This is What a Toilet Revolution Looks Like

Editors Note: In this post, Georges Mikhael, Head of Sanitation at Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP), explores the importance of government buy-in for improving sanitation.

vizagtoiletconstruction

I think I may have recently witnessed a real toilet revolution! As Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor’s (WSUP’s) Head of Sanitation, a general poop enthusiast, and having been born on World Toilet Day, I hope you can understand how exciting this is for me.

I recently visited Visakhapatnam (‘Vizag’ for short) for the second time to support the WSUP Advisory India team in their implementation of a USAID project supporting the Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation (GVMC). Vizag is the largest city in Andhra Pradesh state, found on India’s eastern coast.

The project aims to improve sanitation across the whole city – eliminating open defecation and making sure that all residents have access to a toilet.

Since my first visit, I found an unmistakable urgency and energy in the way sanitation is being tackled in India by different institutions as a result of Prime Minister Modi’s commitment to Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, a national campaign to clean up India in time for Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birthday on  October 2, 2019.

I had heard reports from my Indian colleagues about the speed at which authorities are making decisions on sanitation issues, and I had seen maps showing the rapid progress being made on the ground – a lot of toilet building!

But this urgency only really hit me once I got out to the Bnr Nagar community in Vizag. Everywhere I looked, literally every few steps I took, there was a toilet at a different stage of construction. I wasn’t taken to this community because it represented a standout example of progress on construction of toilets – there are plenty of other communities just like it around the city.

Of course, constructing toilets is just one part of improving sanitation, but GVMC, supported by WSUP, is already looking at the next steps, including how to deal with the challenge of emptying toilets on the hillsides around Vizag.

At WSUP, we always talk about this so called ‘enabling environment’, and how important it is to making progress in sanitation. It is core to our theory of change; it’s in all of our national business plans. But it can be hard to grasp what it actually is, and how to make it more effective.

It was obvious to me during this trip that an important part of the enabling environment is without a doubt government spending: the Government of India’s 2016 budget for the Swachh Bharat was US$ 1.3 billion. That’s about $1 per person across the country in just one year. As WaterAid’s recent study of East Asian countries has shown, it is obvious that commitment by political leadership is a major factor for improving access to safe sanitation.

What could be done in Maputo if $1 per resident per year were spent on sanitation by the municipal authority? Lusaka? Freetown? Without a doubt, we could make much more rapid progress on Sustainable Development Goal 6 if this level of government buy-in were replicated around the world.

So if you’re curious what a real toilet revolution looks like, if you want some inspiration, consider a trip to Vizag. Maybe bring an aspiring politician with you.