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Published on: 21/11/2022

Angela Huston speaking at the 2022 World Toilet Summit (photo by: Dominic O'Neill, Sanitation and Hygiene Fund)

Last week I attended the 22nd ever World Toilet Summit, hosted this year in Abuja, Nigeria. The event coincided with   World Toilet Day; a UN day dedicated to raising awareness about the 1.7 billion people lacking safe access to sanitation around the world.

The theme of this year’s World Toilet Summit was Sanitation Innovation for Economic Development; many discussions focused on innovative financial instruments and governance models that can be used to attract the private sector, while using sanitation as a lever to trigger job creation and help lift the nation out of poverty.

Fourteen countries participated in the global event, but the focus was on the Federal Republic of Nigeria, whose Clean Nigeria: Use the Toilet campaign, launched in 2019, reached a new milestone last week with Jigawa State, with an estimated population of 6.8 million people, being the first to be declared ‘open defecation free’.

On 19 November, I had the honour of taking the stage to provide my summary of the emerging Summit Action Points: "To celebrate that today is the 10th  ever World Toilet Day, I offer ten action points that I hear coming out of this Summit. These action points speak both to Nigeria, and more so about what we here at the World Toilet Summit might call for in the world."

1. A call for political leadership for sanitation at the highest levels, that is used to rally leadership at all levels

Executive, presentational leadership, like the President of Nigeria’s declaration that water, sanitation and hygiene are in a state of emergency. This is leadership not only from technocrats but heads of states. It is leadership from governors, and leaders from Local Government Areas (LGA), though I haven’t heard from as many local leaders as I would have liked.

Key to success in Nigeria has been the engagement and transformative leadership from the religious and cultural leaders, imams, and more.

Building a movement is not a one-time commitment, especially for something called systems change, something like a revolution. Every phone call that the Honourable Minister has made to his governors, and every phone call, reminder meeting, incentive that LGA leaders and cultural leaders have made—these are the fabric of success.

Often sanitation discussions are held among technocrats, but when the conversation stays there, we can achieve small movements but not the true momentum required for change at the highest level.

We need to invest in building, keeping, and delivering leadership at all levels.

2. A call for use of area-wide approaches

We have seen in Nigeria how the local government area-wide approach, the state-wide approach, and national commitment to a Clean Nigeria, has motivated a movement to leave no one behind. Achieving open defecation free status is powerful, and it is achieved at the village, local government area, and state levels.

I am delighted to be hearing leaders talk about percentages, population-wide numbers that speak to how many people are left to reach. We can no longer afford to hear leaders, responsible for millions of constituents, talking about the 100s or 1000s of facilities they have built. The magnitude of the issue, and the shared nature of sanitation health risks, is better met with area-wide thinking.

As the gentleman from United Purpose said yesterday, an area-wide approach has pushed innovation, not allowing them to skip over the hardest to reach or challenging areas, but pressing their team to innovate, to adapt to find a better way, and to embrace a range of different approaches to meet the diverse needs of a nation.

The area-wide approach is being applied now in Nigeria for achieving the critical first step of eliminating open defecation, and it can be applied again (already) in the movement to be sure that all human waste is safely managed, to be sure the expected health benefits are achieved and to reduce the level of public health crisis that emerges when catastrophes like flooding occur. 

3. A call for an economic revolution

Yesterday Dominic O’Neill of the Sanitation and Hygiene Fund called for an economic revolution, with both technological and financial model innovations: Blue Bonds, Green Bonds, and tax credits from FMDQ; these are market instruments to fuel the sanitation economy. We can start by packaging projects so that small costs can be met with big investment, including not least by the private sector.

Innovation takes risks. It takes courage to start a revolution, and humility to ask for help and form new alliances. It needs to be okay to ask questions and to learn so that government, and other development actors, can gain financial literacy and learn to speak the language of banks and private sector, to know what they are getting into.

Governments must work to establish incentives, regulation, policy to invite businesses to the market – businesses both big and small. We need to forge new alliances with partners both domestically and abroad, starting with local/regional/development banks.

The African Continental Free Trade Area presents new opportunities, the sanitation sector can be an innovator in finding its way to leveraging this opportunity and deliver on the ambition of this agreement on the continent.

The finance sector in Nigeria is quite mature and has the power to show the world what can be done. We must invest in sanitation as a driver for economic revolution

4. A call to make the sanitation movement people-centred

Even as we start to look at sanitation as a business, citizens and people must be considered as such while meaningfully leading them to be customers in the market.

As the lady from the organisation of female entrepreneurs said yesterday—demand is still too often assumed… as is our knowledge of what it takes to maintain it. The recent WHO TrackFin/WASH Accounts report estimates that households (and businesses/institutions) make the largest contribution to WASH sector funding, in many low-in countries their spending constitutes over half of total national investment. When these households are demonstrating real effective demand—when they have the willingness and ability to pay for services, their buying power to transform the market is unlocked. Of course, the smart citizens of today will only pay if what they receive is worthy of being called a service.

And as Professor Jack Sim said yesterday, let us not forget the power of culture in generating mass citizen movement. When Nollywood actors start to talk about it, or say Mr. Timi Dakolo who we heard from yesterday, starts to talk about how much he loves his loo, we might see more  swooners  rushing out to buy one.

Take action to engage the people.

5. A call to focus on youth and education

It’s time to take the WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) and education dialogue to the next level.

We often talk about collaboration to get toilets in schools. And as Bridgit Kurgat from Days for Girls said, to keep girls in schools so they can be educated and given equal opportunity.

