November 19 is World Toilet Day. Yes, you got me right, a day set aside by United Nations (UN) to commemorate the importance of a toilet in our lives.
Take a moment and reflect what would happen if we just ate our food without responding to the call of nature. When nature calls, we naturally and willingly respond by going to the toilet. Infact, we do this almost every day. Just like availability of nutritious food at a household, having a beautiful toilet does not only enhance one’s status, but also ensures a healthy lifestyle.
The UN estimates that 4.8 billion people worldwide lack basic sanitation. It is a known fact that poor sanitation is linked to transmission of diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid and polio. A study conducted by World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2012 estimates that for every dollar invested in sanitation, there was a return of $ 5.50 (about K4 000) in lower health costs, more productivity and fewer premature deaths. The 2018 Malawi Sanitation Policy (2018) describes basic sanitation as a latrine with at least a superstructure for privacy and an impermeable floor on the pit.
With the fast-growing population in the peri-urban and unplanned settlements within the major cities of Malawi, the need for decent permanent latrines cannot be overemphasized. Scarcity of land coupled with escalating cost of materials for constructing new latrines when the old fill up is seriously contributing to deterioration of sanitation standards in peri-urban areas of cities.
I have seen my relatives in one of the densely populated and unplanned areas within Blantyre City despising the very toilet that they go to when nature calls. The pungent smell from their pit latrine is unbearable. The sight of their pit latrine which is almost full to the brim is obnoxious and hard to imagine. When nature calls, they have no choice but to go back and enter the very toilet they despise.
I have observed numerous similar situations throughout Malawi, both in urban and rural areas. Yet, most people have little or no interest in investing their resources and effort to where nature directs them every day. At this point one is led to ask some hard questions: Who is responsible for ensuring that a basic sanitation need (toilet) is available and sustained at a household? Is it the government, the private sector, non-governmental organisations or the owner of the house?
While several sanitation sector experts and technical institutions will perceive and respond differently to the aforesaid asks, Water for People strongly advocates for market-based systems approach in sanitation service provision along the entire sanitation value chain; from capture, collection, transportation, disposal, treatment to recycle of feacal sludge. Opening up of the sanitation sector to the business world may seem to be unorthodox approach in the sector, but it provides greater opportunities for customers to demand and negotiate for affordable prices on an array of desired sanitation services and products. For example, customers can choose to pay for latrines which are permanent, emptiable and re-usable at a negotiated affordable cost.
On the other hand, market-based approach provides an equivalent opportunity for entrepreneurs to understand customers’ sanitation needs and respond appropriately. Desire by entrepreneurs to make profit ensures that sanitation services and products remain available forever for customers to access.
Water for People’s support to the whole ecosystem of the sanitation industry in Blantyre has enabled sanitation businesses (especially latrine construction and feacal sludge emptying from pit latrines and septic tanks) to thrive, which has eased the financial burden of Blantyre City Council on providing these essential services to its residents in peri-urban areas.
When nature calls, let us ensure that we respond with dignity because sanitation is dignity! n