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December 2, 2020

Adequate sanitation

Opinion

December 2, 2020

More than 25 countries worldwide have made significant progress in increasing basic sanitation services in the past 20 years, including Micronesia, Cambodia, Nepal, Laos and India. But delivering dignified sanitation and hygiene needs more than toilets alone; it requires an entire sanitation service chain, which includes the safe emptying, transporting and treating of faecal sludge.

Poor sanitation, including a lack of access to safe toilets, costs the global economy an estimated $223 billion a year through disease, deaths and lost productivity, which is to say nothing of the environmental costs from pollution and overflowing pit latrines. And it also comes with a social cost, entrenching prejudices such as the stigmatisation of the Dalit caste in India as the country’s “toilet emptiers”.

If the world is to achieve the UN’s goal of providing adequate sanitation and ending open defecation worldwide in the next 10 years, the faecal waste crisis must be addressed in a systematic way using fresh thinking.

While sanitation is considered a human need and a public service, expansion of public infrastructure such as sewerage is often not feasible, whether through a lack of political will, a lack of funding to retrofit systems into high-density suburbs or expand existing networks, or simply insufficient water to flush the pipes.

Governments must instead develop or adapt sanitation policies to be more inclusive of non-sewered onsite-sanitation systems, such as septic tanks and pit latrines. Such policies must support innovative and varied ways of ensuring that the whole population can answer nature’s call without the result building up and compromising their safety, hygiene or dignity.

To this end, researchers have identified a range of business models for services that empty, transport, treat and recycle human waste safely that could also feasibly generate livelihoods, incomes and new markets.

A new report by CGIAR’s research program on Water, Land and Ecosystems, for example, found sustainable business opportunities in India throughout the sanitation service chain. These included call centres that handle household sanitation needs, associations of small operations that de-sludge pits, and companies that connect toilets to bio-digesters and harvest energy or produce organic fertiliser.

For those in the business of emptying septic tanks and toilet pits on demand, the report identified the threshold at which enterprises were profitable: between 400 and 1,500 trips annually, charged at more than $13 (1,000 Indian Rupees) each. But it also found that when households were placed on a rota for regular de-sludging, profitability increased by up to 600 percent.

Meanwhile, another project in Sri Lanka confirmed a gap between the total volume of household septic tanks and the capacity to collect and process that waste, a gap that could be addressed by fostering a nascent private sector for sanitation. In Khulna, Bangladesh, for example, sanitation services make use of state-of-the-art technology to GIS-map all septic tanks.

Excerpted: ‘How to defuse the human waste time bomb in low-income countries’

Aljazeera.com