Public-Private Partnerships to Meet the Sanitation Shortfall

Despite the best efforts of government, the private sector and civil society organizations, millions of people living in the informal settlements of Nairobi and other African cities remain underserved when it comes to sanitation. At Sanergy, we believe that one way to address this shortfall is through public-private partnerships (PPPs).

Sanergy co-founder David Auerbach presents on public-private partnerships in the sanitation sector at AfricaSan 4.

To this end, at AfricaSan 4 (the highest-level conference on sanitation in Africa), Sanergy hosted a panel session on how public-private collaboration can help realize the sanitation value chain. The session was divided into two parts: upstream issues (sanitation provision in informal settlements) and downstream issues (safe removal and re-use of waste collected from these toilets).

On the upstream side, David Auerbach, one of the co-founders of Sanergy, discussed an example of a pilot Sanergy is doing in schools in Kenya with partners at the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health, Care, Emory University and WASH United, among others. In this project, Sanergy is installing Fresh Life Toilets in 20 schools with external financing to meet the demand for sanitation. Early results show improvements in school attendance, cheaper capital costs for sanitation provision, and better standards of service. David proposed that such collaboration could be scaled up, for example with a private-sector provider meeting the needs of all schools in a settlement and being reimbursed a set amount per student per year.

This opened up discussion to some of the opportunities and challenges in collaboration between the private and public sectors. Dr Kepha Ombacho, Director of Public Health in Kenya’s Ministry of Health, emphasized the need for governments to accept that they cannot provide complete coverage and must collaborate with the private sector to address this gap. Karim Savadogo from SNV Burkina Faso, and Peter Hawkins from the World Bank’s Water & Sanitation Program, highlighted that regulation was necessary to lay down specifics of how both sectors must collaborate to ensure transparency. Raymond Ategbi Okrofu from Safi Sana, a sanitation company in Ghana, noted that while regulations exist, decentralization causes a situation where local governments are not empowered to enter into PPPs without federal government approval, resulting in long delays.

In her presentation on downstream issues, Kate Medlicott from the World Health Organization’s Water Sanitation & Health unit made a presentation calling for the public health sector to re-engage with sanitation and, within that, safe resource recovery and reuse (SRRR). The WHO launched a Sanitation Safety Planning Manual at AfricaSan, which provides guidance to this effect. Lars Schöbitz from Eawag referenced a study that looked at business models in SRRR, stating that the technical and financial feasibility of business solutions are low without government support and subsidies. Josiane Nikiema from the International Water Management Institute stressed the importance of collaboration between the public and private sectors on research on safety and efficiency measures in resource recovery.

The panelists agreed that governments must consider developing fiscal models to support and cross-subsidize private-sector actors in order to incentivize the provision of services to low-income and hard-to-reach communities. It was also noted that private-sector actors must collaborate with governments by sharing data on which areas are already being served, thereby assisting in targeting public investments where they are needed.

The panel also agreed that regulation for PPPs must enable collaboration and support innovation. Regulations should accommodate different toilet technologies on the upstream side and provide peace of mind to the community on by-products made from collected waste (such as fertilizer). Government should lead the development of these regulations, with input from the private sector as well as independent research bodies.

AfricaSan was an excellent opportunity to work with a diverse set of actors in the sanitation sector to consider the possibilities for PPPs. Sanergy will continue to explore PPP models and how to make them a reality.

This post was authored by Alex Marks and Subhadra Banda of Sanergy’s Policy & Advocacy Team.

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