Debunking Urban Sanitation Myths
Around the globe, an estimated 4.5 billion people lack access to safely managed sanitation (UNICEF, 2018); meaning human waste goes untreated with the potential to contaminate precious water resources and the environment. The magnitude of the sanitation crisis is extreme and exposure to untreated and poorly managed waste can have a devastating impact on public health and the environment. In Haiti, a country where just 1% of all waste is safely treated, the lack of access to safely managed sanitation means far too many people die of preventable waterborne disease. Every day SOIL works to address the urgent necessity of dignified and reliable sanitation in the communities we serve. Yet, the sanitation crisis continues to plague vulnerable populations in Haiti, and the world at large. Sector experts and city managers around the globe have worked hard to support effective urban sanitation, often with limited success. To better understand the challenges and perceptions around the intractability of the crises, we explore some common and enduring myths around urban sanitation. Here are a few of those myths:
Myth 1: There is no demand for improvements where sanitation is poor or absent
Contrary to popular belief, there is latent demand for sanitation services even in the poorest areas. However, residents of these areas often feel “unable to affect change” and/or discouraged to openly express their demands due to various factors including “uninterested politicians, land tenure limitations, and technical challenges.”
Myth 2: Solving urban sanitation is all about toilets
Having access to a toilet, a latrine or sewer connection is only part of the solution. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) call for a full sanitation service chain which includes safely and sustainably transporting, treating and disposing/reusing human waste. SOIL’s full cycle solution does just that, while creating jobs, reducing inequalities, and improving livelihoods.
Myth 3: Sanitation produces waste that is a nuisance to be eliminated
For centuries, people have been using human waste as a precious commodity for soil fertilization around the world. SOIL’s work is helping to push the conversation around waste to resources for sustainable futures. Our organic compost, produced from safely treated human waste makes its way back to the soil to support critically needed biodiversity efforts.
Myth 4: Investing in urban sanitation is not productive
The holistic benefits of investing in sanitation are often overlooked and undervalued. However, according to the World Health Organization, for every dollar invested in water and sanitation, there is a US$4.3 return due to reduced health care costs and greater individual economic productivity. Sanitation investments provide demonstrated health, economic, social and environmental benefits that are essential to turn cities into vibrant economic centers.
Myth 5: Poor people are not willing to pay for sanitation services
Our work in Haiti proves that even the world’s most vulnerable populations are willing to pay for sanitation. Not only are poor people willing to pay for sanitation services, the demand is such that people will even pay when they receive substandard services. This myth can be especially dangerous because it suggests that poor people do not value sanitation services, and therefore they must not want service. It is critical to dispel this notion in order to create a more inclusive approach to urban sanitation.
If we are serious about tackling the global sanitation crisis and improving access to sanitation around the world, we must first fully breakdown and comprehend the issues and challenges at hand: perceived needs versus real needs. This includes understanding and debunking myths that can be detrimental to investment, implementation and success. You can read more about urban sanitation myths here.