Water Sanitation Health

Sanitation challenge: Turning commitment into reality

Supporting small scale entrepreneurs

Since much of the investment in sanitation over the past decade has been at the private household level, the small-scale private provider should be supported in constructing sound sanitation facilities. Local entrepreneurs will continue to prove essential to reaching the millions who are yet to be served, both in rural and urban areas. There are several examples of successful local entrepreneurial efforts on sanitation on all continents that offer opportunities to replicate and expand sanitation programmes in the low-income and rural communities.

What can we do?

National governments can review and modify laws, rules and regulations that constrain small-scale entrepreneurs from working in sanitation; invest in strengthening regulators so that they know how to support, regulate and control small-scale providers; and invest in training and capacity building for small-scale providers.

District/local governments can contract or partner with small-scale providers as part of sanitation and hygiene promotion programmes; provide support and local oversight to maintain the quality and effectiveness of small-scale providers; and focus on monitoring small-scale providers to generate a more realistic assessment of access.

Communities and civil society can provide information to government about the role and importance of small-scale providers; establish local accountability and transparency mechanisms to maintain quality and keep prices down; and lobby local political actors to remove constraints to small-scale providers.

Households can turn their ideas into business opportunities and develop products or supply services to their communities; and support local entrepreneurs by buying their products or services.

Entrepreneurs can find ways of working with government, understanding some of their constraints and seeking constructive dialogue to improve effective working relationships; invest in research to improve products; and form coalitions to self-regulate quality and price and facilitate negotiations with government.

International organisations can help design policies and regulatory frameworks that support the work of small-scale entrepreneurs; publicise their role; and participate in programmes that support them.

We’re inspired by…

… public toilets in South Asia
The Sulabh sanitation project in India operates nationwide sanitation services and has grown into a formal private operator. The municipal corporations in Hyderabad (population 5.2 million in 2001) and in Vijayawada (population 1 million in 2001) have entered into arrangements with Sulabh to supply pay toilets and/or subsidised toilets, which have been particularly effective in public places such as markets and bus and railway stations.

… the programme for rural sanitation in Guinea
In Guinea, West Africa, the 1999 Demographic and Health Survey found that 5% of the population had acceptable sanitation, while 51% had no access to latrines. The programme for rural sanitation in Upper and Middle Guinea has brought about dramatic improvements in terms of family latrines and public latrines. Large improvements at the household level became possible in 1997, with the introduction of sanitary platform latrines provided to some 1.5 million people (20% of the population). An evaluation carried out in 2000 led to training of community leaders and rural authorities on the necessity of hygienic latrines and sanitary practices, and training of village masons on how to build latrines. The rural authorities handle local management. A water quality survey in 2000 found 69% of samples entirely free of coliform bacteria, compared with 48% in 1998. Significant improvements in standards of living have been possible with simple sanitation improvements.

…commercial operators in Africa
In many African countries, services such as pit and septic-tank emptying are often undertaken by small private contractors. Governments have found a variety of ways of regulating performance, but more work is needed to improve the capacity of local governments to partner with small-scale providers.

… the UN-HABITAT Vacutug machine
UN-HABITAT and Manus Coffey Associates designed a machine to provide sanitation services for the residents of densely populated, low-income settlements to remove the human waste from pit latrines. Known as the UN-HABITAT Vacutug, it is engineered for access to pit latrines in the narrow, unpaved streets of poverty stricken slum settlements where larger removal vehicles cannot pass. The use of the Vacutug is being tested in several countries. Initial studies indicate that there is substantial demand for the product and that it would be profitable for small-scale entrepreneurs to build and operate in the areas where it was tested. Development of the Vacutug shows that international intergovernmental organisations can work with small-scale entrepreneurs to develop innovative sanitation technologies.

Sources: Sulabh International. Evaluating rural latrines in Guinea 1998–2001. Waterfront, 15:17–20;
Collignon B, Vezina M (2000). Independent water and sanitation providers in African cities: full report of a ten-country study. Nairobi, Water and Sanitation Program-Africa Region;
Alabaster G, Issaias I (2003). Case studies: removing human waste – the Vacutug solution. Habitat Debate, September 9(3):17.