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Published on: 04/05/2011

Can households in Asia be given better information about the sanitation choices they can make and more options for financing them? Is the role of women in small scale sanitation businesses being overlooked? These were some of the questions that flowed from an enthusiastic five-day workshop in Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam in late January 2011. Participants representing the government, non-government organisations and the private sector shared experiences on rural sanitation supply chains in their countries: Bhutan, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Nepal and the host country Vietnam.

This workshop was part of the Learning and Sharing component of the “Sustainable Sanitation and Hygiene for All” programme, implemented with funding from AusAID and DGIS. The workshop was organised by Dien Bien Province, Vietnam and SNV Asia with the support of IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre. Resource people from WSP, WaterSHED Asia, IDE Vietnam and SNV’s biogas programme also attended.

The workshop addressed three topics:

  • Informed choice for toilets and analysis of sanitation supply chains
  • Sanitation business development
  • Subsidies and finance

Participants learned about simple pre-fabricated latrines: the Easy Latrine, which was piloted in Cambodia by IDE. They discussed how to better understand consumer aspirations and about new ways of subsidy payment directly to beneficiaries through the post office in Vietnam as in the biogas programme. All country teams had brought in technology handbooks, which where enthusiastically reviewed: for whom are they written? Most handbooks are not for households who need to make the technology choices. And if they were, there is too much text and the handbooks are too expensive to reach the majority of households, they concluded.

Sanitation as a business

Common barriers for sanitation businesses are unclear demands; high transport costs; difficulties of information flows; unwillingness to take risks in pre-financing orders; and lack of volume and profitability. In spite of this, shops selling sanitation hardware or masons providing toilet construction services exist in every country. The challenge is to reach (many) more households (customers). Different organisations have searched for different answers.

WSP Indonesia with its Total Sanitation and Sanitation Marketing (TSSM) approach, looks at the market structure and aims to simplify service delivery to the consumers. A main element is the one-stop-shop.

The "Hands-off‟ approach of WaterSHED aims to reach more households with sanitation products and services by drastically reducing costs through pre-fabrication and mass production of toilets, as through standardised marketing. Product development and marketing is subsidised by the donor.

IDE Vietnam dives deep into understanding consumer aspirations and carefully selects the masons they work with, to make sure they cater for different groups of households.

A question remains, how much public funding should be invested in the improvement of sanitation supply chains and are they reaching the poorest households? It was pointed out that if the supply chain fails the poorest households, we are effectively subsidising sanitation for the rich.

Three market-based solutions

Participants discussed three market-based solutions or business models in which these business constraints are addressed in a sustainable manner, creating the right incentives, recovery of costs (at least) and quality of services.

The one-stop-shop model is a contractor or Sanimart located in an accessible place where all sanitation-related materials can be purchased at once. However, shops exclusively dedicated to sanitation, like Sanimarts, usually do not have enough business to survive.

The micro-franchising model is an application at scale engaging small businesses in implementing one business idea.

The network model is a network or cooperative of masons, shopkeepers, middle-men working together to provide services. Here it was said: “If collected data is not sex-specific, women’s roles in e.g. sales remain hidden and therefore training often goes to male shopkeepers only”.

Take home messages

Take-home messages from participants after five days include:

  • Learn about the existing roles of women in sanitation business and see how these can be strengthened;
  • Look at the selection process of masons and build their skills to meet the demand;
  • Demonstrate sanitation models and let consumers „touch and feel‟;
  • Look into new payment methods such as saving groups and instalments.

 Some country-specific reflections or follow-up actions mentioned were:

  •  Localise incentives for the private sector (Bhutan);
  •  Find out if there is a case for subsidy/vouchers (Cambodia);
  •  Know the priorities of different groups on sanitation in order to better support and supply them (Vietnam);
  •  Look into the possibility of linking suppliers to consumer groups and establish self-financing revolving funds (Laos);
  •  More than a toilet - include a bathroom in technology packages (Nepal);
  •  See if the production and use of biogas from human and animal excreta can be integrated in the one-shop model (Indonesia);
  •  Support a government policy on sanitation subsidy for the poor (Indonesia).

This programme includes the following steps, triggering and following-up sanitation demand; strengthening sanitation supply chain development; developing behavioural change communication for hygiene and sanitation marketing; and improving WASH governance and multi-stakeholder sector development.

Ingeborg Krukkert

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