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Poop scoop: The state of the sanitation economy

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The sanitation economy has the potential to unlock 3.8 trillion liters of new resources generated every year from toilets and sanitation systems. In India alone, the sanitation economy is estimated to be a US$32 billion a year market – a number that’s expected to increase to US$62 billion  per year by 2021. But to convert it into a booming economy, we first need to address the challenges of implementing sustainable sanitation solutions at scale.

So how can governments scale sanitation efforts and work in coordination with different stakeholders to achieve sustainable service delivery?

This overarching question was widely discussed at the November 2019 Global Sanitation Economy Summit in Pune, India, which was organized by the Toilet Board Coalition (TBC). The TBC and its many members, including the World Bank, envision bringing pioneering business solutions to help deliver universal access to sanitation (Sustainable Development Goal 6.2) by promoting a Circular Economy Approach.  The Pune Summit brought together around 400 of the world’s leaders in the Sanitation Economy to showcase best practices in sustainable sanitation and capitalize on new opportunities for cooperation.

In her keynote address, Maria Angelica Sotomayor, the Practice Manager for Africa and lead for the global sanitation agenda at the World Bank said that in order to achieve Goal 6.2. of the Sustainable Development Goals “…we need to work with both the public and private sector, and with small, medium and large operators alike – but we need to do so at scale.”

At the World Bank, we are working hard to bring innovative private sector solutions to our client countries, and promote the Sanitation Economy, Circular Economy and Citywide Inclusive Sanitation approaches in a collaborative manner. Specifically, we’re emphasizing impacts on economic growth, job creation and gender, particularly youth, women and girls.

Ms. Sotomayor also delivered a presentation at the “City-scale Sanitation” session and led a roundtable discussion on “Collaborative models to bring all parties together,” highlighting examples of innovative work and partnerships from across Africa and Asia. Her participation in the panel discussion on “Governments as a catalyst for private sector participation” shined a light on the unique dynamic between the governments and the private sector.

This was echoed by Mr. Parameswaran Iyer, Secretary of India’s Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, and leader of its flagship Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM), in his keynote address at the Summit. He highlighted four key pillars that have led to the success of the SBM. Not surprisingly, these four “Ps” also underpin the secret ingredients to scaling up the Sanitation Economy and achieving access to sanitation for all.

Political leadership: Integral to the success of the SBM efforts was the push from the top, which consequently trickled down to the bottom layer of public servants. The Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, kickstarted this initiative and was considered the “communicator-in-chief”. During the implementation of the program there were incentives provided at the district level that helped in mobilizing on-the-ground support. Political championship has been a great incentive for scaling up India’s sanitation efforts, and it is heartening to see these efforts being replicated, such as in the case of the recently launched “Clean Nigeria: Use the Toilet” campaign that was kickstarted by the President of Nigeria to make Nigeria open defecation free by 2025.

Public financing: The SBM made notable efforts to mobilize over US$40 billion in financial resources and considered a mix of financing options - with funding from public, private and development partners being mobilized to scale its efforts. Over US$30 billion were earmarked as public funds for the SBM and over US$5 billion were raised from the corporate sector. The government further used self-financing mechanisms such as user and community financing and sanitation lending to households through microfinance institutions. This demonstrates that it is important for governments to complement their communication efforts with dedicated funding in order to achieve ODF status.

Partnerships: The SBM, which was in part supported by the World Bank Group, also emphasized collaborations – not just through mixed financing, but also with the help of capacity strengthening solutions. One such collaboration was the Tata Trusts providing 600 skilled young professionals to work in every district in India. The Pune Summit also emphasized the need to build partnerships with different actors. The “marketplace” exhibition provided a great platform for sanitation entrepreneurs to showcase their products. We saw a great deal of innovation - from Aerosan, an organization focused on user-centered, revenue generating public toilets – to Saathi, a NGO that produces banana fiber eco-friendly and compostable sanitary napkins - to change: WATER Labs, a technology that produces low-cost, portable toilets that use a simple membrane to rapidly evaporate 95% of sewage without using any type of energy. Moving forward, we need to tap into these markets and create the right incentives for collaboration, such as is highlighted in the Citywide Inclusive Sanitation approach. This will be key in mobilizing resources from the private sector, academia, development partners and governments.

People’s Participation: Rallying grassroot participation was one of the central pillars necessary for the success of the SBM. These efforts garnered support from people hailing from all walks of life - school students, masons, district collectors, village heads, celebrities, and women’s groups all contributed in some way to the ODF agenda in India. This shows that communication campaigns that spur beneficiaries to take ownership of sanitation efforts can go a long way in accomplishing safe sanitation practices in any community, country or region.

Exploring the sanitation economy’s potential and scaling up sanitation efforts is a tremendous task, but success stories such as the SBM demonstrate that we can achieve universal safe sanitation with governments leading from the front by using innovative models to finance sanitation and by building solid partnerships and incentivizing catalysts of change.


Nandita Kotwal

World Bank Consultant

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