Investment in local enterprise crucial to tackling poor sanitation

Over the last two days I have been startled by Uganda sanitation statistics and how the country loses a lot of money and time to treatment of diseases, which are preventable. One person suggested that may be it is a matter of people in finance not being able to make the link that prevention costs us way less than treatment dedicated to 75% of disease burden from poor sanitation.

With about a thousand days to the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) deadline, some 780 million people will still not have access to improved water supply and many countries including Uganda are going to miss the targets for sanitation. About 2.5 billion people worldwide still do not have access to improved sanitation. About 1 billion people still defecate in the open and Uganda contributes 3.2 million to this figure.

Girl fetching water in Kampala photo by Andy Kristian
Girl fetching water in Kampala photo by Andy Kristian



Governments haven’t paid enough attention to the impact of poor sanitation on lives but our national economies or if they do, just they haven’t set it as a priority area in improving human development indicators.
Many NGOs in the past have largely concentrated on hand out, which have failed to bring sustainable solutions to poor sanitation.

You shouldn’t be shocked to meet volunteer from a western country working in rural Uganda to dig latrines for people. The latrines they build aren’t like high-tech toilets that no Ugandan knows about, they are just a bit improved latrines that with little support, local people could build for themselves.

The failure of such handouts to deliver sanitation solutions has highlighted at this unclogging blockages conference in Kampala. One participant told us how NGOs had built latrines for people in Kampala slums but majority were using these latrines to keep their animals.

It true that where people are not reached by public sanitation services, they will turn to self-supply, alternative sources and open defecation. Looking at sanitation as business worth investing will give more responsibility to the communities and makes a lasting solution.

Michael Momanyi, from the Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) by the World Bank, whose mission is to increase access of the poor to water and sanitation, did present myths that have to be challenged to bring market-driven solutions in the sanitation sector.

“Millions of people rely on hundreds of thousands of firms – mostly small and micro firms – for their sanitation and water needs, under this business area what we are trying to learn is whether societal problems can be addressed by business. We are particularly interested in the domestic private sector.”

It is important in developing countries like Uganda to support local entrepreneurs whether it is in water supply business or improving hygiene.

WSP surveyed over 100 enterprises that serve households directly and challenges the misconception that the reason the sanitation is small.

“The paradox is that sanitation is a large market dominated by small players who are constrained by capital, technology and in geographical reach. Even when money is not an issue, sanitation is a low expenditure priority.”

The survey for instance found that many non-poor rural households in Tanzania did not have access to improved sanitation facilities even if they could afford them.

“The study finds that the most basic improved sanitation facility would comprise only 3-4% of the annual incomes of the poor. We find that the poor spend much more than that in the annual use of their mobile phones than it would to own a sanitation facility that would last them 10 years.”

An interesting case study from Nkhotakota Sanitation Village Savings and Loan Banks in Malawi brought a new aspect on financing sanitation.
Roy Khonyongwa from the Hygiene Village Project, a local Non-Governmental organization in Malawi, told the meeting how they are incorporating sanitation as part of the micro-finance.

This local Malawian NGO helped set up village savings and loan banks to link sanitation entrepreneurs and households to access loans for sanitation facilities.

“The purpose of Village banks is to enable communities learn to save the little they have and be able to meet household needs including money for constructing or improving a latrine. Members are obliged to get sanitation loans from the contributions and the loan is paid back at the end of the week or month at an agreed affordable interest.” Said Khonyongwa. is also using micro finance to support sanitation efforts under their water credit program. WaterCredit puts micro finance tools to work in the water, sanitation and hygiene by connecting financial institutions to communities in need of clean water and toilets. The small loans are made to individuals and households and the program is also being implemented in Uganda.

The role of micro finance institutions in developing communities in countries like Uganda where capital is not easily available has been tremendous. Just like families look at getting loans for education and running businesses, micro financing is one way to address sanitation needs. But this can only work well if communities are made aware of the impact of poor sanitation on the households in the long run.

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