Subsidizing household connections from poor households to sewerage


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  • jonpar
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  • As part of the Engineering team, my role at IMC is to lead on the delivery of projects requiring specific expertise on urban sanitation (including excreta/waste/wastewater/stormwater management) focusing on technical, institutional and financial aspects in project design and implementation.
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Subsidizing household connections from poor households to sewerage

Dear all,

The issue of whether to subsidizing household connections from poor households to sewerage is a "hot potato" in the sector and alot of different approaches / lack of consistency between different projects.

Some projects provide no subsidy and expect households to pay for the connection - this often leads to a poor connection rate because people don't want to pay the connection fee and the ongoing sewerage charge. Other projects fully subsidize the connection.

It is questionable whether the sewerage network should be constructed in the first place if there is insufficient demand... but it is not always as clear cut as this because there may be demand from a proportion of households but lower income households can't afford to pay.

What experiences do you have to share ? Does anyone know of any systematic assessment of experiences / lessons learnt that can help in project design?

best regards,

Dr. Jonathan Parkinson
Principal Consultant – Water and Sanitation
IMC Worldwide Ltd, Redhill, United Kingdom
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Skype : jonathanparkinson1
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  • christoph
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  • Sanitary engineer with base in Brazil and Peru, doing consultancy in other countries of LA
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Re: Subsidizing household connections from poor households to sewerage

Dear Jonathan,
We went in one year in Bolivia in a Project from 21% connected to 63% (see table). This were 3 small towns where the sewer was implanted but the people did not connect.

What was our way?
  • Mapping the main actors in the process.
  • We analayzed the real and apparent reasons for not connecting (as in the first survey everybody wanted to have a connection)
  • We identified the restrictions to overcome.
  • We accompanied the process closely.
We found strong differences between the apparent and real reasons.
From the side of the sanitation utility.
  • Billing was more important than real connection
  • Making effective a connection is a conflictive action and it is street work.
From the side of the authorities:
  • When I (authority) offer the possibility to connect it is sufficient to say “I did it”. If the people use it or not does not bring votes.
The restrictions for connection we analyzed by a 100% survey of the non connected users.
Easy to see that there where strong differences in between the towns in terms of sanitation use.

The result is that these people not only have to pay the connection, but as well the total infrastructure for a bath, 36% to 65% need a complete sanitary installation.
We asked “why did you not do the connection”.

So the real problem for many was the high investment for a bath room not the connection itself.

Furthermore the survey identified a good number of “possible” connections where there were no houses or abandoned houses.
We saw VERY clearly that it was not a lack of sanitation education.
We identified 3 groups of users:
  1. The user with sufficient economic background - we just organized notifications and follow up to enhance connection rate
  2. The user with economic limitations but his own installations – we organized an installment plan linked to the water bill.
  3. The extreme poverty (not)user without any installations and no economic possibilities. WE organized a municipal support program for the construction of minimal bathrooms.

For the cases 1 and 2 it was very helpful that the bolivian regulation allows to bill a user who has the possibility to connect itself, even if he is not connected physically.

I hope these experiences help a bit.

In my opinion these towns could have had perfect UDDT –bathrooms (see picture - sorry for the size did not know how to make it smaller :( ),

financed with the money which was spend for the sewer and treatment. Probably cheaper for the donor as well as for the user and for the sanitation utility.
Accompanied by a recollection service by the sanitation utility this would have been the perfect sanitation solution for everybody, as the poorest still lack sanitation in these towns.

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  • JKMakowka
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Re: Subsidizing household connections from poor households to sewerage

Thanks for this very informative post Christoph! At first I was a bit confused that utilities saw billig as more important than actual connection, until I read further down that the law allows for billing potential users. A strange concept at first, but one that gives a strong incentive for connecting to the customer.

The second point that promoting UDDTs makes perfect sense where people do not have water based wash-rooms yet is also important, however I am unsure if the water & sanitation utility would be really the best organisation to pick up the servicing of UDDTs. In these cases there is often a strong correlation to inadequate solid-waste services, which in my opinion are the much more natural point of entry for UDDT emtying services etc... although of course in the European (German?) setting the solid-waste and water&sanitation municipal utilities are usually the same.