And as we’ve seen yesterday, the connection of sanitation to education can go much further – programmes to educate children on sanitation issues, and opportunities to teach about innovation and ambition unlocks a huge resource base of future leaders.

Some teenagers are altruistic, but others just want to make money. So, let’s show them what the sanitation economy can do for them and prepare them to take part in and contribute to it.

The students from Ahmadu Bello University yesterday had us on our feet. What a wave they have created, see how they use numbers to demonstrate their impact and performance, it is admirable, and it is the future. I heard about a lot of prizes from the students of Ahmadu Bello University yesterday, these prize programmes are of negligible cost compared to the pay-out of a successful company like their PUP Industries.

The sanitation sector—public and private—can collaborate to invite and encourage youth to become the leaders in the sanitation economy.

6. A call to use data for accountability

Nigeria has great data, so congratulations to you all for this. Achieving a Clean Nigeria, and a clean world, requires data - quality data we can trust - at the toilet and service and village level, at the level of upstream systems performance data, and not least, budget and finance data to track investments and their use. Data to track their effectiveness.

It is essential to build accountability in the states of Nigeria for their results and use of budgets.

The Jigawa example should be built on and replicated. I know that while there is still work to be done to ensure sustainability, Honourable Governor, you might consider a national tour with your Minister to visit, teach, and share your experiences with the other states. Or bring them to you.

We call for action on data for accountability and pursuit of results.

7. A call for a gender-wise movement and the empowerment of women

I see a lot of gender diversity in this room, and while I’ve met and learned from brilliant women the past few days, and I’ve seen some on this stage, there have been fewer of them compared to men.  

I might be biased, but we need to listen to our women.

I am a woman, but I am also a scientist looking at evidence, on studies of what works and how to create higher performing institutions. Having women at the table, not only at the far end, but in the centre of discussions on innovation, and creative partnership building, it will pay back in terms of results.

Women are natural entrepreneurs, this applies in the household, in communities and small businesses, and at the corporate and executive levels. They will catalyse innovation when men step a little to the side, not down, just over, to allow them into the conversation.

This is not to be nice, but because your conversation will be richer because of it. Gender empowerment and sanitation innovation must happen together.

8. A call for systems strengthening—the nuts and bolts of delivering a public service

Innovation, investment, leadership are key. And so is having competent service authorities, providers, and even consumers. The sector institutions must perform to be bankable. The building blocks of making public services work are largely known, and they require investment.

Strong systems mean good policy that is translated into usable legislation, institutions building and decentralised initiatives to help it to be understood and applied. In Nigeria, we heard about the declaration of the state of emergency as a starting point, but it was followed by a national action plan, development of guidelines, tools, and allocation of resources to help build institutional capacity to drive toward results.

Systems strengthening must remain on the investment agenda.

9. A call for dealing with fragility and instability

Systems building is really difficult under the stablest of conditions. In a context of instability, terrorism, economic recession, unrest, and increasing climate-change induced disaster, it is harder than ever. But it can be done.

These threats must be named, discussed, and integrated into the action plans. It is tempting, but much less effective, to lay out a perfect stable state action plan in one discussion, and quietly acknowledge the threats of instability over on the side.

Yesterday we heard about policy moves to ensure that sanitation facilities are climate resilient. It is possible to have policy and legislative mechanisms in place to create more robust infrastructure, but also to more rapidly construct latrines post-collapse.

I haven’t heard the word ‘Loss and Damage’ here yet but exploring the global movement to compensate those suffering from climate catastrophe might be another entry point to engaging the highest level of national leadership to discuss the country’s sanitation needs. 

10. Summit action point number 10 is pointing to you, to me, to all of us

We must continue to resist the status quo. When we’ve seen slow progress for far too long, it becomes easy to accept this as the norm.

I found myself saying in a conversation yesterday [about achieving universal sanitation access], maybe it just takes 20 years.

Twenty years is not fast enough. Yes, systems change takes time, a revolution doesn’t happen overnight. But it's quite often achieved through a series of short sprints. We can’t be daunted by the long journey ahead but instead look to the next milestone, to the vision that has been set out, and, as individuals and a collective, to do everything we can to change our ways of working at getting there.

But until then I will repeat Dr. Boluwaji Onabolu’s words, “we must challenge ourselves to pursue speed, scale, and sustainability. In every action that we undertake, in new agreements, negotiations, programme designs; in setting up the next annual plan. Think about what you can do differently. I will think about what I can do differently, to make this vision real. Sanitation innovation for economic development, it happens not only because of the big actions, but also the small everyday ones, of all of us in this room." 

At the very end of the Summit, I was delighted to see many of these issues will be well-covered in the upcoming event communiqué (declaration of intent) written and presented by the Ministry of Water Resources.

I look forward to continuing the conversation at the UN Water Conference in March 2023, where we hope to see Nigeria as a leader on the world stage.

I also look forward to the All Systems Connect Symposium, an event dedicated to seeing old problems through a new lens. I believe this event is perfectly aligned with generating the type of momentum and insights required to take the sanitation economic revolution to the next level, by convening experts and activists, decision-makers and influencers from sanitation, water, and hygiene, health, climate, economic development, ​education, social justice.

I am grateful to the Federal Ministry of Water Resources, Nigeria, and Dr. Nicholas Igwe of the Organised Private Sector for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (OPS-WASH) for the excellent hosting of the World Toilet Summit.


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