Published on The Water Blog

Transforming sanitation in Benin: A tale of resilience and renewal

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A new Fecal Sludge Treatment Plant in Sèmè-Kpodji, Benin, became operational in May 2023 and is now benefiting more than one million people. A new Fecal Sludge Treatment Plant in Sèmè-Kpodji, Benin, became operational in May 2023 and is now benefiting more than one million people.

Nestled on the West African coast, Benin, home to 13 million people, is embarking on an ambitious journey of transformation. The government has shown strong leadership in its efforts to structurally transform the economy, through ambitious programs and reforms in key development sectors such as health, tourism, agriculture, and infrastructure.   The Grand Nokoué metropolis which comprises Benin's economic capital, Cotonou, the administrative capital, Porto-Novo, and two residential communes (Abomey-Calavi and Sèmè-Podji), is at the heart of this ambitious program. This area, bustling with economic activity and cultural richness, is home to 2.5 million people and contributes a third of the nation's GDP. Despite its vast economic potential, the Grand Nokoué area is particularly vulnerable to climate change, with recurrent flood events and environmental challenges like solid and liquid waste management. These challenges, if not addressed, threaten to stifle the area's potential and impact the health and well-being of its residents.

Confronting the Sanitation Challenge: A Ground Reality

Less than 4% of Benin’s urban population has access to safely managed sanitation. This means that the vast majority lacks access to improved facilities that are not shared with other households, and where excreta are safely disposed of in situ or removed and treated offsite. As cities continue to grow at an unprecedented rate, it is becoming increasingly important to address urban sanitation concerns. In Grand Nokoué, most households rely on on-site facilities such as watertight pit latrines, dry pit latrines, pour-flush toilets, and septic tanks which rely on private operators using manual emptying or vacuum trucks. Unfortunately, for a long time, the sludge collected by these trucks was discharged into an inoperable facility and was not treated before being released into the sea. The consequences of this were far-reaching, affecting the quality of water, soil, and overall public health.

To address this issue and improve the number of people benefiting from safely managed sanitation, the Government of Benin initiated a Sanitation Master Plan in 2015. The plan recommended the construction of two main fecal sludge treatment plants to cover the sanitation treatment needs of Grand Nokoué.

In 2017, the World Bank contributed to the realization of one of these treatment plants through the Small-Town Water Supply and Urban Septage Management Project (PEPRAU).

The Role of the Private Sector

A new Fecal Sludge Treatment Plant in Sèmè-Kpodji became operational in May 2023 and is now benefiting more than one million people. A private company with a proven track record in the sub-region is operating the facility under a public-private partnership contract of 10 years. The Government has entrusted the Societe de Gestion des Dechets Solides (SGDS) with managing all the plant’s assets in addition to its initial role of solid waste management. This will enable the tracking of the private operator's performance and improve the fecal sludge management value chain in general. 

The impact of this project goes beyond numbers and infrastructure; it touches lives. Residents of Grand Nokoué now speak of a cleaner environment, reduced illness, and a renewed sense of pride in their community.

Lessons for a Cleaner Tomorrow: Reflecting on the Journey

The eight-year journey from the drawing board to the operational plant is not uncommon in developing countries. It underscores the need for long-term planning and dynamic adaptation in sanitation projects. The foresight in the PEPRAU project's site selection enables future expansions, reflecting a commitment not just to present needs but to future demands. This journey highlights the importance of collaboration between governments, international organizations, and local communities in addressing global challenges.

As we mark World Toilet Day, let's applaud the strides made in Benin. It is not just about building facilities; it's about laying the foundations for healthier, more sustainable futures. With continued commitment and collaboration, the lessons learned here can light the way for similar transformations worldwide, ensuring that clean sanitation is not a luxury, but a basic right for all. 

Related Links:

Small Towns Can Achieve Big Impacts in Safely Managed Sanitation

Global Water Security and Sanitation Partnership accelerating Benin’s efforts to expand access to water in rural areas


Mariam Sou

Senior Water Supply and Sanitation Specialist

Xavier Chauvot De Beauchene

Senior Water and Sanitation Specialist

Kevin Ahouandjinou

Consultant, Water and Sanitation, West Africa

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