What is Sanitation Success?

Editors Note: In this post Susan Davis, Founder and Executive Director of Improve International, discusses all of the possible definitions of sanitation success. This post originally appeared on Improve International's website, to view the original post click here


During a recent desk review, we found there is no one widely accepted definition of sanitation success, even for broadly used approaches like community-led total sanitation.

Some consider long-term success to be the movement of households up the “sanitation ladder,” the idea of incremental progression between service levels of different quality. Success for sanitation marketing efforts can include an increase in local businesses who are investing in sanitation to expand their business, sales to target households, and number of households who are investing their own money into a toilet sold by these partner businesses.  We realize we haven’t captured all possible definitions of sanitation success, but wanted to share what we found.

3iE: Sustained use is defined as the continued practice of a WASH behavior and/or continued use of a WASH technology at least six months after the period during which there was external support to community groups, leaders and volunteers in the form of training, supervision and feedback, distribution of technology, or provision of communication materials.

Global Sanitation Fund (GSF):  The GSF works towards attainment of universal access to improved sanitation, which they measure using these indicators: number of people with access to improved sanitation, number of people living in open-defecation free environments, and the existence, and evidence of use, of a dedicated place for handwashing and availability of soap or ash (as a proxy for people washing their hands at critical times). The GSF includes in its description access to improved sanitation by all members of a community and proper handling, storage and treatment of human waste, but these are not included in their results.

Government of India: ODF is the termination of fecal-oral transmission, defined by a) no visible faces found in the environment/village; and b) every household as well as public/community institutions using a safe technology option for disposal of faces.  A safe technology option means no contamination of surface soil, ground water or surface water; excreta inaccessible to flies or animals; no handling of fresh excreta; and freedom from odor and unsightly condition.

IRC Water and Sanitation Centre: The sanitation service level framework evaluates the services provided by the delivery of safe latrines using four indicators:type and accessibility of latrines to households (in line with national norms); use of sanitation facilities by members of the household;cleanliness, maintenance and pit emptying of the facilities; and environmental safety of fecal waste.

Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP):  A sanitation facility is considered improved if it hygienically separates human excreta from human contact, but this indicator does not address the subsequent management of fecal waste. Safe management comprises several stages along the “fecal waste management chain,” from containment through emptying, transport, treatment, and reuse or disposal.

Netherlands Water Partnership: Sanitation facilities are only sustainable when people make their own choices and own contribution towards obtaining and maintaining them. People have to experience the toilet as an improvement in their daily life. Sanitation systems have to be embedded in the local institutional, financial-economic, social-cultural, legal-political, and environmental context.

Sustainable Sanitation Alliance (SuSanA): The main objective of a sanitation system is to protect and promote human health by providing a clean environment and breaking the cycle of disease. In order to be sustainable a sanitation system has to (1) promote health and hygiene effectively, (2) be financially and economically viable, (3) socially acceptable and institutionally appropriate, (4) technically appropriate including operation and maintenance (O&M), and (5) protect the environment and natural resources.

UN Sustainable Development Goal 6Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.  Targets include:

6.1 By 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all

6.2 By 2030, achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations

6.3 By 2030, improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally

6.4 By 2030, substantially increase water-use efficiency across all sectors and ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity and substantially reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity

6.5 By 2030, implement integrated water resources management at all levels, including through transboundary cooperation as appropriate

6.6 By 2020, protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes

6.a By 2030, expand international cooperation and capacity-building support to developing countries in water- and sanitation-related activities and programmes, including water harvesting, desalination, water efficiency, wastewater treatment, recycling and reuse technologies

6.b Support and strengthen the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management

WaterAid: Sustainability is about whether or not WASH services and good hygiene practices continue to work and deliver benefits over time. No time limit is set on those continued services, behavior changes and outcomes. In other words, sustainability is about lasting benefits achieved through the continued enjoyment of water supply and sanitation services and hygiene practices.

Water For People:  Water For People envisions sanitation success in steps, summarized as follows:

  • Family forever. “a loved latrine is a used latrine and household defecation behavior will be changed Forever.”
  • Sanitation Business Forever. This moves the focus to sustainable service delivery.
  • Forever sanitation services at scale.  Any person with a pit latrine in any part of a city or district should be able to easily access the sanitation service they require, not just the ones in the relatively limited geographical area covered by the entrepreneurs supported as part of step 2. (Sugden, 2013).

WSP: The World Bank Water and Sanitation Program used the following performance indicators to rate relative success of sanitation case studies:

  • Prevalence of open defecation
  • Hygiene behavior
  • Access to sanitation by the poor
  • Environmental sanitation improvements
  • Extent of self-financing
  • Program cost per household
  • Range of toilet components and designs utilized
  • Local availability of sanitation wares and services
  • Regular support and monitoring
  • Implementation at scale

What’s your organization’s definition of sanitation success?  Let us know in the comments section below or contact us.