September 22, 2016 |

Bringing toilets to people, PATH style

Scaling appropriate sanitation solutions for low-income, urban populations in West Africa.
An aerial photo of a busy urban neighborhood.
Aerial view of the central market in Kumasi, Ghana. Photo: PATH/R. Wilmouth.

Shwooooshhhhhhhhhhhhh! Gurgle, gurgle, glub… glub...

We all know that familiar sound, when you push down on the handle of a toilet and the swirling water washes the contents away.

Depending on where you are in the world, the toilet you use and the flush you hear may look and sound a bit different. But, for too many people—13 percent of the world’s population in 2015—there is no flush or latrine at all. That’s because they lack access to any type of sanitation facility and must resort to open defecation (WHO/UNICEF 2015). There are profound health benefits to providing improved sanitation, one of which is the 37 percent reduction of mortality rates due to diarrhea (CDC 2016).

Getting a handle on sanitation

An outside toilet and shower.
A shared toilet in an urban tenant compound in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. Photo: PATH/R. Wilmouth.

To improve household access to quality toilets and latrines, PATH’s water, air, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) team takes a holistic market development approach. We do this by focusing on end users to determine what product- and business-related barriers are preventing access to toilets. We learn what people need, what works well, and what doesn’t. One consistent desire mentioned by families, whether they live in Honduras, India, or Côte d’Ivoire, is that they want a high-quality flush toilet.

Once we have analyzed user needs, our PATH team turns to product manufacturers, sellers, and service providers to understand their business needs and products. We engage these groups through a different set of conversations.

How much do their products cost? Who are their consumers? How can they improve their products or expand their market reach?

By understanding the central demand- and supply-side factors, our team is able to work with manufacturers and distributors to improve not only the access to and affordability of sanitation products, but also the quality of those products and financial incentives for market actors—key to long-term sustainability.

A group of people take measurements in a neighborhood street.
PSI and PATH team members conducting research on fecal sludge storage options and preferences in neighborhoods in Côte d’Ivoire. Photo: PSI/S. Seiba.

Expanding sanitation options to urban communities

As one of the key partners on the Sanitation Service Delivery project in West Africa, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and led by Population Services International (PSI), we’re working to improve access and affordability of sanitation products and services in Ghana, Benin, and Côte d’Ivoire.

For instance, in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, a coastal city of nearly 5 million people, PATH’s business advisory team is supporting the development of sanitation loan products for landlords to upgrade the facilities in their rental compounds.

PATH’s WASH team and PSI staff are also investigating how to remedy the need for better storage and containment of fecal sludge through novel septic tank designs and onsite vermicomposting biodigesters—systems that use worms to turn human feces into fertilizer safe for agricultural purposes.

Looking at larger systems, PATH has identified innovative public-private approaches for treating fecal waste on a citywide scale. We provided guidance in the development of a fleet management system, aiming to apply a business model similar to Uber for fecal sludge vacuum truck operators.

Three large container trucks are backed up to a disposal site where workers are standing.
Fecal sludge vacuum trucks deposit waste at a treatment site in Accra, Ghana. Photo: PATH/R. Wilmouth.

In Benin, PATH supported the evaluation of new sanitation solutions, including an onsite treatment technology and adding a low-cost pan to existing latrines to reduce odor. Our business advisory team provided input into finance strategy for developing loan products for households to purchase sanitation products such as toilets.

Sustainable sanitation solutions for everyone

Toilets and other bathroom building supplies on display in a store.
Market vendor offering seated porcelain toilets and tile in Cotonou, Benin. Photo: PATH/R.Wilmouth.

Overall, our aim is to support the development of sustainable, sanitation-focused business models that increase access to and affordability of effective sanitation solutions for low-income urban populations.

So during your next visit to the bathroom we hope that flush sound makes you think beyond your walls—to urban and rural locations worldwide where a flush may be a brand new experience for a deserving family.

The USAID, PSI, and WSUP logos.This study/report is made possible by the support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the sole responsibility of PATH and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.

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  • Adam Drolet is a program officer in the Devices and Tools program at PATH.