Gulper (for pumping poo out of latrines).
Sanitation market vendor.
Painted bathroom in Bolivia.
The Sanitation Problem
Sanitation means separating and keeping humans separated from their waste. Without access to a latrine or toilet to do this, inadequate sanitation leads to poor environmental hygiene conditions, disease, and death. Yet, official statistics say 2.5 billion people lack access to sanitation. And it is becoming more widely thought that this number is lowballed especially when considering the adverse effects inadequate sanitation conditions have on the social, economic, and environmental situation in an area.
Conventional development approaches allocate foreign aid to construct more latrines by providing them at no cost (fully subsidized). We know this won’t ensure lasting results. While this may have an impact on short-term sanitation coverage, latrines given to families by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) create only one thing in the long-term: a dependency on that NGO to always provide support.
The Solution: Access to Sanitation, Forever
Water For People, and a growing host of others, believe that this extraordinarily slow progress can be accelerated and that greater success can be achieved by reorienting our work from latrine construction to facilitating sanitation services market system development.
This market approach is fundamentally different from charitable or international development practice. For decades, individual households or communities, and in recent years entrepreneurs, have been the target and focus of sanitation programs. The goal for current programming is not a beneficiary, but a customer. Work is done to support and strengthen budding or on-going local and national efforts to mature sanitation market systems and their enabling environments. In this way, service provision is not a one-off transaction; instead, the market system, made up of flourishing and competitive sanitation-related businesses, becomes functional to provide services and respond to customers’ needs over time (when they are ready to buy), and which is resilient to population growth and change. This is sustainable sanitation — having access to services Forever.
Water For People is modeling this new approach with the goal that none of our country programs will be directly subsidizing latrine construction or the purchase of any sanitation-related products and/or services by 2013. While the implementation differs in each country and context, there are basic principles, which we adhere to:
- Market Analysis
- We find the business opportunities and weaknesses within the sanitation supply (value) chain.
- Customer Satisfaction
- We ask how desirable products and services that have many design options based on what the customer wants can be achieved.
- New Role and Different Partners
- We seek out business development firms, cooperatives, community water boards, and micro-finance institutions partners that have the capacity and a profit motivated interest to grow their involvement in sanitation.
- Bringing Businesses Into sanitation
- We design our programs with the goal of exponentially increasing the number of businesses and entrepreneurs involved in sanitation-related activities.
- Try Something New and Take Risks
- We encourage our staff and partners to take calculated risks to develop the sanitation market with the understanding that not all efforts will be successful; this allows us to learn and find models that work.
- Shared Measurement Systems
- We define success by customers reached and services delivered, margin (income vs. expenditure) of sanitation services businesses, leveraged financing into market development, and the number of new jobs created.
Reaching Everyone with Sanitation
As Water For People facilitates and strengthens emerging market systems, the range of goods offered can expand, diversify, and be sustained in the long term because the local private sector — a more sustainable stakeholder than an NGO — is driving the process forward. If the proper market incentives are in place, households can acquire products and services they want at a reasonable price, and the private sector does what it does in any healthy market: it plays the leading role in maintaining its current customer base as well as bringing in new customers.
The argument can be made that markets will not always reach everyone, but Water For People monitors market systems to watch who is reached over time. With this knowledge, we are able to mitigate bottlenecks and facilitate processes by which even the most poor and vulnerable — Everyone — can benefit from sanitation market development.