Toilet access is dominating programme delivery but what is the point of building more toilets if we cannot manage them?

Un homme construit une latrine à Logan Town, au Libéria (Abbie Trayler-Smith/Oxfam)

Katie Whitehouse looks at how building a toilet isn’t the end of the story and we need sustainable approaches to Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH).

Building a toilet and marking it as a metric achieved is relatively easy. Building a toilet and ensuring that it is continuously serviced and the waste collected transported and treated appropriately is much harder. Once we have finished using a toilet it is often deemed someone else’s issue to deal with the waste produced.

Sanitation is not just about having a toilet, it’s about managing that toilet. Human waste is a human-made issue experienced by everyone globally. It will never go away as a requirement to manage.

There has been some outstanding work in Asia with smart subsidies incentivising households to build their own toilets and building this financial sustainability into infrastructure development is progress. However, as a WASH practitioner I continue to see more and more toilets being built but no one is answering the question of how to support households and local government in managing the waste generated by this infrastructure in a financially sustainable manner. When queried the unsatisfactory answer to this continues to be, “it’s just too difficult to address right now”.

The issue with this is faecal waste, whether it’s in a toilet or in the bush, still needs to be managed and if it isn’t we will continue to see the same issues with poor sanitation that we see now.

Katie Whitehouse
Global Advisor Urban WASH & Markets


Photo: Building latrines in Logan Town, Liberia (Abbie Trayler-Smith / Oxfam)