Published on The Water Blog

Join the World Bank and Toilet Board Coalition in scaling up the Sanitation Economy

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sanitation economy sanitation economy

It’s time for a radical shift

Leaving no one behind and providing adequate and equitable sanitation to all by 2030 is our collective goal. However, the scale of the challenge reminds us that we have a long way to go. An estimated 2.3 billion people around the world still lack access to this most basic of amenities – an adequate toilet – and 4.5 billion people still lack access to safely managed sanitation along the entire service chain. Moreover, the world is increasingly urbanizing, aggravating sanitation problems as it does so. We are consequently not on track to meet the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) sanitation target of providing safely managed sanitation services to all by 2030, despite the substantial efforts being made by governments, development organizations, civil society and the private sector. Solving the world’s sanitation challenges is not only an environmental imperative but also a necessity for protecting public health. The majority of the global population is without safe containment, emptying/collection, conveyance, treatment and end use/disposal for their fecal waste. Put simply, over half the human waste generated on earth is not being safely managed before being released into the environment. This is a deeply troubling situation and our experience has shown that ‘business as usual’ will not resolve it.

We need a radical shift in the way we tackle urban sanitation challenges in this rapidly urbanizing world. With its impact on so many aspects of human and economic development, sanitation will be one of the key drivers to ending extreme poverty. We need to prioritize the establishment of appropriate policies, institutions and regulations which can establish the right incentives to significantly expand access to sanitation services.

Can we turn the sanitation problem into an opportunity?

We see the ‘Sanitation Economy’ as a robust marketplace of products and services, renewable resource flows, data and information that could help transform future cities, communities and businesses. We believe that such a Sanitation Economy can be smart, sustainable, innovative, cost saving and revenue generating. In India alone, the Sanitation Economy is today estimated to be a US$ 32 billion a year market growing to a US$ 62 billion market annually by 2021, which can create many new jobs (even in the most rural areas of the country), improve health and environmental conditions, and create savings for households (Toilet Board Coalition, 2017). This approach also provides us with opportunities to tackle related sectoral challenges – such as increasingly global water scarcity, food security and energy production.

In India, the achievements of the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) provide impressive and inspiring evidence of how transformation can happen with speed and impact, improving the lives of millions of people. The Government of India adopted disruptive approaches to scale up sanitation activities, namely by engaging young people, media outlets and key influencers, by embracing new ideas to make sanitation everyone’s business, and by setting a five year ‘sunset clause’ deadline in which to achieve the desired scale up.

Sanitation Economy

From unaffordable public sanitation costs to sustainable and resilient sanitation systems

To the Toilet Board Coalition, a private sector platform focused on business solutions for sanitation, the Sanitation Economy constitutes an opportunity for transformation of the economics of sanitation, in partnership with the private sector, from unaffordable public costs to sustainable and resilient systems. We believe that this is an approach which could be embraced by many governments around the world through their own sanitation priorities and initiatives, by setting bold goals for the coming five years.

In India, as SBM and the idea of an ‘Open Defecation Free’ (ODF) India move into a next phase, we think that the private sector has a new and important role to play in partnership with central, state and municipal governments. During the implementation of SBM, the sales of toilets and related hardware have increased, showing the Indian population’s willingness to pay for sanitation when the quality of services align with household expectations – a phenomenon that we see repeated around the world. The post-ODF environment into which India is now moving is creating new demand for fecal sludge and solid waste management, for solutions to both organic and plastic waste challenges, and for enhancing cost recovery and revenue generation generally via what is also being termed as the ‘Circular Sanitation Economy’. The management information systems created to track the progress of SBM are another positive outcome:  the information generated can be used by businesses to identify potential new market development areas. Such an approach, using innovative technology, presents new opportunities to transform sanitation systems into ‘smart toilets’ that can collect data on usage and track disease-causing organisms – which could be used to improve toilet management and to more quickly identify the sources of disease outbreaks.

Giving sanitation a boost globally

The World Bank is giving their sanitation work a boost globally: in addition to a growing portfolio of engagements in both rural and urban sanitation, the Bank is launching a Circular Economy initiative building on its recent flagship report on experiences from Latin America, in which it sees wastewater as a resource to be embraced rather than just a problem to be solved. The report calls for a radical paradigm shift from the linear model of treating wastewater and discharging it in a receiving water body to a circular one focused on reducing water use and consumption and promoting reuse, recycling, restoration and recovery – in the form of energy, nutrients, reusable water and biosolids. Such an approach provides economic and financial benefits that can contribute to the sustainability of the sanitation systems and of the utilities operating them.  The approach also provides further benefits to related areas such as water supply, agriculture energy production, and greenhouse gas capture.

The World Bank is also fully engaged on a global initiative to rethink approaches to urban sanitation service provision through its ‘Citywide Inclusive Sanitation’ (CWIS) work. The CWIS approach challenges us to ensure that everyone has access to safely managed sanitation by promoting a range of technical solutions that are tailored to the realities of the world’s burgeoning cities and which are flexible and adaptable so that, as cities grow and change, sanitation services adapt with them. In promoting this approach, the Bank encourages governments to focus on service provision rather than on building specific infrastructure, which means considering the financial, institutional, regulatory and social dimensions of the services. Part of this exploration of options is envisioned to include consideration of circular economy approaches and more holistic sanitation solutions.

Launching a global effort to scale up the Sanitation Economy

Inspired by the success factors of the SBM program, of the ‘Waste to Resource’ paradigm and of Citywide Inclusive Sanitation, we propose stimulating a global effort to help scale up the Sanitation Economy in countries around the world by, among other things:

  • Disrupting the status quo – and creating demand for Sanitation Economy solutions;
  • Rethinking approaches to the provision of urban sanitation services, encouraging private sector companies and their public sector counterparts to raise the bar on providing safely managed sanitation at scale;
  • Considering wastewater and fecal sludge as a valued resource to be recovered and reused;
  • Identifying quick wins in the scaling of business solutions in the sector.

Unleashing the influencers who can help in the financing of sustainable and resilient sanitation systems, we invite you to join us in our work to scale up of the Sanitation Economy and these related initiatives in order to help close the resource loop, to promote sustainable service delivery, to grow the sanitation products market and, ultimately, to achieve the SDG of safely managed sanitation for all.


Find the World Bank and Toilet Board Coalition at SIWI World Water Week 2019 in Stockholm, Sweden 25-30 August 2019

Join the Global Sanitation Economy Summit 2019 in Pune, India 18-21 November 2019



Ndeye Awa Diagne

Young Professional, World Bank

Cheryl Hicks

TBC Executive Director & CEO

Maria Angelica Sotomayor

Practice Manager, World Bank Water Global Practice

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