Sanitation expert at UN meeting recommends governments promote not provide

23 April 2004

With some 2.4 billion people lacking access to basic sanitation, a World Bank expert has recommended using a "what people want" approach, giving governments the role of creating demand and enabling local industries to meet that demand, instead of providing the facilities themselves.

"It is silly to try to sell, or even give, things to people that they do not want and that is particularly true of sanitation and hygiene," World Bank Senior Water and Sanitation Specialist Peter Kolsky told the 12th session of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD-12) yesterday.

Governments with scarce resources could not afford to promote sanitation through large-scale supply of facilities, he said. After people in Maharashtra, India, used the new latrines as tool sheds and storerooms, the government embarked on the new approach, he said in citing one example.

Stressing comfort, cleanliness, dignity and aesthetics were good ways to sell sanitation, Mr. Kolsky said, and the government could create the right industrial environment through legislation, information campaigns and capacity building.

Because of the stigma associated with the public elimination of human waste in areas of poor sanitation, many Indian women were forced to defecate either at sunrise or at sunset, Indian sanitation expert Bindeshwar Pathak said. Nearly 700 million people defecated in the open in his country, he added.

His company had built some 6,000 pay toilets that provided privacy, security and dignity to women and were being used by nearly 10 million people per day, even though pay toilets had not been part of Indian culture, he said.

In addition, the company had installed 1.2 million eco-friendly compost flush toilets and had affixed biogas fixed dome digesters to community toilets to recycle waste products for agriculture and energy uses, he said.

 

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