A deep dive in the silos of sanitation – to break them down worldwide! (10th SITE4Society event – Part II)

The Sustainable Development Goals Report (2020) notes that we are far from being an open-defecation free world. Since 2015, around 500 million low-cost toilets have been diffused, but still about 2 billion people do not have access to a functioning toilet and about 4.2 billion people are using toilets that cannot be considered to be safely managed. These challenges must be addressed because diarrhoeal diseases are among the leading causes of mortality and morbidity worldwide, especially among young children in developing countries.

Against this backdrop, SITE4Society, UNU-MERIT, teamed up with Friend-In-Need India (FIN) and Fusion Waste Management, inviting some leading sanitopreneurs to share their insights, on November, 19 – World Toilet Day. SITE4Society is founded on the belief that to solve societal challenges, the mere existence or creation of science, innovation and technology is not enough. They must be combined with real engagement by multiple stakeholders such as policymakers, public agencies, firms and citizens to address them. Easier said than done! How is engagement to be achieved? Our change-makers shared their experiences!

Even great sanitation-technology solutions need novel cost-sharing platforms

Separett is a Swedish, family-owned company that has developed waterless toilets. Their model is a chic urine diverting dry toilet that separates urine and faeces and transforms the latter into compost. Technologically speaking, it is a circular sustainable sanitation system that closes the loop, completely recycling the faecal waste without environmental contamination. There are however two caveats – the price tag of around 600 euros and handling the faecal sludge. Still, Mikael Billsund, the founder of Separett, is not only selling these toilets successfully in Europe and the USA, but also changing the lives of many in Lima, Peru. Separett has partnered with the social enterprise X-runner to install each portable Separett toilet in just 30 minutes, supported by a collection team employing local women who collect faecal waste on a weekly basis. A customer support team monitors the users’ experience to ensure satisfaction – all for a monthly fee of 12 USD.

The 4-stakeholder ‘Diamond’ FINISH Mondial model as a tool for sanitation diffusion

FINISH Mondial (Financial Inclusion improves Sanitation and Health) a social enterprise, has successfully completed large-scale sanitation system installations in India and Kenya through a diffusion design that addresses both the demand and supply sides of the sanitation market in terms of material flows, capabilities mobilisation and finance. Their ‘diamond strategy’ targets four domains: communities, businesses, financiers, and the government. Valentin Post, a co-founder of FINISH, said: “When we started FINISH in India in 2009, India had the highest open defecation rate in the world. Big problems are big opportunities and India’s a country where you easily can innovate, where you can do things, and then bring it to scale, which in itself is often seen as an innovation, for scale helps you to do your business differently. That said, it is essential that the partners from the community, business, finance and government are capable and are in agreement about the shared project vision.”

Sampath Rajkumar, from the Rural Development Organaisation Trust (RDO), a partner in the FINISH programme since inception, explained how they put into action the FINISH diamond model in the isolated hilly district of Niligiris in India. “One of our most circular initiatives with FINISH is the Water for Food programme. Here, we are providing farmers with low-cost rich fertiliser by co-composting biodegradable waste with faecal sludge. More than 600 tonnes of co-compost have been distributed after being tested for chemical contaminants and biological pathogens. The government installed the resource recovery parks, FINISH provided the technical help and both RDO and FINISH worked to raise the financial resources of about US $230,000 from public and private sources, and finally RDO acts as the community focal point for 2,243 farmers in the programme.”

Transforming Society through a public programme: The Swachh Bharat or Clean India Mission (SBM)

‘SBM’ is the largest sanitation transformation programme in the world, says Dr. Raja Venkataramani of FIN. He explained, “To make India open defecation free and clean, under the first phase of the programme (2014-2019) the focus was on construction of toilets all over India (about 100 million toilets and 10 million in rural and urban India respectively). Then, under phase 2, for sustainability, sanitation is being worked upon alongside water availability, waste management and hygiene behaviour. Moreover silos between different layers of governance and also between citizens and government are being broken. Capacity building of governing bodies and community engagement building are also core activities. ”

Mr. Amit Mishra, founder of Fusion waste management, a social enterprise working with the municipality of Khandwa, a city with a population of around 2 million added: “Over the last year we have managed to improve Khandwa’s ranking from 94th to 21st through construction of public toilets, public waste bins and building awareness through community workshops. Having a set of clear indicators for SBM and competition between municipalities is helping to improve strategies for transformation.”

This ‘all-hands-on-deck’ approach was reiterated by Mr. Raushan Kumar Singh, the Indian Administration Officer, responsible for SBM in the rural zone (Zila Panchayat) surrounding Khandwa: “Civil society organisations, citizens, local and state governments are working together to try and make their city or village ODF. Behavioural change is a bigger challenge than building toilets. We are using street theatre extensively to build awareness. University students, health workers and NGOs are also helping. For instance, there is a massive tribal population in this district, but local teachers and the District Institute of Education and Training translated the material into the local dialect, thereby ensuring that linguistic and culture barriers were crossed in communication.”

Our aim should be to break down the silos and build new integrated systems and eco-systems

So concluded Jennifer Williams the executive director of a new organisation, the Faecal Sludge Management Alliance. “The issue is not just the lack of toilets, but also the need for safe processing of faecal waste, starting from collection, containment, transportation, treatment to either reuse or disposal. Effectively setting up a system to deal with the treatment challenge requires coordinated efforts from the national, state and local governments from the administrative standpoint, the academic and business community from a technological and service delivery standpoint, and engagement with the public through IEC activities to increase citizen awareness and engagement. And so ensuring universal safe sustainable sanitation is truly about breaking down the silos!”

Summing up, Mikael Billsund simply remarked: “Let’s make the toilet change together and change the world”. Collaboration out of the silos, circular technologies, novel cost-sharing arrangements, innovative business models, and delivery platforms can not only achieve universal sanitation coverage faster, but also create employment and income for the poor in their wake.