Innovations and Private Sector: Can They Solve the Sanitation Problem?

  • cecile
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Re: Innovations and Private Sector: Can They Solve the Sanitation Problem?

Dear Diane,

When I read your working hypothesis, I do not recognize the situations I have encountered in the countries I have worked in (Central and easter Africa, Balkans, Asia and Middle East) although the situation was very different from one country to another.

About the suspicion of governments towards private companies making profit. I have met governments who totally understand the idea of profit, and sometimes governments or municipalities which wanted to take their share of the profit. As mentioned by Florian in thread 16918, what I saw was rather a lack of political vision about the importance of sanitation and a lack of competence both from the governments and the utilities: “Without moreless functionning governments and public institutions capable to do their job, there will be no solution to the sanitation crisis and no achievement of "access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all (SDG6)".
The lack of political will and / or competence impacts the whole enabling environment in which the private sector fits into. When the public sector has a vision in any topic in development it opens many perspectives in terms of private sector development (vocational training, public tender for institutions, legal framework).

Also the idea that SMEs “want to sell to customers” should be developed further. Not all entrepreneurs have a marketing approach and a business plan in mind. Many of them do business as usual and display their stuff by the side of the road and that’s it.

I totally disagree with this assertion, once again with my own experience: “NGOs seem to be in the middle trying to work with both, but then you have the problem of directing resources to yet another industry (the NGO industry) without guaranteeing that the money really reaches the poor.” Not all NGOs are industries and all the efforts of the NGOs I worked with were directly towards maximizing the benefits for the beneficiaries, cost effectiveness and accountability.

In most of the projects I have worked in, the demand for toilets was not a problem, all people wanted to use a toilet, and even in Indonesia, where open defecation was practiced in some of the villages, people did use the toilets when they were installed. The problem of demand creation laid more down the sanitation chain, at the step of storage / transport / treatment / reuse.

In the country I am working in now, communities want proper sanitation and are ready to pay for it. There is money, but the capacity of the private sector to build proper infrastructure is relatively low, and there is poor political awareness and vision. Private companies do business as usual (leaking septic tanks, hauling and discharging in the river and there is no culture of maintenance (a leaking tap will leak forever). In this context, the private sector can help solve the problem of the sanitation crisis a) If there is a change of political vision and b) if there is a change of scale, i.e. capacity building for the communities – or decentralization- who are interested in maintaining their facilities.
Otherwise, the private sector can build as many facilities as they want, they will be out of order the following year already.

Cécile Laborderie
MAKATI Environnement
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  • Bhaskar
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Re: Innovations and Private Sector: Can They Solve the Sanitation Problem?

Dear Mr Mughal

Thanks for all the information.

www.smarttoilet.se/smarttoilet/Explain_That.html
"A Smart Toilet does not need frequent emptying ... of the solid feces ... the filtered liquid, [once urine] is odor- and bacteria-free after a process called nitrification, and can be used like any commercial fertiliser, on lawns, around fruit trees, shrubs and trees ... "

I understand that the basic solution is to use the filtered urine as fertilizer in horticulture and agriculture.

Why not use the sewage / urine to grow fish ?

Regards

Bhaskar

Clean technology promoter.

I am working on a clean technology product to grow Diatom Algae in large waterways. Diatoms account for about 25% of all photosynthesis on Earth and hence are the best solution to consume CO2, N and P and oxygenate water and feed fish.

I am a Chartered Accountant but am now an entrepreneur focussed on clean technology.
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Re: Innovations and Private Sector: Can They Solve the Sanitation Problem?

I suppose the nutrients would need to grow plants to be fish food or ?

Enclosed Long-Term Composting Toilets and Greywater treatment ( www.greywater.com )
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Re: Innovations and Private Sector: Can They Solve the Sanitation Problem?

The big question is as always: What is proper sanitation ? That's where SmartToilet.se is proposing a new strategy ... one that does not try to treat to discharge but enables an attractive toilet system not needing process-management please www.smarttoilet.se
I do agree that corporate solutions are frowned upon ... not just by governments but by NGOs as well. We proposed an excellent system to WaterAid but met with a "we don't work like that" respons. There is plenty of blame for that to go around. Some corporations behave unethically but so does some NGO's ... I suppose it comes down to the people whichever lable they operate under.

Enclosed Long-Term Composting Toilets and Greywater treatment ( www.greywater.com )
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Re: Innovations and Private Sector: Can They Solve the Sanitation Problem?

Yes. Diatom Algae has to be grown using the sewage, since Diatoms are the natural food for Zooplankton like Copepods. Fish may consume the Diatoms or the copepods.

