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Earlier this month, the Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) High Level Meeting (HLM) was hosted by the World Bank in Washington, D.C. The partnership’s third convening -- watched closely by those involved in the WASH sector -- brought together ministers of finance, health, and WASH from developing countries, as well as donors and other development partners to discuss specific commitments to achieve universal access to clean water and adequate sanitation.

An important outcome of the HLM was the endorsement of 265 new commitments addressing a range of issues in WASH -- from increasing the availability and efficiency of financial resources, to improving access to services and strengthening the institutions responsible for the delivery of water and sanitation.

In a short video report posted to SWA’s website, Barbara Frost, Chief Executive of  WaterAid, discusses her impressions of the meeting and lauds the group’s open dialogue about sector-wide challenges -- such as addressing donor fragmentation and balancing the involvement of the private sector with the human right to water.

webcast from the 2014 meeting has also been made available on the World Bank’s website.

Winners of 'Reinvent the Toilet Challenge: India' Announced

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and India's Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council have announced the winners of the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge: India.

Six organizations were awarded grants totaling $2 million to develop innovative "next-generation toilets" that can deliver safe, affordable, and sustainable sanitation solutions in India. A collaboration between the Gates Foundation, BIRAC, and the Indian Ministry of Science and Technology, the competition is funded by investments of $1 million each from the Gates Foundation and the ministry's Department of Biotechnology.

Announced at the "Reinvent the Toilet Fair: India" in New Delhi, the grant recipients are Eram Scientific Solutions, which, in partnership with the University of South Florida, will field test a solar-powered modular electronic toilet that is integrated with a mixed-waste processing unit; the Amrita School of Biotechnology, which will test the use of viral agents to kill pathogens and odor-producing bacteria in fecal waste; Pradin Technologies, which will test the viability of using ultrasound to reduce water use in toilets; the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee, which, in partnership with Fresh Rooms Life Sciences, will develop a single-household container that uses human feces to incubate black soldier fly larvae, which can be processed into marketable products; the Institute of Chemical Technology, which will evaluate the concept of using fine sand-like material and an air blower to create a water-free toilet interface free of odor and flies; and BITS Pilani K.K. Birla Goa Campus, which, in partnership with Ghent University and Sustainable Biosolutions, will design a septic tank that uses electrochemistry to reduce organic pollutants and improve the quality of discharged effluent.

"Effective and comprehensive sanitation seems an impossible dream for India," said BIRAC chair K. Vijay Raghavan. "Yet today we see a congruence of new and applicable science and technology, its affordability, and sustainable implementation. This congruence is a great opportunity, which we cannot afford to let slip. By implementing effective solutions in each kind of social context, big problems can be dealt with in small units and be catalysts for scaling up."

The Gates Foundation also announced a partnership with South Africa's Department of Science and Technology to field test technologies developed as part of the global Reinvent the Toilet Challenge. The foundation and DST will invest $1 million and approximately $2.76 million (30 million rand), respectively, in the effort.

"By applying creative thinking and new approaches to sanitation challenges, we can improve people's lives. And we have no doubt that these new partnerships with India and South Africa will help us achieve this," said Brian Arbogast, director of the Water, Sanitation & Hygiene team at the Gates Foundation. "We believe that with governmental leadership, new business models, and innovation, we can dramatically increase the progress made in tackling this global sanitation crisis."

"Indian Researchers Selected to Develop Next Generation Toilets." Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Press Release 03/22/2014.

Gates Foundation, Asian Development Bank Fund Three Sanitation Projects

The Sanitation Financing Partnership Trust Fund, an initiative of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Asian Development Bank, has awarded three grants to help provide safe sanitation facilities in urban and rural communities across Asia.

Created in 2013 with $15 million from the Gates Foundation and administered by ADB, the fund will leverage more than $28 million in financing over the next five years for non-sewered sanitation and septage management projects across Asia. Grants announced by the fund include $2 million for ADB’s Facility for Pilot and Demonstration Activity, which will test and validate pilot approaches to new sanitation management and water services delivery policies, technologies, and business models, with the goal of replicating and scaling successful approaches across the region; and $1.6 million for pilot innovations in septage collection and treatment systems in eight coastal towns in Bangladesh. Part of a planned ADB loan to Bangladesh for infrastructure improvements, the grant also will support efforts to improve septage operation and maintenance, and to promote private-sector participation in septage management.

