Accelerating progress to safer sanitation practices

Poor hygiene comes with a heavy economic burden

In Summary

• Between 2000 and 2017, the number of people without access to a toilet in Sub-Saharan Africa increased by 212 million.

• For women and girls, open defecation can prove particularly dangerous.

A pit latrine in Kilifi
A pit latrine in Kilifi
Image: FILE

Between 2000 and 2017, the number of people without access to a toilet in Sub-Saharan Africa increased by 212 million, a result of how quickly the region’s population has expanded.

This number should be decreasing over time, not increasing. And yet, there are more people in the region now forced to defecate in public places or resort to solutions such as the ‘flying toilet’ — a plastic bag that is essentially thrown as far away as possible. For women and girls, open defecation can prove particularly dangerous.

Poor sanitation comes with a heavy economic burden, too. Back in 2016, poor sanitation in Africa was accountable for a loss of $US19.3 million (Sh1.93 billion). This is the salary people lose from being unable to work. Money spent by healthcare systems treating easily preventable diseases. The financial cost of losing a family’s primary provider. It all adds up.

With a long history making bathroom products, we have dedicated our expertise to tackle the sanitation crisis. Africa’s unique challenges require a unique solution. One that uses less water, can be installed without sewage systems, limits the spread of disease and that will last.

Importantly, we have focused on showing that while delivering social good is important, it must be self-sustaining.

We first introduced our SATO toilets in Rwanda seven years ago. Like any business, we have financial targets. But we also have social targets which centre of making, selling and distributing our products in the country we work in. Since launching, we have shipped 250,000 units to over 15 countries across the continent.

We understand that the key to success is ensuring we work closely with knowledgeable partners on the ground and tailor our approach to each different market.

One of our key partners is Unicef. Combining Unicef’s expertise in sanitation behaviour change with our expertise in affordable toilet solutions, we have initiated activities in Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia. Together, we are reaching out to the 92 per cent of the population across these countries that don’t have access to safe sanitation services.

In Tanzania, we are the only private player and, with Unicef, are supporting their nationwide sanitation campaign, “Nyumba Ni Choo” (“home is only complete with a good toilet”).

In Kenya, we are working with the USAID programme called Kenya Integrated Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (KIWASH). Together we have installed 10,000 SATO toilets and trained more than 1,800 local volunteers to install and maintain the SATO toilet.

In Ethiopia, we are working on analysing supply chains and ensuring a stronger sanitation economy all around. Working with Population Services International, a non-political organisation, the joint efforts have seen much success, especially in the Amhara region (Desse).

Despite this, we need to accelerate progress. Next year will be five years since the global development community launched the Sustainable Development Goals with the aim of “leaving no one behind”.

However, only one in five countries where open defecation is practised are on track to reach the goal of “near elimination” by 2030. Many are being left behind. Not only that, but the number of people being left behind is increasing.

We live in a world where advanced technology has developed ahead of fundamental services. Almost everyone is within reach of a mobile cellular network and yet over half of the world doesn’t have access to a safe toilet.

While 456 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa had a mobile connection in 2018, an estimated 344 million children did not have a functioning toilet at home.[1] This cannot continue.

At LIXIL, we’re committed to building on and expanding our work on the continent. At the Tokyo International Conference African Development this year, governments agreed that sanitation was a fundamental element of human capital development. We fully support the greater alignment of stakeholders and coherence on promoting universal health coverage, and we will continue to play our part with local partners in the sanitation field.

We call on new partners to join us in tackling this crisis.


Samuel Langat is the general manager for SATO