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El negocio de apoyar a los emprendedores

Many of us never think twice about our toilet. It might even be something we actively try not to think about. But, as of 2022, almost half (43%) of the world?s population lacks safely managed sanitation.1 That?s 3.5 billion people who do not have the luxury of avoiding this topic, as they are confronted daily with the hazards, dangers, and inconveniences that come with not having access to a reliable, safe toilet.? 

Water For People is working towards a world where everyone has access to dignified toilets when they are at home, attending school, or seeking medical care at a clinic. You may be used to a toilet that is connected to a larger sewer system, but many of the areas where we work ? remote and dispersed communities ? don?t have sewer systems.  

As a result, sanitation solutions in these areas are only successful when they aren?t dependent on having a sewer system. The most common of these solutions is the pit latrine: A hole dug in the earth where toilet matter ? fecal sludge ? can build up safely without contaminating the surrounding environment.  

Part of the lifecycle of fecal sludge is that it fills up pit latrines over time and communities face the challenge of what to do when that happens. Digging a new pit latrine can be costly, and sometimes families, businesses, or schools don?t have the space to fit another latrine. That?s where pit emptiers come in.?? 

They come in all shapes and sizes, literally. Some pit emptying companies use large trucks that can only service latrines in wide, easy-to-navigate streets. Others are smaller-scale companies that operate with one pickup truck or a motorized tricycle. Pit emptiers empty full pit latrines, providing customers with a safe, affordable way to continue using their bathrooms. It also provides economic opportunities for the pit emptiers themselves as entrepreneurs and business owners.?? 

In Malawi and Uganda, Water For People has been developing and growing pit-emptying businesses since 2010. These businesses operate in areas without sewer systems, and Water For People?s goal is to develop an ecosystem of regulated and financially viable pit-emptying businesses to provide reliable, affordable, and hygienic pit-emptying services, paying specific attention to low-income households who might not normally have access to these services.?? 

We recently conducted a study of the pit emptying markets in both Blantyre, Malawi, and Kampala, Uganda. Pit emptying will only be sustainable if it is accessible to the customer and profitable for pit emptiers.??Our Global Advisor for WASH Market Systems Development, Carlos Batarda, explains what we learned. 

Generally speaking, the public is less aware of the global sanitation crisis compared to the water crisis. Within sanitation, pit emptying is often neglected by sanitation actors in the water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) sector. How did we come to understand this need? 

Carlos Bartada

You?re right that sanitation is sometimes the neglected sibling, so to speak, compared to water. And, within sanitation, it is also true that we see a lot of WASH organizations focused primarily on latrine construction ? they focus on building toilets but not so much on what happens after. Water For People decided early on that we would work along the entire life cycle of fecal sludge. Once emptied, then you have to get that matter to a treatment site so it can be treated safely. The process of getting the fecal matter to the treatment site can be more complex than you might think, especially when you don?t have a sewer network that transports the matter automatically. When you have a sewer system, things flow from the toilet to the treatment site out of sight. When you have a pit toilet, emptying is a manual process. That?s why pit emptying is such a critical link and one of our main focus areas within our sanitation work.?? 

On average, how often does a pit latrine need to be emptied??

It really depends on how big the pit is and how many people are using the toilet, but it typically needs to be emptied once every 1-2 years.?? 

Before pit emptying services became more accessible in these areas, what were communities doing when their pit latrine would fill up?

Before pit emptying services were available, communities would often have their pit emptied by informal workers who would lower themselves into a pit latrine and essentially scoop out the fecal sludge from the pit into a bucket. They would then dump it out of sight somewhere, posing an environmental and health hazard since safe treatment sites were also not readily available. Water For People worked with city authorities in both Blantyre, Malawi, and Kampala, Uganda to train these informal workers on how important it is to have hygienic emptying and dumping practices. We provided them with protective equipment, such as gloves, boots, and overalls, and established standard operating procedures for pit emptying services.?? 