In addition, the fund awarded a grant to the South Asia Urban Knowledge Hub (k-hub), a network of four research and training institutions in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka supported by ADB that works to facilitate information and learning exchange among city managers, utility staff, policy makers, academics, and the private sector.

"We will continue to work with the governments in Asia-Pacific region to make countries open defecation-free and complement their efforts by providing options for small-scale sanitation systems in urban and rural communities," said Amy Leung, director of the Urban Development and Water Division in ADB's Southeast Asia Department. "We are proud to support new testing and pilot implementation of innovative solutions to hasten access to safe sanitation for Asia’s urban poor."

"Open defecation and inadequate toilets, sewers, and wastewater treatment systems lead to massive amounts of untreated human waste in the environment, harming the health and well-being of children," said Brian Arbogast, director of the Water, Sanitation & Hygiene team at the Gates Foundation. "We are delighted to have new partners like the ADB applying creative thinking to more effectively managing human waste to improve people’s lives."

"Three New Projects Receive Funding Across Asia to Improve Safe Sanitation." Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Press Release 03/11/2014.

"ADB, Gates Foundation Launch Initiatives to Spur Sanitation Innovation." Asian Development Bank Press Release 03/12/2014. 

WaterAid America in New York City has announced a three-year, $2 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in support of advocacy efforts on behalf of millions of people living without toilets or sanitation facilities.

The organization will use the grant to support initiatives to increase access to basic sanitation services led by the governments of Ghana, India, and Senegal. In addition, the funds will be used to help ensure that the United States, the world's largest donor country, supports improved accountability and data collection with respect to WASH efforts in those countries and is focused on solutions that highlight the linkages between sanitation and other health efforts, including improved nutrition and ending preventable child deaths.

"Investing in advocacy around toilets and sanitation is one of the smartest, most effective ways we have to combat extreme poverty," said WaterAid America CEO David Winder. "Health, quality of life, and poverty levels are radically impacted when people, especially women and girls, have access to toilets and hygiene education."

According to the World Health Organization, an estimated $220 billion would be returned to the global economy each year if the world were to achieve universal access to sanitation. Development aid for toilets and sanitation, however, is significantly less relative to other development sectors such as health and education.

"The sanitation crisis cannot be solved by any one organization alone," said Lisa Schechtman, WaterAid America's director of policy and advocacy. "WaterAid firmly believes that governments have a responsibility to their citizens to ensure that toilets and sanitation are available to everyone. We look forward to continuing to advocate for change exactly where it’s needed most."

Source: "WaterAid Steps Up Advocacy on Lack of Toilets." WaterAid Press Release 01/09/2014.

David Auerbach, co-founder of Sanergy

Editor’s Note: We pose five questions to foundation, NGO, and thought leaders in the WASH sector as part of our “5 Questions for…” series. In this post, David Auerbach, co-founder of Sanergy, shares his thoughts on the sanitation value chain, community ownership, and exciting innovations in sanitation in response to our questions.

1. What is the number one most critical issue facing the WASH sector today?

The most critical issue that the WASH sector faces is the lack of systems-based thinking. We need to go beyond simply providing a toilet. Although 2.5 billion people lack access to a clean toilet, 4.1 billion are at risk because sewage is not treated.  At Sanergy, we take a systems-based approach that addresses the entire sanitation value chain. We provide clean toilets through a franchise network of local micro-entrepreneurs, collect the waste professionally, and treat it properly by converting it into useful byproducts, such as organic fertilizer. Failure to address the whole chain ultimately pushes the challenge further downstream.

2. Tell us about one collaboration or partnership your organization undertook and the lessons learned from that experience.

Sanergy sells Fresh Life Toilets to local micro-entrepreneurs. The franchise package includes installation, marketing, training and business support, and a daily waste collection service, and costs about $600 for the first year. In our work with the residents of Nairobi’s slums, we came across micro-entrepreneurs who were excited to launch Fresh Life businesses -- especially women and youth -- but who did not have immediate access to finance to start up their businesses. Kiva, an online micro-lending platform, partnered with us to provide 0% interest loans to future Fresh Life Operators. The partnership has led to 73 loans being issued and the construction of over 120 Fresh Life Toilets. Those operators serve 5,000 residents with hygienic sanitation daily.  At the same time, Kiva gives us an incredible platform to share the resilient, compelling stories of our micro-entrepreneurs with the world.

