Upcoming SOIL and CBSA Study: Comparing Costs of Urban Sanitation Solutions

photo credit: Vic Hinterlang

With more than four billion people still lacking access to safe sanitation globally, we know that it’s going to take a multitude of innovative solutions to successfully tackle a crisis of this proportion. Citywide Inclusive Sanitation–the idea that a variety of alternatives to traditional sewer systems will be needed to “genuinely deliver universal coverage across whole urban areas” – has been gaining strong momentum in recent years.

This notion that a one-size-fits-all solution to the global sanitation crisis is not realistic means that municipalities need comparative data on all sanitation solutions so that they can make the best choices for expanding access to safe sanitation in their local context. But, for so long, this data has been inaccessible, incomplete, and challenging to compare. It is essential that decision makers can assess how the safety and cost of container-based toilets like SOIL’s compare to pit latrines or a flush toilets. These factors can vary dramatically in different contexts, though. For example, a flush toilet with a septic tank in a densely populated settlement in Cap-Haitien will have very different construction and operating costs than one in Nairobi, Kenya, just like the safety of a latrine in low-lying Antanaviro, Madagascar may differ dramatically from one built in mountainous Lima.

Comparing Container-Based Sanitation Costs

While SOIL and our Container-based Sanitation Alliance (CBSA) partners all ensure full safety through the full sanitation value-chain, it’s clear from the World Bank’s case study from 2018 that cost drivers vary considerably among CBSA providers. For that reason, the CBSA, the Stone Family Foundation and the Osprey Foundation commissioned a team of consultants from EY (formerly Ernst & Young) to gather data comparing each of the six CBSA members to sanitation alternatives in their contexts. In most cities, this turned out to be easier said than done. Why? When informal laborers are digging pits for latrines or emptying their contents and they aren’t keeping accounting of their costs, as is frequently the case, it makes comparisons challenging. SOIL’s analysis was further complicated by the fact that our friends at EY were unable to travel to Haiti to do the assessment in person as they had done for the other contexts. But the EY team persevered, reviewing mountains of literature, interviewing CBS service providers, and consulting government partners and other stakeholders.

Efficient, Safe, and Durable Solutions for Rapidly Growing Cities

In the end, the data has yielded some fascinating findings! As SOIL works to sustainably expand access to cost-effective, regenerative sanitation solutions for some of the world’s most under-resourced urban communities, the results from this research will provide critical information to our government and donor stakeholders. While the summary report has yet to be released, the SOIL Cap-Haitien case study showed that when comparing direct operating costs, SOIL’s service is the lowest-cost safe sanitation option, costing 13% less than pit latrines, 40% less than septic tanks, and 69% less than sewers per household basis per year. While this affordability is certainly worthy of celebration, it also doesn’t take into consideration the upfront capital expenditures needed to install a sewer system or assess the feasibility of providing uninterrupted safely managed sanitation access in a city with limited space, unreliable energy and water inputs, contested land tenure, and high water tables.

What’s Next

In addition to proving to be the most cost-effective safe sanitation intervention in Haiti, SOIL’s sanitation service also provides a myriad of other positive externalities: preserving water and energy resources, releasing less greenhouse gas emissions, sequestering carbon, increasing local food production, and creating dignified employment opportunities. SOIL’s revolutionary CBS solution has time and time again proven resilient to a high-risk environment, representing a significant breakthrough in the urban sanitation field and opening the potential of scaling rapidly in cities lacking sanitation services.

We’re looking forward to finalizing the case study for translation and sharing with Haiti’s water and sanitation authority, DINEPA, as well as local governments and other stakeholders. Once the full study is published, we’ll be sure to share it on SOIL’s resources page online and across social media @SOIL Haiti. Stay tuned!

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