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Happy World Toilet Day

Published on: 14/11/2018

Let's focus on who pays for what all along the sanitation service delivery chain.

Last year on World Toilet Day, while my escaped poo was on the loose and generally making a nuisance of himself, I wrote that the way to put him permanently in his place – and out of harm’s way (for the rest of us) – was to build strong and resilient sanitation systems with toilets/latrines.

A year later, are we getting anywhere? Hard to say. On the positive side, I’d say that the shit flow diagram continues to be about the single most powerful systems level analytical tool that we have – in either water or sanitation.  What’s more, sanitation heavyweights, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, after years of pushing technology and private providers, are now expanding their embrace to include more purposive work with the local authorities who will have to hold the service providers to account and ease the adoption of the technology. This can only be a good thing; the Foundation is by far the most important champion of providing sanitation services to the non-sewered bottom of the pyramid, and is hugely influential in terms of who looks at what aspects of service delivery. And of course, there’s also plenty of innovation happening around safe sanitation management and our initiative in Bangladesh on waste to energy is part of this whole buzz

At the same time, on bad days, much of the debate seems to continue to be little more than shouting matches about subsidy (or its lack). From a sanitation systems perspective this can be deeply frustrating as it seems to largely miss the point that it’s not a question of subsidy yes or no, but subsidy to who and for what parts of the sanitation chain. Perhaps time to start calling it what it is: public finance. In this space, to the best of my knowledge, the water world is still years ahead, with increasingly sophisticated discussions around who pays for what (users, governments, private financiers) – all along the service delivery chain. I may be wrong, and would love to be shown that I am. Perhaps I will be at the All Systems Go! Symposium in March for which early bird registration is about to close.

In the meantime - I expect that many of my (and your) poos will be around to bother us for a while to come!  Let's put him in place, once and for all! Happy World Toilet Day. 



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