By partnering with Kiva, we are overcoming an important hurdle -- access to finance -- and are creating a grassroots, sustainable solution to provide critical sanitation services.

3. How do you work with local communities to promote project ownership and sustainability?

All 161 of our Fresh Life Operators -- each of whom has invested their own savings in Fresh Life -- are from the Mukuru community. They are critical to the sustenance of our business and are key players in effectively tackling the sanitation crisis.  One such operator is Agnes Kwamboka who has a remarkable story of the transformation that she was able to make as a partner with Fresh Life. Tired of having to bribe policemen so that she could run her unregulated brew business, she closed it down and had two Fresh Life Toilets installed. Now, she earns a good income, which enables her to sustain her family and no longer worry about the police. She has also reinvested the profits by purchasing additional Fresh Life Toilets and in literacy classes for herself. Testimonies like these show that we are positively changing the community and changing people’s mindsets about their role in society.

The other significant way in which we gain community buy-in is by hiring from the community. Sixty percent of our 135-person team is from the local community and over 60% of our staff is between 18 – 25 years old -- the age bracket with the highest unemployment in Kenya.  The residents know how the lack of adequate sanitation can have disastrous effects on their lives and this makes them extra-determined to change their communities for the better.

Fresh life toilets become part of the landscape in the informal settlements in which Sanergy works. Credit: Sanergy

Fresh life toilets become part of the landscape in the informal settlements in which Sanergy works. Credit: Sanergy

4. Tell us about an emerging technology or solution that excites you and that you think will make a big impact in the WASH sector over the next 5-10 years.

One great initiative to emerge is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Re-invent the Toilet Challenge (RTTC). Institutions and researchers have received generous grants to come up with innovative approaches for the hygienic provision, collection and treatment of waste.  The initiative has really catalyzed the entire sector and, moreover, broken down taboos to bring the sanitation challenge to the center of any development conversation. Through the RTTC, Sanergy has benefited significantly. We have partnered with The Climate Foundation to develop biochar -- an organic soil conditioner. We have worked closely with Agriprotein in South Africa to develop a protein-rich animal feed made from maggots that consume only human waste. These technologies have the potential to be massively important for the agricultural input industries. In creating value from waste, we give incentive for everyone to participate in the sanitation value chain.

5. There are lots of great WASH resources, ranging from striking data visualizations to good, old-fashioned reports. What’s caught your eye lately besides WASH funders, of course?

Lately, we have read a couple of compelling papers from the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program about what a toilet’s worth, from ID Insight about IDE-Cambodia’s work with microfinance, and Dean Spears’ research on the effect a lack of hygienic sanitation has on children’s height.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) have partnered to set up a joint trust fund to improve access to sanitation in Asia and the Pacific. Announced at World Water Week, the new Sanitation Financing Partnership Trust Fund will receive a $15 million investment from the Gates Foundation and will leverage more than $28 million in investments from ADB by 2017.

The Trust Fund aims to increase non-sewered sanitation and develop septage management solutions through funding innovative projects and supporting policies for low-income urban communities across Asia. The Trust Fund will be part of ADB’s Water Financing Partnership Facility (WFPF). Over the last seven years, WFPF has invested $2.5 billion in WASH projects. Through initiatives such as Grand Challenges Exploration and Reinvent the Toilet Challenge, the Gates Foundation has funded 85 development and research projects on sanitation.

View the infographic to learn about the Trust Fund’s goals.

Read ADB’s press release for additional details. 

Jack Sim, Founder of the World Toilet Organization

Editor’s Note: This guest post was authored by Jack Sim, founder of the World Toilet Organization (WTO). Founded in 2001, the WTO is an international platform for toilet associations, government, academic institutions, foundations, UN agencies and corporate stakeholders to exchange knowledge and leverage media and corporate support in an effort to influence governments to promote clean sanitation and public health policies. Jack discusses inscribing World Toilet Day as November 19th in the UN calendar to raise awareness of the global sanitation crisis.  

