Toilet giveaways don’t work, because they create a cycle where families don’t view constructing a household toilet as something they could do themselves – or would even be willing to do.
A lasting, long-term approach to sanitation has to consider how to create behavior change – where families see the value of investing in bathrooms and the importance of hygienic practices. Only then will sanitation services be sustainable.
“In my yard, there are four latrines,” says Ananías, who lives in the district of Villa Rivero, Bolivia. “They would fill up and I would dig another. The odor was awful and there were large flies inside. My daughter asked me, ‘How long do we have to live like this? Dad, why won’t you build a bathroom?’”
In the district of Villa Rivero, the municipal water and sanitation office (known locally as the DMSB) has created a program that rewards families like Ananías’s for investing in safe sanitation facilities and creating more hygienic conditions for their families. Under this incentive model, if a household completes its bathroom construction the DMSB will subsidize the cost of the toilet and the sink – about 7% of the total cost of the bathroom.
In addition to supplying the toilet and sink, the DMSB also provides valuable technical assistance during and after construction. They visit families’ homes to recommend where and how to construct a new bathroom, and when construction is complete, the DMSB teaches a workshop about operation and maintenance of the bathroom. All of this creates a sustainable system that is locally rooted and promotes long-term behavior change. And because the subsidy is only 7% of the total cost, the DMSB’s resources can go further to support many more families – causing demand for more hygienic bathrooms to spread throughout Villa Rivero.
“The neighbors were encouraged when they saw me,” says Felix Soria, whose family also utilized the partial subsidy to construct their own improved bathroom. “They asked me about the assistance provided by the municipal government, and they are now building their own bathroom.”
Demand for improved sanitation facilities is spreading even beyond Villa Rivero, as other districts start replicating similar incentive models. Representatives from the district of Tiraque, where Water For People serves in an advisory role, have already visited Villa Rivero to learn about the model.
Carlos Córdoba, Director of Villa Rivero’s DMSB, says the Villa Rivero model responds to the needs of the municipality and prioritizes participation and co-responsibility of families in building bathrooms. “The family chooses the features of the bathroom,” says Carlos. “The municipality only provides technical assistance, and when the family has completed the whole infrastructure, they are given the toilet and sink as an incentive.”
“Undoubtedly, this new work model has allowed us to increase coverage of sanitation in our municipality,” Carlos says. “There is still work to be done to reach full coverage, but we are advancing each year.”