Reporting back: five years of catalysing private sector involvement in urban sanitation

Themes: Container-based sanitation Faecal sludge management Sanitation WASH
Countries: Bangladesh Bangladesh-local Kenya Kenya-local Zambia Zambia-local

Since December 2012, we have been implementing a programme which explored how to catalyse private sector involvement in on-site sanitation, using three test countries: Bangladesh, Kenya and Zambia.

The programme enabled us to try different technologies, models and ways of working that we otherwise may not have been able to pursue and five years later, this has resulted in improved sanitation services for tens of thousands of people living in low-income communities in Dhaka, Chittagong, Lusaka and Kisumu.

This programme – funded by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – is now coming to an end, but we want it to continue to have an impact. This is why we have written a lot about our experiences over the past year or so – we certainly hope that you have seen at least some of our publications, all of which can be found on our Insights page. To make things even easier, this post collates the learning gained from this programme in one place.

We also recently held a webinar that gave an overview of some of our main experiences, the slides and recording of which can be found here:

Our insights are also brought to life through The Bottom Line, which enables players to discover what it is like to be a sanitation entrepreneur. Play the game now:

The first phase: On-site sanitation containment systems, 2013 – 2015

A pit latrine emptying business in Kisumu

A pit latrine emptying business in Kisumu, Kenya

The potential market for on-site containment in cities is staggering. Most of the population living in rapidly expanding cities like Kisumu (Kenya’s third-largest city) and Chittagong (the second most populous city in Bangladesh) rely on on-site sanitation and will continue to do so for years to come. Therefore, the first phase of the BMGF programme focused on providing safe and affordable on-site sanitation technologies and services.

In Kisumu, we explored establishing either a shared sanitation service model in which an EcoSan toilet was shared between multiple households, or a container-based sanitation service where households would be provided with an indoor toilet that would be regularly emptied. In Chittagong, WSUP considered selling prefabricated septic tanks which would be cheaper to install and less expensive to maintain in the long run when compared to concrete septic tanks.

However, it became clear that in both cities, such models would not have been viable. In Chittagong, the manufacturers could not lower prices enough to satisfy customers, and while potential customers were willing to pay for such a service in Kisumu, it would not have been enough to cover the costs of collecting the sludge.


The second phase: Strengthening the enabling environment for on-site sanitation, 2015 – 2018

SWEEP vacuum tanker in Dhaka, Bangladesh

SWEEP vacuum tanker in Dhaka, Bangladesh

It became apparent that just providing one link in the sanitation chain would not be enough to improve sanitation citywide in a sustainable way. The second phase of the programme focused on working with the public and private sectors in each city to develop the crucial support that contributes to a strong sanitation sector, such as clear institutional mandates, strong regulations and incentives for private sector providers, reliable financial flows from governments and customers, and political commitment to sector improvement.

The very different contexts of Bangladesh, Kenya and Zambia meant that the projects in each looked very different, but the strategy remained the same – bringing the public and private sector together is crucial for a well-functioning sector.




Top image:  Kanyama Water Trust treatment facilities in Lusaka, Zambia. Credit: Gareth Bentley