For sale: safe sanitation in Ghana

Themes: Behaviour change Market development Sanitation WASH
Countries: Ghana Ghana-local

“I have lived in this compound for the past few years without a toilet. You have to deal with the inconvenience of using a public toilet,” says 60-year-old Yaa Achiaa.

Kumasi, one of Ghana’s fastest growing urban centres, is home to 3 million people and nearly half live in informal settlements. Around 60% of the households in these settlements use public toilets. These facilities are often poorly maintained, unhygienic and unsafe, particularly for women using them at night.

A public toilet in Ghana

Yaa who lives in a compound with other residents and has no choice but to use the public toilet. “You cannot use the public toilet at night and even if you manage to get one, there are safety concerns to worry about including many other disadvantages. The ordeal is even worse for older people like me.”

Yaa Achiaa is a resident in Kumasi and recently had a toilet installed in her compound

However, public toilets continue to be culturally and politically accepted and only few financing options are available to residents to build household or compound toilets.

Amidst this difficult environment, WSUP has been working to improve Ghana’s sanitation market to ensure the poorest residents have access to this basic service. This has been through the Sanitation Service Delivery Programme (SSD), a USAID regional urban sanitation five-year project which aims to promote and increase access to improved sanitation services as well as enhance regional learning to inform market-based sanitation programmes.

Overall, the project found the sanitation market extremely challenging and as it draws to a close, we look at some of the lessons we learnt:

Cost-effective toilet models can improve services for the poorest residents

Compound housing is a common form of habitation for the low-income residents of urban Ghana and tenants usually share living space with more than twenty other people. The vast majority of them have no access to in-house sanitation.

The cost of constructing and maintaining in-house toilets is a major barrier to improving their sanitation facilities.

Read - Why are toilets so expensive in Ghana? Experience from Kumasi

Over the five years of the programme, different toilet designs were tested to identify the ones most suitable for the poorest residents.

Thomas Sarfo has been a toilet artisan for the last 12 years. On being selected to undergo training on one of the new designs he said, “I had been hearing that the new toilet was going to be a cheaper. I saw the training as an opportunity to widen my product offering.”

Thomas is an entrepreneur who sells toilets in Ghana

“Sales were very low and was hence a threat to my job. But now I’m now able to construct four toilets in a month which is a significant improvement.”

He cited the introduction of the double pit latrine as a cheaper option and flexible financing arrangements as the reason behind increased sales.

“The double pit toilet is more affordable and best suited for peri-urban communities like mine…I build full toilets at half cost and have householders repay the remaining half in instalments. It may not sound like anything new, but I get more orders for installation with this approach…”

Sales agents: an effective link between artisans and customers

After testing three toilet sales business models, we found that the most effective approach to achieving toilet sales was through Toilet Sales Agents (TSAs).

Twenty-three year old Toilet Sales Agent, Esther Yeboah, along with her team utilised a number of strategies in creating demand for the uptake of toilet construction. This included house-to-house promotion, target group promotion through churches and identified groups, mini durbars and the use of community information centres.

Esther, a toilet sales agent, with residents

Esther believes that the programme has helped change people’s behaviour.

“Now many residents appreciate the relevance of compound toilets and they are making efforts to own one or upgrade existing ones. Through the project we have been able to market and facilitate construction/improvement of 10 toilets in my assembly.  Besides there are a number of ongoing projects which are expected to be completed soon.”

Yaa no longer has to worry about using the public toilet as she and other tenants managed to convince their landlady who also lives in the compound to invest in a toilet.  They were also happy for the landlady increase their rent to cater to the cost of the toilet and make a monthly contribution to save towards emptying costs in the next three years. Yaa says, “The toilet works well, and we are happy with it.”

Though Esther thinks she and her team could have sold more toilets, she is mindful of the challenges that affected sales. Some of these include difficulty in meeting target groups at homes due to economic activities, absentee landlords, multiple landlords for a single property, the low income levels of target customers, and complicated eligibility requirements to secure loans to construct toilets.

Read - Sales glitch: Can Ghana unblock its toilet sales market?

Making financing more accessible

In Ghana, only those who own their own homes are eligible for the few loans that are available for sanitation. And the majority of low-income customers prefer to finance their toilets without loans from financial institutions due to the lengthy process involved.

Construction of new compound toilets

WSUP has partnered with Micro-Financing Institutions (MFIs) such as Sinapi Aba to offer loans to households and artisans. We have learnt that it is important that financial institutions develop their marketing approach and design their loans so that access to credit is easier and fits with the customers’ ability to repay.

By having flexible loans and alternative repayment methods such as mobile money (payment through mobile phones) can make financing more accessible for low-income customers.

Read - How can sanitation actors in Ghana stimulate toilet loan uptake?

Partnerships are key for sustainable change

Partnerships with Kumasi Metropolitan Assembly (KMA) and Ga West Municipal Assembly (GWMA) have been vital to facilitate the implementation of the project. Both municipal assemblies, with whom local development lies, adopted compound sanitation implementation strategies and supported sanitation enforcement. Using their capacity, they mobilised community support for the project.

Their Environmental Health and Sanitation Departments (EHSDs) for example, were actively involved in the programme, thus creating a conducive environment for promotion of household sanitation. By having linkages with artisans and TSAs the municipal assemblies can play a central role in sustaining sanitation service delivery.

Read more about our work in Ghana