Sub-Saharan Africa has 52 countries, all of which have large swaths of their population’s using toilets that encourage disease, or worse, relying on open defecation as the only way to dispose of waste. With 1.094 billion people on the continent, there is plenty of room for improvement. Here are 10 facts about sanitation in Africa.
10 Facts About Sanitation in Africa
- Socioeconomic Status: sub-Saharan Africa’s sanitation issues correlate with an individual’s socioeconomic status. Essentially, the poorest individuals are 18 times more likely to practice open defecation, which amounted to over 220 million people in 2015.
- Improved Sanitation in Uganda: In Uganda, 45 percent of the rural population and 27 percent of the urban population need to walk over 1 km to access an improved sanitation facility. Improved sanitation facilities include “flush or pour-flush to a piped sewer system, septic tank, pit latrine; ventilated improved pit (VIP) latrine, pit latrine with slab, [or] composting toilet.”
- The Millenium Development Goal (MDG) for Sanitation: Western Africa, Eastern Africa, Southern Africa and Central Africa were not on track to meet the Millennium Development Goal for sanitation in 2008. In fact, out of 52 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, only one allocated 0.5 percent of its GDP to sanitation measures. Budgets have 0.5 percent as the minimum for sanitation. Goal 7 of the Millennium Development Goals was to ensure environmental sustainability, and that included climate change aspects in conjunction with improved drinking water access and improved sanitation access. When looking at the sustainable development goals, out of the 52 counties, the vast majority are reaching stagnation. Reaching goal 6, which is for clean water and sanitation, will require internal mobilization and increased funding from external sources to meet the 2030 deadline.
- Return on Sanitation: When governments allocate funding for improved sanitation options, it tends to be lower than necessary because they do not consider it an economic venture that will have a monetary return. This is especially the case for developing countries because they often want as much money as possible for investments to receive large returns and get the most value from their dollars. The World Health Organization estimates that the return on sanitation spending is 550 percent or in other words, $5.50 for every $1 that a government invests in improved sanitation methods in Africa.
- The Loowatt Toilet: Loowatt provides a toilet made of horse dung that is perfect for use in developing countries. It is a waterless system, which is fantastic for drought-stricken countries and regions. Additionally, it turns human waste into energy biofuel at a reliable rate if people use it regularly. The best part is that it has a low cost of 12 Euros as a deposit and a 3 Euro monthly service fee. In the country of Madagascar, it went beyond proof of concept, and the company was maintaining over 100 toilets that serviced over 800 people in 2017. Since then, over 100,000 customers in both the U.K. and Madagascar have used Loowatt toilets.
- South Africa: South Africa determined that access to water is a right in 2002 and it set the supply to 25 l/c/d or 6 kiloliters per connection a month. However, South Africa has just recently made the transition from supply to sanitation access. For both rural and urban sanitation, over 50 percent of the annual and per capita investment requirements are unavailable due to a lack of ability to provide the full $1.218 billion the country requires.
- Ghana and Open Defecation: No district in Ghana has a 0 percent open defecation status, and three out of 10 rural households practiced open defecation. Over 81 percent of the Ghanaian population lack access to improved sanitation. Organizations are trying to bridge the gap between the people who cannot pay upfront to build the improved sanitation facilities by providing WaterCredit. WaterCredit is essentially a way for the poor to get water and sanitation loans. Currently, Water.org has facilitated $2.4 million through its partners in microloans for water and sanitation purposes in Ghana.
- Peepoo: With the creation of the Peepoo, those with communicable toilets can access safe sanitation and prevent others from getting the disease they may be infected with. Peepoo is a biodegradable bag that sanitizes human feces and allows it to become fertilizer in about a month. It attacks the problem of sanitization at the source by giving an alternative to open defecation that does not require a sizable investment to build a toilet. Peepoo sales have mainly occurred in Kenya, where the company continues to do research and build the foundation for easier use. A study that Peepoo conducted with a grant examined 37 schools with about 6,500 students to determine the effectiveness of Peepoo sanitation and deworming, both independently and combined. The results in 2016 included improved attendance and overall improved health due to the reduction in diarrheal diseases in the school children.
- Open Defecation in Urban Areas: The number of those practicing open defecation is increasing in urban areas due to the rapid size increase of the overall area, without proper permits for building or a focus on providing latrines and washrooms. Additionally, including cost as a factor, urban slums are sometimes cheap and an affordable option for the poorest individuals. In particular, open defecation in the Kampala Slum is at about 28 percent while estimates determine that 1 percent of Uganda’s urban population openly defecates.
- The Leave No One Behind Pledge: The Sustainable Development Goals emerged to replace the Millennium Development Goals, and goal 6 of providing clean water and sanitation aims to “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.” These goals also focus on helping those furthest behind first through the Leave No One Behind pledge. The pledge itself is a way to ensure that those facing the worst of poverty end up at the forefront of progress by confronting the inequalities as a method of reducing the number of individuals living in extreme poverty. This pledge is an overarching goal for all of the sustainable development goals and encompasses the fact that those worst off should be a primary focus in order to achieve the goal at hand. Even with this pledge, it is likely that about 60 percent of the countries will not reach the target of full implementation by 2030. However, Uganda is a leading example of the potential countries that may achieve goal 6, thanks to its national development plan which includes policy in line with the sustainable development goals but with adaptations to reflect cultural and national contexts.
Sanitation in Africa, specifically Sub-Saharan Africa, is still vastly below the goals, although the continent is making progress. With the continuing improvements and government’s investments into sanitation, African nations could see increased levels of productivity and return on their investments. Northern Africa had met the Millennium Development Goals and continues to increase its standard of sanitation. As the world progresses towards 2030, it can expect to see dramatic sanitation improvements after the completion of thorough research regarding the investments and implementation of sanitation techniques.
– Cassiday Moriarity