When I turned 40, I knew it was half-time. The average Singaporean’s lifespan is 80 years and this meant I only had 14,600 days left. The fear of living a futile life infused me with a sense of urgency to do something meaningful before the impending expiry date. I decided to devote the rest of my days to neglected social issues.

This desire to make the most out of life propelled me to start the Restroom Association of Singapore in 1998 with the aim to clean up public toilets. It was then that I realized the sanitation agenda was grossly neglected by the media. In the humanitarian sector, the subject of water and sanitation was bundled into one agenda called WatSan; this resulted in sanitation being overshadowed by the more prominent agenda of water. Sanitation was literally the ugly sister nobody wanted to speak about. Politicians would not have their photos taken next to a toilet. For years, academia relied heavily on jargon like ‘fecal sludge management’ when writing about sanitation. Inevitably, this made the topic even more difficult for journalists to grasp, let alone convey in simple terms to the masses.

The taboo surrounding toilets and our reluctance to talk about the sanitation crisis have created a neglect of epic proportion. What we don’t discuss, we can’t improve.

To break this silence and to mobilize a global sanitation movement, we founded the World Toilet Organization (WTO) in 2001. To commemorate WTO’s founding day and to spotlight the often-ignored sanitation crisis, we declared 19 November as World Toilet Day. On the same day, WTO held its inaugural World Toilet Summit in Singapore. The choice of name for our organization was deliberate — a clever pun on the other WTO, the World Trade Organization. I have been advised by countless people to change the name of the organization to something more ‘respectable’ and not risk being laughed at. I told them it’s okay to be laughed at — our mission is to break the taboo on sanitation and if people laugh, they’ll listen to what we have to say.

Our strategy was simple: we called a spade a spade and spoke about the sanitation crisis in a language that resonated with everyone. It was our ability to convey serious facts through humor which caught the attention of the global media and this pushed the sanitation agenda to the centre stage of global media coverage.

When we started out on this journey to break the taboo surrounding toilets, we found that there was a great reluctance on the part of governments and other stakeholders to understand the importance of investing in sanitation. WTO addressed this challenge by using the World Toilet Summit to educate governments, toilet associations, civil society organizations, and the private sector on the benefits of investing in a sustainable sanitation ecosystem.

From a shunned topic, WTO’s advocacy efforts and initiatives made the topic of toilets and sanitation more palatable for politicians, academia, civil society organizations and funders. Over the last 12 years, World Toilet Day has been observed and celebrated around the world by NGOs, UN agencies, governments and the international community. By 2012, our digital media reach was at 3.3 billion viewers. This is a remarkable feat for a small NGO with no budget for global media coverage.

WTO has achieved many key milestones over the years and we firmly believed it was time to take the global sanitation movement to another level. It was an audacious move and in true WTO spirit, we went on to request the Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs to table a resolution at the UN General Assembly (UNGA) to inscribe 19 November as World Toilet Day in the UN calendar.

They were skeptical at first, but soon realized the magnitude of the sanitation crisis and WTO’s track record over the years. Soon the resolution was ready to be drafted.

It was a lot of hard work meeting dignitaries and ambassadors from UN member countries in New York. The reactions were mixed — at first, many were against having another UN day, but most were convinced that the sanitation crisis is too crucial to ignore. The negotiations were sometimes difficult as different parties would negotiate and change the wordings in the text. 19 November also happened to be Monaco’s National Day and Indira Gandhi’s birthday — in the end, Monaco was a co-sponsor to the resolution while India abstained.

On 24 July 2013, the “Sanitation for All” Resolution was tabled by Singapore at the UNGA. The resolution was sponsored by 122 countries and the UNGA declared World Toilet Day an Official UN Day. This was also the first time Singapore has tabled a major UN resolution in 48 years.

It is an honor for any NGO to have their founding day enshrined as an Official UN Day and personally I felt like I won the Nobel Prize for Sanitation as it marks an important milestone in WTO’s history. This is a crucial breakthrough for the 2.5 billion who still lack access to proper sanitation. With the official UN designation, we hope all UN member countries will mobilize resources to address the global sanitation crisis. With strong political will, effective policies, and sustainable approaches to address sanitation challenges, I hope we will meet the target set for sanitation in the coming years. We can’t afford to wait any longer.

