Comments from Barry Jackson on sanitation subsidies

Many thanks to Barry Jackson for sharing his insights on sanitation subsidies – Dan Campbell, USAID Water CKM


Barry M Jackson commented on 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 …

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

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