What was the process of educating the public about pit emptying services??

It is critical to educate entrepreneurs and the public ? both play pivotal roles. Since 2010, we have tried to raise the public?s awareness of not only building safe toilets, but also emptying their toilets in a safe way. When we recently did a household survey, many people told us that one of the most important factors for them to consider when emptying their toilet was the quality and convenience of the service. This was not as prevalent years ago when the practice of getting unsafe and unregulated services was so widespread. What we see nowadays is that there is more awareness from the public on the availability of safer and professional services, and they are valuing those services. I think both Water For People and the communities in Blantyre and Kampala can be proud of that progress!?? 

In this study, we wanted to understand what helped make pit emptying entrepreneurs more successful. Can you share the biggest factors that impacted a business?s success that the study found?

Perhaps the number one factor we saw contributing to successful pit-emptying businesses was the amount of fecal sludge being emptied for the average customer. We found that the customers who were requesting larger amounts of sludge to be emptied were often businesses themselves, like restaurants or hotels. So, the emptiers, the businesses serving these customers, tended to be more profitable than others serving smaller customers.?? 

Another factor that was also relevant to the success of these businesses was their background and why they started the business in the first place. Entrepreneurs who decided to start their business because they saw an opportunity given the assets they had ? such as a truck ? tended to have more customers and more revenue than other entrepreneurs who started the business for other reasons.?? 

The third factor that we found was the type of job contracts the entrepreneur gave to their employees. We found that businesses that employed a balanced combination of full-time staff and temporary workers were in general more profitable than either those employing only permanent staff or only those employing temporary staff. The most successful entrepreneurs were employing a combination of those two types of employees. ? 

It sounds like there are two complementary goals within this pit emptying approach ? 1) get more people access to pit emptying services so they can continue to safely use their bathrooms, and 2) create economic opportunity for local entrepreneurs. Have these goals always been achievable at the same time?  

On one hand, the two goals assist each other because if you have more people who need services, you also have a bigger opportunity and a bigger market for entrepreneurs. On the other hand, the two goals can come into conflict when there is a drastic increase in the number of businesses operating in an area, and that drives prices down. It is the law of supply and demand. Pushing down prices is beneficial to customers but can reach a tipping point for emptiers if the price of services goes down too much where they can?t make a profit.?? 

Water For People helped to professionalize and grow the pit emptying market, and now we are focused on helping the entrepreneurs who are already in the market expand their businesses, become more efficient, and increase profitability. It’s trying to find the sweet spot to benefit both customers and business owners.?? 

What was the biggest takeaway from the study? How do the Uganda and Malawi teams plan to expand from these findings to continue improving overall access???

I?ll highlight two findings. One ? Entrepreneurs who serve customers who need more sludge to be emptied are more likely to be profitable. So, Water For People will work to help emptiers identify and serve larger customers like schools, hotels, and restaurants. We believe when emptiers have access to more profitable clients, it will also allow them to reach smaller, single-household customers without having to jeopardize their business. The larger customers can help to balance out lower profitability customers who we do not want to be excluded fully from accessing services.?? 

Two ? We want to do more research on what is happening with the fecal sludge when it is emptied. In Kampala specifically, the amount of sludge being deposited at the treatment facility is still smaller than the total amount of sludge we calculate is being generated in the city. So, that means pit latrines aren?t being emptied or the fecal sludge is being dumped elsewhere and likely not being treated safely. Doing follow-up research will hopefully help us understand if informal pit emptiers are illegally dumping fecal sludge. Then we can find ways to encourage households to use legal emptiers that are safer for their families and the environment. We have already seen an increase in families valuing professional quality services, so we can continue building on this foundation to better educate both entrepreneurs and customers.?? 

A study of the pit emptiers? market in Malawi and Uganda was conducted at the end of 2022.?

  1. WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP), Household Sanitation Data, 2022 ??
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