How to ensure safe sanitation for all by 2030

Last November, 18th, the world celebrated the World Toilet Day whose theme was “When nature calls’’ — a metaphor which represents the call of nature that every person has to respond to defecation. The day is meant to encourage behaviour change and implementation of policies to increase access to sanitation, with an emphasis on ending open defecation.

After the horrific cholera epidemics of 1849 and 1854, Henry Moule, an English clergyman and other inventors, scientists and public health officials dedicated their lives to improving public sanitation. He invented dry earth toilets which together with other systems have come into widespread use across the world. Unfortunately, to date about, 2.3 billion people globally do not have access to improved sanitation — and of this, 892 million practice open defecation.

In Kenya, a paltry 30 per cent of the population has access to sanitation with 12 per cent, mostly in rural areas practising open defecation. Unfortunately, lack of toilets is directly linked to sanitation-related ailments, which claim an estimated 90 newborns daily. Annually, about 17,000 children under five die because of poor sanitation, majority (90 per cent) succumbing to diarrhea. In economic terms, it is estimated that Kenya loses 230 milliard euro annually because of poor sanitation.

Sanitation programmes

However, all is not doom and gloom because both National and County governments through sanitation programmes funded by donors have formulated a policy on open defecation in a project dubbed open defecation free (ODF) zones, 15 counties had by 2017 achieved 40 per cent ODF rates with the national average being 14 per cent.

National sanitation programmes have catalysed legislative action including adoption of critical policies. The Kenya Environmental Sanitation Hygiene policy, for instance aspires to achieve and sustain universal access to improved sanitation for all Kenyans by 2030.

Sanitation for all by 2030 calls for innovative interventions and models that disrupt the dominant inhibitors of access, majorly sanitation financing. That’s why in 2013, FINISH expanded to Kenya.

FINISH in Kenya

The FINISH programme started in 2 counties, Busia and Kilifi and from 2018 has started to expand to 6 more. In November 2015, Busia county set a precedence for other counties in the quest for an open defecation free country, a success that has been replicated in Siaya and Kitui counties.

Nowadays over 100,000 people have improved living conditions. Proven models such as FINISH that are anchored on sustainable financing leveraged on private funding should be replicated in all affected counties. This also calls for strengthened legal and regulatory environment for sanitation, to oversight and drive a national agenda.

Lastly, Kenya needs to harness political and religious championship to accelerate improved sanitation. For instance, India’s Swachh Bharat Mission led by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi aimed at ending open defecation by 2019, provides a valuable lesson for Kenya.

Martin Muchangi, Regional Programme Manager Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Amref Health Africa