, run by the Peepoople behind the project. Human feces contain viruses, bacteria, worms and parasites which kills and infects people with serious diseases; one child in the world dies every 15 seconds due to contaminated water.

Folks like those behind the World Toilet Organization (yes, it's real) are working hard to address the critical public health problem of water contamination. The WTO is a global non-profit organization committed to improving toilet and sanitation conditions worldwide, and is "one of the few organizations to focus on toilets instead of water, which receives more attention and resources under the common subject of sanitation." This makes sense to me - nip it in the bud, go after the source of the problem.

The Peepoo has been tested in Kenya and Bangladesh, and is expected to be released late in 2010 - perhaps in time for November 19th, World Toilet Day? I'll leave you with these excellent words from our former president:

"Now instead of being famous for negotiating peace, I'm famous for being the number one latrine builder." - Jimmy Carter