Clean technology promoter.

I am working on a clean technology product to grow Diatom Algae in large waterways. Diatoms account for about 25% of all photosynthesis on Earth and hence are the best solution to consume CO2, N and P and oxygenate water and feed fish.

I am a Chartered Accountant but am now an entrepreneur focussed on clean technology.
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Re: Innovations and Private Sector: Can They Solve the Sanitation Problem?

I looked at the website www.greywater.com/ .

Our solution is essentially to replace the 'soil box planter' with an aquarium tank to grow Diatoms.
See the photo attached.

Diatom Algae are brown NOT green, that is why they are superior to all green colored phytoplankton and plants.

Diatoms are easy to digest, so the newly hatched fish and shrimp consume them and this improves the survival rate. Small Zooplankton are similar to the newly hatched fish and shrimp, so they can digest only Diatoms and not Cyanobacteria or Green Algae.

Clean technology promoter.

I am working on a clean technology product to grow Diatom Algae in large waterways. Diatoms account for about 25% of all photosynthesis on Earth and hence are the best solution to consume CO2, N and P and oxygenate water and feed fish.

I am a Chartered Accountant but am now an entrepreneur focussed on clean technology.
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  • Carol McCreary
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Re: Innovations and Private Sector: Can They Solve the Sanitation Problem?

Hi, again, Mughal,

Why not give a shout out to the SuSanA Library by mentioning titles of these publications and where they are posted?

It's nice of you to do research for others on this interesting topic but the Library is designed to empower people to do their own.

Carol McCreary
Public Hygiene Lets Us Stay Human (PHLUSH)
1240 W. Sims Way #59, Port Townsend, Washington 98368 USA

Toilet availability is a human right and well-designed sanitation systems restore health to our cities, our waters and our soils.
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Re: Innovations and Private Sector: Can They Solve the Sanitation Problem?

This has been a very interesting discussion, and I learnt a lot. It would be nice to have a summary of it, if someone wants to take on that task. :whistle:

Cecile, I wanted to ask you about what you said here:

In the country I am working in now, communities want proper sanitation and are ready to pay for it. There is money, but the capacity of the private sector to build proper infrastructure is relatively low, and there is poor political awareness and vision.

You're talking about Egypt, right? Would you say that lack of innovation is an issue there or would you say innovation is not really needed, neither is more private sector engagement but rather more political will and good governance?

Just as another input into the discussion, I wanted to mention this TedX talk of Brian Arborgast that was advertised on Sanitation Updates today:


Brian Arbogast is the Gates Foundation’s Director of Water, Sanitation & Hygiene Team Global Development Program. He is working on a technology that could lead to the greatest improvements in health and longevity in the developing world. That life-changing technology? The toilet. As part of the Gates Foundation’s efforts to bring groundbreaking innovations in sanitation to the developing world, he’ll share exciting new designs, some already in use, helping to reduce cholera, typhoid, and more. A toilet that needs no water, no plumbing, and creates an end product that can be used in gardens? It is closer to reality than you think.


I hear what Kris said about the Reinvented Toilet Challenge in this thread above:

I guess I speak for many when I say the "reinvent the toilet" drive has been a big disappointment so far. Not that there aren't cool projects among them, but nearly all of them seem so far removed from the daily realities of the people those sanitation problems are meant to be addressed...

It is for sure sometimes hard to imagine some of these new technologies being used in practice by those who're currently doing open defecation or living in slums.
E.g. I struggle a bit with the ones proposed under the Reinvent the Toilet China program:
forum.susana.org/forum/categories/105-pr...d-update-on-progress

Then again, looking beyond the purely technology innovations, there have been lots of other innovations in the area of management, behavior change, evidence collection etc. that's come out of many of the Gates funded sanitation projects, from the schemes other than the Reinvent the Toilet scheme (see here for an overview:
www.susana.org/en/resources/projects?vbl...&vbl_22%5B612%5D=612 )

When it comes to TedTalks, mainstream media and news coverage in the West, it is however the toilet technology innovations that capture the minds of people, so no wonder they get more "airtime" than other innovations, such as a the simple SaTo pan (which seems to be a very simple and yet very succesful innovation, also funded by the BMGF):
www.susana.org/en/resources/projects?search=sato

Regards,
Elisabeth

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  • cecile
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Re: Innovations and Private Sector: Can They Solve the Sanitation Problem?