The journey has just begun and I invite each one of you to walk with me. Let’s work relentlessly until the day everyone has access to a safe and clean toilet, anytime, anywhere.

If you would like to get involved in World Toilet Day, get in touch by e-mailing us at: online@worldtoilet.org

Editor’s Note: This guest post was authored by Catarina Fonseca, director of WASHCost and economist and Senior Programme Officer at the IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre. A five-year initiative ending this year, WASHCost has worked with countries to identify the long-term costs of sustaining rural and peri-urban water and sanitation services. This initiative has embedded the concept of life-cycle costing with donors, national and local governments and NGOs, so that services continue to meet national standards reliably for generations. Catarina discusses the challenges of the team’s recent work in Bangladesh.

Catarina testing questionnaires with BRAC team in Mymensing, North Bangladesh. Credit: Catarina Fonseca

Catarina testing questionnaires with BRAC team in Mymensing, North Bangladesh. Credit: Catarina Fonseca

Over the last year, there have been many requests to the WASHCost team to adapt the life-cycle cost approach to other sub-sectors. One of them is WASH in schools. Programme managers and funders want to know the costs for the provision of WASH in schools and how to fund the desired outcomes over at least a 10 year period. 

IRC-International Water and Sanitation Centre has been providing support to the BRAC WASH programme in Bangladesh. BRAC is interested in the life-cycle cost approach to seek improvements in the long-term sustainability of their programmes and in this context, we have taken up the challenge: we have started by searching, discussing and defining what is considered a basic service level for WASH in schools. 

These questions become even more pertinent in the context of the proposals for the global goals in the post-2015 agenda. It has been recognised that future global water, sanitation and hygiene targets must extend beyond household level and include a wide range of settings including schools, workplaces, markets, transit hubs, health centres, etc. Schools and health centres are at the top of the priority list because of the potential health benefits to a large number of children and people. Specifically, handwashing and menstrual hygiene management are considered to be universal priorities to be reached by 2030 so that girls are given the same opportunities and access to education. 

For the work in Bangladesh, our starting point was the WASHCost life-cycle cost methodology, which was developed specifically for rural water and sanitation services in developing countries. Together, with a BRAC team of 15 project and programme officers, over a period of three weeks in June 2013, we developed and tested a service ladder, criteria and indicators for WASH in schools. 

The first step was the development of a draft service ladder for WASH in schools with the key criteria that define a basic level of service. The draft service ladder was developed by the team and based on the international literature, Bangladesh and BRAC standards. The ladder included the following key indicators of services for WASH in schools: access (number of latrines per student), safe use and maintenance, reliability of water for drinking, flushing and handwashing, environmental protection and menstrual hygiene management. 

To get all the information required for the proposed criteria, we ended up with a 16-page questionnaire, which was tested twice in six schools and covered every indicator and sub-indicator required in national and international norms, including questions about how water is collected and accessed, as well as access to facilities by those with disabilities. 

The first challenge started with establishing the benchmark for the most obvious indicator: the number of latrines per student. What is good enough? International experts were consulted and the answers were far from consistent. Therefore we focused on the written literature.

The international standard was developed by WHO in 2009 for schools in low-income settings. The standard recommends one toilet per 25 girls and one toilet plus one urinal for 50 boys. The most important recommendation is that boys’ and girls’ facilities should be in separate toilet blocks or be separated by solid walls and separate entrances. In short, toilets need to provide privacy and security if they are going to be used. This is a very high standard for many developing and developed countries. Even my secondary school in (not so low-income) Lisbon, Portugal would not meet these standards, which one might think of as “aspirational” instead of “good enough”. 

Secondary school girl in Meymensing, Bangladesh. Credit: Catarina Fonseca

Secondary school girl in Meymensing, Bangladesh. Credit: Catarina Fonseca

Looking further, we found out that Bangladesh has actually adopted a national standard in 2011 for WASH in schools. The national standards are “more realistic” and include “1 toilet for 50 children and, when possible, girls’ and boys’ toilets must be completely separated”. Interestingly, “when possible” is not adequate wording for a standard and BRAC took the national norm a step further, closer to the international norm, and adopted “that toilets for boys and girls MUST be separate”. Additionally, a recent innovative study done in Kenya has found considerable difference in the required student to toilet ratios between boys and girls because the time they need to use the toilet also differs. 

