Making standards practical is critical to sanitation innovation for rapidly expanding urban areas in developing countries

Trabajadores de Sanergy recogen desechos procedentes de los retretes Fresh Life en Mukuru

WASH solutions can only implemented when they work in context. In the lead up to World Toilet Day, Katie Whitehouse explains why in some cases standards may not be achievable.

Container based sanitation social enterprises are pushing the boundaries in decentralised sanitation management and yet continue to be classified as an unimproved form of sanitation. There are social enterprises – Sanivation, SOIL, Sanergy, Loowatt for example – that have been designing toilets and sanitation management systems in poor communities in Kenya, Madagascar and Haiti.

The problem is that all of these enterprises use either containers or shared facilities for their toilets and these are classified by the WHO as ‘unimproved sanitation’ despite the multitude of safeguards and standard operating practices they employ to meet health and safety standards. These enterprise models could arguably been seen as making more progress than some utilities, NGOs and Governments in creating technically sustainable and financially improved sanitation service models (not sustainable yet but significantly better cost, due to their revenue models, than traditional infrastructure or free distributions). Yet, by not meeting a technicality on wording, they are not classified as improved.

When SDG targets look to meet ‘improved sanitation’ coverage, which consequently drives donor and NGO programme quality requirements, enterprises are excluded from grants/subsidies that could support their businesses. When the government utilise WHO standards to define their regulations and policy it essentially means that the businesses cannot be legally approved. And when government have little money to spend on sanitation and rely on external funding from donors which is dictated by SDG goals it continues to compound to the issues of legitimising these enterprises.

The SDGs are supposed to be inclusive and driving sustainable sanitation value chains. These enterprises have pioneered this thinking and yet are being excluded from wording of standards. Do we need a rethink?

Katie Whitehouse
Global Advisor Urban WASH & Markets


Photo: Sanergy workers collect waste from Fresh Life Toilets in Mukuru (Eleanor Farmer/Oxfam)