The ‘S word:’ Is it time for the sanitation sector to reconsider subsidies?

The ‘S word:’ Is it time for the sanitation sector to reconsider subsidies? Devex, September 2017.

STOCKHOLM — After nearly three decades of broad agreement that hardware subsidies alone do not work in the rural sanitation sector, the practice of using financial incentives to encourage people to build latrines appears to be making a comeback — causing old arguments to flare up again.

The debate over whether or not to use subsidies for sanitation has resurfaced in recent years as governments — as well as water, sanitation, and hygiene experts — grapple with how to deal with the world’s looming sanitation crisis.

Recent statistics reveal that 2.3 billion people do not have access to a decent toilet and many still defecate in the open. Furthermore, in some countries, levels of sanitation access are declining — and this trend is likely to continue as growing populations and increasing urbanization put new strain on the sector’s limited budget.

Experts agree that a radical rethink of how sanitation programs are financed and implemented is needed if the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals — which call for universal access to basic sanitation by 2030 — are to be met.

Read the complete article.

2 responses to “The ‘S word:’ Is it time for the sanitation sector to reconsider subsidies?

  1. Thank you Sophie for capturing key points of the recent “S-Word” debate. I was one of the pioneers of the no-subsidy approach in Lesotho in the early 1980s, well aware that we might still need to modify the approach for the ultra-poor and urbanizing areas. The Global Sanitation Fund also promoted no-subsidy in rural programmes in most client countries except India where a symbiotic approach with the government subsidy programme is being tried. The WSSCC produced a useful primer and resource on subsidy issues that was launched in Stockholm in 2009 (Public Funding for Sanitation – The many faces of sanitation subsidies; http://wsscc.org/resources-feed/public-funding-sanitation/). I have penned a few thoughts below.

    In rural areas we should concentrate our funding on promotion of behaviour changes – both short and long term. If quality of toilet or extreme poverty are issues we could consider household support and incentives in the form of an appropriate “reward” for building a toilet, e.g. an inexpensive washable fly-proof cover for the floor – on condition that such an approach is not donor dependent and will be financially sustainable for a generation.

    In urban areas sanitation practitioners must engage with those responsible for financing, building and operating municipal infrastructure. The aim is to have a municipal-wide strategy that manages the ever-changing boundary between sewered and non-sewered services and which provides a sustainable service on both sides of that boundary. Decisions on levels of service, together with financial and material support to households need to be made equitably. User fees should reflect O&M costs and paying for capital costs (especially for the “rich”), modified as necessary by individual subsidies (for the poor), cross-subsidies etc – on condition that the total municipal income is sufficient to meet total costs of the service, to ensure sustainable service delivery.

    At a national level (or in a sub-national region) the above approaches need to be supported by a coordinated effort to update municipal by-laws and their enforcement, to improve municipal planning and finance, plus sustained promotion of a hygienic lifestyle. Communal behaviour change targeted at sanitation and hygiene needs to be promoted through consistent messages from politicians, religious leaders, celebrities, soccer stars, health workers etc, both locally and using mass media. We must plan to continue this for a generation until our children expect to find and use, everywhere, a hygienic toilet and a means of washing hands with soap. Let us plan for a generation.

    Barry M Jackson, former Manager, Global Sanitation Fund

  2. Pingback: Comments from Barry Jackson on sanitation subsidies | Sanitation Updates

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