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Water and Sanitation

Why a Market-Based Approach Could Be the Key to Solving the Sanitation Crisis

Photos: Courtesy of Andrew Esiebo

A lack of basic sanitation continues to undermine efforts to end extreme poverty and disease in the world’s poorest countries. The answer, it seems, lies not in charity, but in market-based approaches. This type of approach is increasingly being adopted by sector veterans such as WaterAid, a global organization committed to bringing clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene to everyone within a generation.

When it comes to access to toilets, Nigeria faces some of the biggest challenges in the world. 71 percent of the population lives without improved sanitation facilities. One in four Nigerians have no choice but to defecate in the open.

Trying a new approach

Despite these statistics, innovative, market-based approaches are accelerating progress toward achieving sustainable sanitation in Nigeria and across the globe. Part behavioral science and part economics, the emerging field of sanitation marketing is redefining the way WaterAid approaches the lack of toilets and its crippling effects in Nigeria. It’s becoming clear that delivering proper sanitation isn’t just the right thing to do, it has huge economic implications as well.

With support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and corporate partner American Standard, WaterAid developed a new sanitation product: the Water Easy Toilet. The toilet is durable, affordable, readily available and easily installed by local masons and other businesses. The idea is to put an end to open defecation while also stimulating economic growth and job creation.

The best way to reach people

But first, people must be motivated to buy toilets. “This is a problem in Nigeria,” says Nneka Akwunwa, WaterAid’s sanitation marketing manager. “We have many beliefs that are hampering progress. Some people who can afford improved latrines will not purchase one because they do not see any immediate benefit.”

LOOKING FORWARD: Businesses are already beginning to see the benefits of stocking and installing toilets for their customers after a rise in demand.

Typically, campaigns against open defecation use disgust as a motivating factor. But a study conducted by WaterAid showed that in Nigeria, pride was a bigger driver of adopting improved sanitation practices and technologies. Armed with this market insight, WaterAid set out to develop promotional materials that would encourage people to adopt crucial hygienic behaviors and purchase the Water Easy Toilet for their homes.

Seeing results in Nigeria

Marketing materials using pride as a motivator for sanitation are producing the expected results. “Customers can easily relate to the faces in the pictures and they love the promo materials,” Akwunwa says.

Now that demand has increased, business owners are beginning to see the benefit in stocking and installing toilets for customers. Emeka Odugu, 41, is the chief executive of Kenechukwu Block Industry in Enugu State Nigeria, a company that manufactures construction materials. After receiving training from WaterAid, his business now converts traditional pit latrines into Water Easy Toilets.

 “As a business man, I am happy about the profit I’m able to make,” says Odugu. “And as a community member, I have a good, safe and affordable toilet to use.”

Sarina Prabasi, CEO, WaterAid, [email protected]

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