Access to safely managed sanitation is considered a basic human right, yet 4.2 billion people, over half of the world’s population, are living without access to safe sanitation services. The devastating effects of the global sanitation crisis have deepened as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic – and at a time when the need for sanitation is at its greatest, but accessibility for the most vulnerable is at its lowest.
Solutions to the global sanitation crisis can be generated by a multilateral approach, blending the expertise, research and support of the private sector with the focus and structure of the public sector to enable innovative local enterprises to deliver long-term, desirable solutions. This approach is increasingly being implemented, with World Toilet Day highlighting a number of examples of businesses, enterprises and public sector stakeholders working together to deliver lasting responses to the sanitation crisis.
Impact enterprises: local knowledge and entrepreneurial innovation
TRANSFORM, a unique joint initiative between Unilever, the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) and EY, has been working to deliver market-based sanitation solutions that impact low-income areas. The initiative works with impact enterprises by blending funding and support, creating scalable, innovative approaches that encourage positive behaviour change in low-income communities.
An example of this collaborative approach is SWEEP, a public-private partnership which enables access to affordable and sustainable faecal sludge emptying services for the urban residents of Bangladesh. A lack of access to sanitation facilities in Bangladesh has resulted in huge quantities of waste being dumped into rivers, contaminating the environment and posing a serious public health risk.
With support from TRANSFORM, SWEEP has created a sustainable model that subsidises costs for low-income communities via a scaled price point for wealthier neighbourhoods. Running a highly relevant marketing campaign to generate uptake, supported by Unilever, SWEEP has expanded its services to reach over 120,000 Bangladeshis. Continuing to implement its scalable approach, SWEEP aims to have positively impacted the lives of 1.2 million people by 2025.
TRANSFORM also supports HappyTap, a social business that produces mass-manufactured portable sinks built for low-income communities, designed to encourage hand-hygiene behaviour change in children. By enabling access to handwashing infrastructure, HappyTap addresses the low rate of handwashing in Bangladesh by bridging the gap between knowledge and practice.
With the support of TRANSFORM, HappyTap has been able to recruit key staff, conduct market research and scale-up distribution, with the added value of Unilever’s behaviour change and distribution capabilities, to improve the health of underserved communities.
Partnering with the public sector
Last year, TRANSFORM’s founding organisations collaborated with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to set African water utilities a challenge to develop safe and sustainable sanitation solutions for underserved urban communities.
Targeting dense urban areas where conventional sewers and wastewater treatments are not always effective for a population’s sanitation needs, TRANSFORM is providing the selected utilities – Malindi Water & Sewerage Company (MAWASCO) in Kenya and Southern Water & Sanitation Company (SWSC) in Zambia – with grant funding and in-kind support.
TRANSFORM’s contribution is supporting the development of long-term behavioural change programmes that will come to life through the innovation and involvement of the African utilities on the ground. As a result of the challenge, TRANSFORM will help develop solutions that can serve as a blueprint to be rolled out to millions across Africa and beyond.
Businesses have an important role to play in tackling the global sanitation crisis, and we have seen this multilateral approach gain momentum in recent years. This World Toilet Day has shone a light on the progress made and proven the positive impact that it can deliver, but there is a long way to go. We need to crowd in even more resource, expertise and reach to roll out this blueprint further and deliver on solving the global sanitation crisis, together.