Maybe this is the strongest advantage of UDDTs from a user point of view (i.e. one that does care much about the fertilizer by-products): A UDDT can offer a "sewered bathroom" like experience in a non-sewered situation.
Which is probably also why the latrine like UDDTs (as usually build by NGOs) fail to attract any considerable uptake outside of areas where the reuse is seen as important.

Your type of design, maybe improved with the "dry-flush-screw" design showcased elsewhere in this forum ( ), is probably the only UDDT design poeple will start constructing with their own funds.
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  • hajo
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  • retired in Germany... but still interested in water and sanitation... especially in OSS... and especially in Africa...
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Re: Subsidizing household connections from poor households to sewerage

‘So the real problem for many was the high investment for a bath room not the connection itself.’
‘Probably cheaper for the donor as well as for the user and for the sanitation utility.

It was these two statements in your (Christoph) contribution which lured me out of only lurking through the forum… to add my two pennies worth working in Africa:

1. I would not be sure whether I can believe the economic reasons given for not having a sewer connection because people may not want to admit that they are not interested (like they cannot admit that they ‘do not know’ something);
2. Sanitation has a very low priority in Africa (as opposed to water or mobile phone or ...), the immediate need as for water is not obvious because the health aspects always quoted by professionals are not ‘visible/tangible’ to the average person; people always complain about poor water supply, low pressure, rationing, even about water quality but rarely about a poor sanitation situation (which is comparable even worse than the WS);
3. And therefore the respondent may prefer to give economic reasons rather than stating ‘non-interest’ and risk being lectured by you/the project about the (health) advantages of safe sanitation.

With regard to the second statement:
1. As described before I do not believe that ‘cheaper’ is an argument for the user as he is basically not interested in sanitation no matter what it costs, he does not see/believe in the health advantages and it is no status symbol for him (yet, here I see a possible driver to spark interest in improved sanitation) to have a ‘nice’ toilet’ (like to have a mobile phone);
2. Sanitation utilities, local authorities, national policies in Tanzania (and possibly elsewhere in Africa) are not interested in on-site sanitation (pit latrines, VIP, UDDT, septic tanks). Official policy is that construction and O&M of these systems are households’ responsibility. Public services only include sewers and WWTPs and although only 1% of Tanzanian population is currently served by sewers they believe to increase this considerably in a short time. This has possibly three reasons: i) technical training only comprises sewers and WWTP; ii) socially sewers have a ‘flair’ of development as opposed to ‘backwards’ VIP and UDDTs being considered as pit latrines; and iii) construction of sewers guarantees much more money flow with associated ‘side effects’.
3. And two of these reasons also apply to donor/funding agencies: i) their (management) consultants may have less knowledge and interest in sustainable on-site sanitation; ii) the administrative overhead costs of ‘cheaper’ projects are comparably too high; and iii) it may be questionable whether donors really want ‘cheaper’ projects as long as a good percentage of the more expensive project supports their home economy (40 to 60% of a 15 millEUR project serving 20% of a town population with sewers may flow back while only 10-20% of a 8millEUR project serving 60% of the town population with on-site sanitation services).

Thus I think that currently neither user, donor nor sanitation authorities have an interest in ‘cheaper’ solutions. The question to us is what are possible drivers for these stakeholders to support sustainable sanitation which can be up-scaled nationwide? And how can we start influencing donors and national policies in that direction? Can/should SUSANA become also a political (sanitation) force, something like Avaaz, Foodwatch or Attac which I feel we need (and possibly not only for sustainable sanitation but for development cooperation overall)?

We have to find ways not only trying to develop alternative sustainable sanitation systems (to which this forum and its participants contribute tremendously) but we must also try convincing the public, the politics and the financiers that sewers and WWTPs are NOT a feasible/affordable/sustainable solution for the majority of areas/population in the developing world and

that -per se- it makes not much sense to use drinking water to flush shit and with the flush increase the contaminated mass hundredfold from 300ml (faeces) to 30 litres black water (2-3 flushes per day); a much bigger mass which needs to be safeguarded from human contact, be transported, treated and disposed off.

Ciao, Hajo
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