Regulating sanitation services as a public good


This blog is part of a series for World Toilet Day highlighting issues within the WHO-UNICEF State of the World’s Sanitation report. The topic of sanitation regulation is also covered in ‘Catalysing Citywide Sanitation For All Through Regulating Service Providers’ by IWA’s Regulation for Citywide Inclusive Sanitation initiative’s advisory and taskforce members – Yvonne Magawa (ESAWAS), Diego Polania (CRA), and Gustavo Saltiel (World Bank).

For too long sanitation, specifically on-site sanitation systems such as septic tanks and pit latrines, have been left in the realm of household responsibility.

The scant investments available for urban sanitation gravitate towards sewered infrastructure, reaching small proportions of large urban areas, primarily wealthier populations. Urban populations continue to grow rapidly, often in dense settlements with limited basic public services or infrastructure. Particularly for sanitation, households are forced to make do, covering the costs of basic access for themselves. The very nature of safe sanitation, however, means that the decisions and priorities of individuals are largely decoupled from what would be required to protect public health, the environment, and reach the poorest. Services for safely containing, emptying, transporting and treating human waste, and preventing pits and septic tanks from contaminating groundwater and open drains are needed, but without regulation, investments will not prioritize public health outcomes.

This situation is both unfair to the households and ineffective in achieving a primary purpose of sanitation: protecting public health. Sanitation is fundamentally a public good. Individuals’ decisions maximize their own best interest – they do not necessarily serve the best interests of society at large.

Investments in sanitation need to be planned, regulated and financed to align the priorities of individual households with those of service providers. This alignment is required to address the broader social goals of public health protection, cleaner environments, and stronger economies. Among the countries that have made extraordinary gains in a generation, a common factor among them has been strong political leadership that clarified public goals, gave clear mandates to the responsible authorities to achieve those goals, regulated authorities’ delivery of services, and mobilized the corresponding investments needed.

Where utilities manage sewers, generally those utilities have a defined, public service-oriented mandate, performance accountability, and financing strategies. Over two thirds of countries have environmental standards for wastewater treatment.

Full Article

~sWHO, 19 November 2020