A new study was recently carried out by the Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) of the World Bank on how to unlock the potential of Information and Communications Technology (ICTs) to improve Water and Sanitation Services in Africa. According to a Groupe Speciale Mobile Association (GSMA) report, in 2014 52% of all global mobile money deployments were in Sub Saharan Africa and 82% of Africans had access to GSM coverage. Comparatively, only 63% had access to improved water and 32% had access to electricity. This early adoption of mobile-to-web technologies in Africa provides a unique opportunity for the region to bridge the gap between the lack of data and information on existing water and sanitation assets and their current management — a barrier for the extension of the services to the poor.
The proposed WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Program (JMP) WASH Post 2015 goals for sanitation calls for universal access to basic improved sanitation – by the year 2030. Using largely small scale project approaches that have failed to deliver sustainable sanitation service delivery – especially for the poor -- most countries have not yet achieved the more modest MDG sanitation goals. However, many countries have already started working to achieve the goal of universal access by taking steps to make the transformational changes needed to stop doing “business as usual” in their sanitation programs.
We rarely give the toilet a second thought. We use it when we need to, and we flush and forget. We are also able to conveniently wash our hands afterwards. But imagine if you are on a long hiking trip or a bus ride with no stops in sight and had no access to a toilet or running water. It’s a situation most people would dread.
In poorer parts of the world, this is the daily reality for many. The humble toilet—perhaps the most important contributor to improved human health in history—is a luxury item which relatively few people enjoy. Without a toilet, the poor have to go in the open, behind bushes, or next to streams. They cannot flush their waste away or wash their hands afterwards if they wanted to. In poorer countries, managing human waste remains a major challenge, and failure to meet that challenge exposes millions of children and adults to waste-borne diseases that can have deadly consequences.
In Nepal, a country of approximately 26 million people, nearly 40% of the population do not have toilets. In parts the Terai or lowland areas, this number climbs to a staggering 75%. To be sure, the Government of Nepal has achieved remarkable progress in improving sanitation coverage in the last two decades. In 1990, only 6% of Nepalis had access to a toilet. By 2011, 62% had access, with the sanitation Millennium Development Goal (MDG) achieved ahead of the 2015 target. However, that achievement still leaves a large population—more than nine million people—without toilets. So the Government decided to aim for a new and more ambitious target—universal access by 2017. And it may get there.
Last month, I visited Nangkhel, a Newari village near Bhaktapur in the eastern corner of the Kathmandu Valley, to see how one village succeeded in bringing the luxury of a toilet to all 181 households (or about 900 people).
Brian Arbogast is the Director of the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
At the Water Summit held in Budapest on October 8 this year, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon called for action on the urgent issue of sanitation to underpin human dignity and health, noting that “It is plain that investment in sanitation is a down-payment on a sustainable future. Economists estimate that every dollar spent can bring a five-fold return.”