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Published on: 05/07/2022

A new online course on the basics of market-based sanitation brings together the latest thinking from around the world on enabling the private sector to contribute to improved and safely managed sanitation services. It has been developed by IRC, with the support of USAID Transform WASH, in collaboration with PSI and Water For People. The course aims to equip users with insights and tools on the role of market-based sanitation in creating the strong systems needed for universal and lasting sanitation services.

The scale of investment required to deliver sanitation goods and services to those who lack access is beyond the capacity of public finance alone. As Monte Achenbach, one of the course contributors and PSI’s chief of party for Transform WASH, said, ‘Imagine that a government needs to provide sanitation services to each household? That cannot be achieved by government action on their own. It is beyond the means of any government. This means there is a clear role for households to invest in improved sanitation services and for the private sector to produce and sell an array of products to meet their needs.’


Changing mindsets

Approaching sanitation as a market requires a shift in mind set, especially in governments and development partners. They often see businesses as input suppliers and contractors. In a market-based sanitation approach, businesses can engage in demand creation, manufacturing of goods and services (such as slab manufacturing, installation of toilets), and promotion and sales of goods and services (such as retailers and sales agents) to accelerate access to basic (improved) sanitation services.

Another shift in mindset that is needed is viewing households as consumers, moving away from the traditional view of households as beneficiaries, which too often resulted in offering them products that failed to meet their demand, aspirations or needs.

Market-based sanitation focuses on households as active customers of products and services. It takes a user-centred and business supplier approach to developing and producing sanitation products and services that people want and can afford and that businesses can deliver and sell profitably. The goal of building sanitation markets is to achieve ever-expanding, self-sustaining household demand for, and access to, new products and services.

Sanitation as a service

The other shift in thinking required is to see sanitation as a service that is much more than a toilet. To ensure sustainable access to safe sanitation, this concept of a service comprises much more than a physical structure. The sanitation service chain consists of six connected functions: capturing, containing, emptying, transporting, treating, and safely disposing or reusing human waste (i.e., faeces and urine, possibly including black water and grey water, see figure below).

Sanitation service chain

Access to sanitation requires products and services at both the household and the community level. The private sector is an essential part of the solution and can provide products and services for the entire sanitation service chain.

Part of a holistic approach

Market-based sanitation is an essential part of a holistic approach towards reaching safely managed sanitation services (i.e., Sustainable Development Goal 6). Specifically, it's about moving up the sanitation service ladder from a limited to a basic service and, ultimately, to safely managed services for all. It is linked to other approaches for reaching SDG 6, as well (see image below):

Market-based sanitation (MBS) is an umbrella term and includes approaches such as ‘sanitation market shaping,’ ‘sanitation as a business,’, and ‘sanitation marketing’ (or ‘SanMark’). While individual understanding and definitions may vary, the MBS approach focuses generally on improving private sector capacity to supply sanitation products and services and increasing customer demand through commercial marketing techniques. It includes a comprehensive approach toward the WASH system to create a thriving sanitation market in a country.

Social and Behaviour Change Communication (SBCC) is a communication strategy that encourages individuals and communities to adopt new behaviours. It is a strategy that triggers people and their communities to adopt healthy, beneficial, and positive behavioural practices.

Community-led total sanitation (CLTS) or community-led total sanitation and hygiene (CLTS-H) is a rural-focused behaviour change approach for ending open defecation through community participation. In simplified terms, CLTS-H (or similar community approaches to total sanitation) focus on getting people to stop defecating in the open and to start using a self-constructed (often unimproved) pit latrine.

Microfinance is the provision of small (aka “micro”) loans to low-income individuals or businesses with minimal collateral requirements.

Subsidies can be powerful and progressive tools for increasing water and sanitation access when they are designed in specific measurable achievable and realistic, timely and targeted ways and implemented effectively. This is part of session 7.

Public investments by governments (from taxes or transfers) in sanitation services will always be needed. No country in the world has realised safely managed water and sanitation services for all without public investments.

Together, this mix of approaches, with a wider strengthening of the WASH system on factors such as finance, demand, community by-law, can realise safely managed sanitation services for all.

JMP sanitation ladder

Image: The JMP sanitation service ladder with approaches to move from open defecation towards safely managed sanitation services (i.e., SDG 6). Adapted from Trémolet, S. (2012). Sanitation markets: Using economics to improve the delivery of services along the sanitation value chain.

Market-based sanitation: the basics

The free 12-hour online course provides insights and tools for the private sector to contribute to improved and safely managed sanitation services (i.e., realising Sustainable Development Goal 6) by 2030. To reach SDG 6, the private sector is essential in providing products and services that people need and want.

By the end of the course, users will have a good understanding of the role of market-based sanitation as part of strong WASH systems needed to realise universal and sustainable sanitation services. Users will know:

  • What market-based sanitation entails
  • Different approaches to applying market-based sanitation
  • Market-based sanitation as an essential part of stronger WASH systems

The course is available on the WASH Systems Academy as a self-paced and self-guided course. It can also be used in combination with webinars, group work, on the job support or part of a 3-day workshop.

The online course ‘Market-Based Sanitation: The Basics’ is available for free on the WASH Systems Academy.


About Transform WASH

USAID Transform WASH aims to improve water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) outcomes in Ethiopia by increasing market access to and sustained use of a broader spectrum of affordable WASH products and services, with a substantial focus on sanitation.

Transform WASH achieves this by transforming the market for low-cost quality WASH products and services: stimulating demand at the community level, strengthening supply chains, and improving the enabling environment for a vibrant private market.

USAID Transform WASH is a USAID-funded activity implemented by PSI in collaboration with SNV, Plan International, and IRC WASH. The consortium is working closely with government agencies, including the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Electricity, the One WASH National Program, and regional and sub-regional governments.

USAID           PSi Ethiopia          WASH Ethiopia    Plan International     ANV   IRC Ethiopia


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