From testing the methodology in six primary and secondary schools (both government- and BRAC-supported), we found that the toilet ratio was one toilet for anywhere from 71 to 150 students — all well above the national standard and therefore not considered “a basic level of service”, but closer to “below-standard”. However, all of the toilets were clean; some had excellent menstrual hygiene management facilities available, as well as washing basins, soap and safe drinking water. 

It would seem unfair to label some of these schools as “below standard” especially when interviews with school girls noted that they were happy and using their toilets. However, a monitoring tool is about measuring whether a standard is met. For all schools, it might appear that the standard is not met, but the takeaway for the team is that both the international and the Bangladesh access benchmark for WASH in schools is at the aspirational level. 

The testing has confirmed some other challenges mentioned in a 2012 UNICEF state-of-the-art report of WASH in schools in Bangladesh: that on average there is a toilet for every 130 students and that the majority of facilities is in extensive need of repair (see graph below), making it urgent to deliberate how and who can cover maintenance costs. Interestingly, collecting information about the cost of constructing, maintaining and repairing the latrines, was a rather simple task. Most of the schools track all expenses in their account books, including who funded which component — a topic for another blog. 

WASH in schools Bangladesh, 2012 UNICEF. Source: UNICEF WASH for School Children South Asia Report

WASH in schools Bangladesh, 2012 UNICEF. Source: UNICEF WASH for School Children South Asia Report

Over the next six months BRAC will roll out the methodology in about 100 schools covering a diverse range of settings. We expect the data to inform the final “service ladder” and the methodology will be available early next year. To read the draft methodology and questionnaires, please contact WASHCost@irc.nl

Roddenberry Foundation

The J. Craig Venter Institute, a nonprofit genomic research organization in La Jolla, California, has announced a $5 million grant from the Roddenberry Foundation for the development of wastewater treatment technologies.

The grant will be used to fund the development of JCVI scientist Orianna Bretschger's BioElectrochemical Sanitation Technology (BEST), which uses microbial fuel cells (MFC) to treat wastewater and improve sanitation and water accessibility in the developing world. As the microbes in MFCs break down the organic matter in sewage and other types of wastewater, they produce electrons. The rapid movement of electrons across a fuel cell circuit generates electricity while accelerating the breakdown of the organic matter, resulting in fewer treatment byproducts such as sludge. The efforts of Bretschger's team already have led to the successful treatment of municipal wastewater and sewage sludge at a 100-gallon per-day scale, the amount of wastewater produced by a small household on a daily basis.

"Dr. Bretschger's MFC sustainable wastewater treatment project is exactly the type of innovative, field-changing research that fits our mission," said Eugene "Rod" Roddenberry, president of the Roddenberry Foundation and son of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. "Her use of microbes to convert human waste into clean water and electricity is another step toward making disease a thing of the past. Her work also moves us closer to a future where all humankind's most basics needs are not just met but abundantly supplied. In the world of Star Trek, technology offers a catalyst to the natural world in making amazing things possible."

Source: “Roddenberry Foundation Gives $5 Million to J. Craig Venter Institute for Sustainable Wastewater Treatment Technology Development.” J. Craig Venter Institute Press Release 7/10/13.

For additional WASH-related philanthropy news, see the news feed on WASHfunders.org. 

Editor’s Note: This guest post was authored by Anirudh Rajashekar, business development manager at the World Toilet Organization (WTO). Founded in 2001, the WTO is an international platform for toilet associations, government, academic institutions, foundations, UN agencies and corporate stakeholders to exchange knowledge and leverage media and corporate support in an effort to influence governments to promote clean sanitation and public health policies. Anirudh discusses WTO’s approach to market-based solutions and public private partnerships in this post. 

