Why We're Really Getting Into the Business of Toilets
Q: What did one toilet say to the other?
A: You look a bit flushed!
We all chuckle at good potty humor, and what better way to raise awareness about sanitation than to crack a joke? Jokes aside, the global sanitation crisis is no laughing matter. And it’s a crisis that is often overlooked because it’s not pretty.
For many of us, there is no shortage of toilets. Just walk to the nearest coffee shop and you can find a restroom with a clean toilet and running water. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for billions of people around the world. Consider this:
- Nearly 4.1 billion people in the world do not have access to a toilet or other hygienic sanitation facility
- 1.1 billion people still practice open defecation
- Diarrhea is the second leading cause of death among children under age five in the world
- More people have access to mobile phones than toilets
These are staggering statistics—but they’re completely preventable. We must change that. It’s time people join the movement—to give a shit about everyone who still lacks access to toilets. It’s time we think about innovative solutions that focus on sustainability so we can solve the sanitation crisis not temporarily but forever.
For years, nonprofits and governments have built toilets in developing countries and after time they no longer function. They fill up or break down and the family is again left without a hygienic sanitation facility. Or new families move to towns where toilet projects have been completed and they don't have a way to get access for themselves. We need to change that approach and find real solutions that last.
Water For People focuses on sanitation as a business. It’s a practical approach in which we find ways for the private sector to make money by establishing businesses that provide sanitation services. Entrepreneurs in developing countries are looking for business opportunities and realizing that there is a market for toilets and sanitation services. When entrepreneurs can create a business by providing sanitation services to paying customers, it’s a more sustainable model than simply building toilets across the developing world. These entrepreneurs can empty or service full toilets so that families are able to continue using them, and they can construct new toilets or latrines for new families who move to the area.
To support this market-based approach, we look toward creative business models like the use of ecological sanitation and the sale of compost, as well as innovative pit-emptying services in urban settings. We help the entrepreneurs get started with business training and skill development so that they can grow and maintain successful sanitation businesses.
Since Water For People initiated its Sanitation as a Business program, we have witnessed great examples of the program's impact. In Uganda, one entrepreneur raised equity of UGX 35million ($14,000) and purchased a 10-ton truck to expand his septic tank-emptying business. He now has two 10-ton trucks for toilet-emptying, thereby increasing the number of toilets that can be serviced, while also increasing his profitability. In Malawi, Water For People helped train sanitation entrepreneurs who then established businesses and invested their own equity to empty toilets and/or construct latrines. Business is picking up and more people have access to sanitation facilities. It’s a win-win with proven success.
Thinking Outside the Stall
While many organizations work to raise awareness about the critical sanitation crisis, Water For People is shifting the discussion so that rather than simply building more toilets in developing countries, NGOs and governments alike will embrace innovative market-based solutions that create sustainable sanitation services that last forever.
A version of this was originally published on the Water For People website. Did you know that more people have cell phones than toilets? Let's change that. Join our Give a Shit campaign on water and sanitation issues. Learn more about Water For People's Sanitation as a Business program.