Dear Elizabeth,

Yes I am talking about Egypt.
By lack of innovation I mean "business as usual", no quality assurance and poor maintenance.
There is a very interesting report about small scale sanitation systems in Egypt written by Philippe Reymond from eawag here : www.eawag.ch/en/department/sandec/projec...tainable-sanitation/
The very good thing about this report is that it gives an understanding from inside.
About the hindrances to innovation here is what he says:
"1. Business as usual: consultants tend to minimise their efforts and produce the
expected outcomes in the shortest time possible. There is also a tendency to
recycle designs from the 70s or the 80s, without taking into consideration the
technical improvements and scientific advances made since then.
2. There is no “learning culture” and constructive criticism,.i.e. consultants are not
encouraged to improve from one project to the next. Moreover, there is a
tendency to privilege relationships (“habibee economy” ‐ see §3.4.6) over
quality of work.
3. Local culture tends to be very hierarchical and based on seniority; there is little
room for the younger generation to design and implemented systems according
to the most recent state of the art.
4. The legal and regulatory framework, especially the Codes of Practice, tend to
discourage consultants and contractors to be innovative."


The political will and governance have an impact on the private sector's capacity to innovate and undertake good quality work:
- Instead of encouraging the private sector to inovate and find (smart and even cost effective) solutions (which some of them did), the contractors are blamed or even charged penalties whenever things do not go exactly as planned (i.e. topgography, number of houses, etc. normal construction issues)... So contractors just stop building and wait for a solution or do bad work...
- There is a strong suspicion against individual sanitation which is a solution that is despised in Egypt, hence all the houses that cannot be reached with pipes are just left out.

These just a few examples amongts others...

Best regards,

Cécile

Cécile Laborderie
MAKATI Environnement
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Re: Innovations and Private Sector: Can They Solve the Sanitation Problem?

Cecile, thank you for being so specific in siting the example about the individual sanitation taboo in Egypt. It gives me a heads up that I've got to factor in culture, and give more than a cursory education about its impact, for a Chapter on sanitation for novices.

Diane M. Kellogg
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Re: Innovations and Private Sector: Can They Solve the Sanitation Problem?

Dear Diane, and others,

The end users / population of a country is very important to include in any market overview.

I have been thinking about a schematic for sanitation markets for some time now, but have not found time to work it out in more detail. I am thinking of a triangle, with the corners being defined as: Population, Government and Private sector. I see the NGO sector as "mobile," they can dock to any of the other 3 players. It will depend on their size, working style, etc. who they decide to work with. For example, a large INGO may work with government agencies, or may subcontract to local NGOs who will work with the population. Alternatively, a smaller NGO may work with the private sector and the population in a small geographic area to improve toilet coverage.

I think a model like this, could help us identify what what key driver, or hindrances, are for each actor. For example, for the population, it will be something like aspirations (including cultural preferences)Versus ability to pay. The government could influence their aspirations in several ways -coercion through enforcing laws, or motivation through advertising.

I think working out a schema like this would help to identify where WASH interventions can make a difference.

Regards

Marijn

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Re: Innovations and Private Sector: Can They Solve the Sanitation Problem?

Excellent post Florian. I totally subscribe to your way of thinking. Private sector can only do so much in providing goods and services to improve access to sanitation. The rest is for government. For example in Southern Africa particularly in Malawi a lot of funding from international donors and financial institutions has been channelled towards the promotion and implementation of these innovative approaches for both products (technology) and services (marketing, management, etc). A lot of progress in acceleration of sanitation provision has been made through these interventions of cause. However, soon after the projects end, the progress diminishes and it's back to where we started from. Why? My thinking is that there is no proper strategy for exit and if an exit strategy exists, it is not feasible.
The new thinking that sanitation challenges can best be solved using locally developed solutions is a great innovation. What this means for the sanitation sector is that local communities (citizens and entrepreneurs) work together to develop their sanitation sector. This makes a lot of sense because it is a drive towards empowerment of local communities, development of innovations that are context specific, appropriate and therefore meet the needs of the community. Private sector involvement presents the opportunity to meet the financing gap and to ensure sustainable sanitation.
However, the golden rule for a meaningful and guaranteed involvement of private sector is "full cost recovery".
The challenge now is how to recover the full costs from the poor and more so from a state which has more than 50% of the population leaving in poverty? At this point, self provision by households and government subsidy fall off the equation and full cost recovery becomes not feasible. This has implications for the exit strategy? Someone has to take over the financing gap which has been left by the project funding to ensure sustainability.
To a certain extent, the externalities of poor sanitation provision are known and the greater proportion of the resultant health and welfare burden is borne by the poor. In view of that, governments and external funding agencies are justified to continue with these efforts even when they are aware that the solutions may not be sustainable.
In my opinion the solution lies in creating healthy economies and functional governments to ensure a better world for the poor but how the can that be achieved?

Nikita
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