Kim Un, with wife and 4 daughters, in Kampung Chhnang, Cambodia. Credit: Joy Wong

Kim Un, with wife and 4 daughters, in Kampung Chhnang, Cambodia. Kim Un purchased a SaniShop toilet to ensure the dignity of his family. He believes toilets should be a priority and hopes his toilet will encourage others in his village to invest in one. Credit: Joy Wong

Developing innovative and sustainable market-based approaches to address the sanitation crisis is at the heart of what we do at the World Toilet Organization (WTO). By combining global expertise with local insights, WTO strives to facilitate capacity building, broader understanding and replication of sustainable sanitation solutions. WTO pioneered the creation of SaniShop — a social enterprise that improves sanitation conditions globally by empowering local entrepreneurs. Based on a “social franchise” model that involves training local masons in developing countries to build and sell toilets to their community, SaniShop is now implemented in a diverse range of regions — a marked progress from its humble beginnings in 2008. 

WTO started its market-based approach in collaboration with the University of North Carolina, Lien Aid and IDE in Kampung Speu where it built close to 10,000 household latrines in 2010. In 2012, SaniShop Cambodia tested the market in 7 provinces and has since scaled up in Kampung Chnnang where it has trained close to 60 sales people and 15 SaniShop franchisees. In 2012, the SaniShop ecosystem built 1,800 toilets and we expect that this rate of toilet construction will be financially sustainable in the future in each province. The key value proposition of SaniShop is to create a market for sanitation where there previously is none by facilitating the sale and production of toilets with strict quality control standards and fixed affordable pricing. SaniShop has also begun working in Odisha, India and Vietnam since 2012. In Odisha, WTO collaborated with a social enterprise, eKutir; while in Vietnam, WTO has worked with a large multinational to establish Toilet Academies to train sales persons and masons. 

SaniShop aims to restructure local sanitation marketplaces by encouraging the spirit of entrepreneurship among local communities. Entrepreneurs are able to build, produce and sell toilets to sustain their livelihoods; therefore, SaniShop is not only bridging sanitation gaps but also acts as a catalyst to better a community’s way of life. 

In addition to its SaniShop operations, WTO is currently embarking on two pivotal public-private partnerships to pilot school sanitation projects for communities in South Africa and Nigeria respectively. In South Africa, WTO is working with Unilever to establish the Domestos Toilet Academy (DTA) in KwaZulu Natal. This is the first program that aims to integrate delivery structure to a community by implementing awareness, capacity building and affordable sanitation technology in schools and communities. Currently at the pilot stage, WTO will be implementing a baseline study; this will then be combined with stakeholder analysis to form a basis for implementation and evaluation before replicating across South Africa. In Nigeria, WTO is working on a partnership with Tolaram Foundation (Singapore) to refurbish 4 school toilet buildings in Lagos, Nigeria. This will also include the implementation of health and hygiene programs; the success of these programs will be measured by monitoring and evaluating students’ hygiene habits, health and school attendance. 

At WTO, we are constantly exploring new ways to reach out to the “toiletless” in sustainable ways. For example, WTO is currently researching new means of waste disposal and also new toilet designs that can tackle problematic terrain including areas with high water tables and areas with hard soil. 

WTO has also undertaken a number of projects beyond its market-based model: 

  • Worked with the Lien Foundation to build 30 toilets in 2006 in Hambatotta and Galle, Sri Lanka. Trained 30,000 individuals in ecosan usage.
  • Worked in Aceh, Indonesia following the tsunami after receiving a million dollar grant from the Singapore Red Cross in 2007. Built 7 community toilets in Banda Aceh and 6 in Meulaboh. Trainings for local engineers, contractors and architects were carried out in both cities to strengthen their capacity to design, construct and maintain sustainable sanitation systems in the future.
  • Worked in Trichy, India with Scope to build 10 ecosan toilets.
  • Worked with Lien Aid in Shanxi, China to build a school toilet block with the Chinese Environment Institute and the China Poverty Alleviation Association (CEEP).

We are currently moving towards a holistic, small scale pilot campaign in Bihar, India where WTO will facilitate the construction of toilets with local mason contractors with a goal of 100% sanitation facilities for all villagers. It is expected to be completed by late 2013.  

From our market-based approaches and public-private partnerships in the sanitation field, we have learnt that through collaborative effort significant progress can be made to improve global sanitation conditions. We look forward to furthering WTO’s mission in bringing health, dignity and well-being to all by continuously engaging with donors, partners and stakeholders in the work we do.

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