Women in Sanitation: Interview with Froggi VanRiper

Froggi VanRiper alongside churn study research team

As a sustainable sanitation organization working in low-resource contexts, we rely on research and technological innovations to make our service as efficient as possible with the resources available. Providing sanitation in Cap-Haitien is incredibly challenging, and we respond to these challenges through research/innovation with the objective of making our service more inclusive and efficient. In addition to our incredible SOIL team, our Board of Directors and our newly founded Advisory Board, SOIL’s work has also been strategically informed by a global cohort of extremely passionate research partners. SOIL recently had the opportunity to speak with one such partner-researcher, Dr. Froggi VanRiper, to learn more about what drives her work in the sanitation sector and how she connected with SOIL.

VanRiper pursued her passion for development and science through her education, receiving her Master’s degree in Sustainable Development, and a Ph.D. in Environmental Science with a focus in Humanitarian Engineering from Oregon State University. While she was studying for her masters at Linköping University in Sweden, she encountered a urine diverting toilet for the first time and she was so fascinated that she built one of her own upon returning to the United States; and the rest is history!  

Throughout her doctorate, VanRiper’s research centered around a variety of sanitation-related topics including how sanitation can improve human rights, the viability of container-based sanitation where she worked closely with members of the Container-Based Sanitation Alliance (CBSA), and more. We spoke with Froggi about some of the key findings of her publication, The sanitation arc: An alternative examination of WASH behavior change, which used data from SOIL’s EkoLakay service and users, and she had some great insight to share with us.

Froggi and churn study researchers

The study was based on interviews with 383 active subscribers and 308 former subscribers, and it tracks household sanitation access at four points in time: prior to joining the service, during the subscription period, immediately upon leaving the service, and at the time of interview. This is the first study to utilize the term “sanitation arc,” which describes household movement up and down the sanitation ladder. According to Froggi, there is a belief that movement on the sanitation ladder is always upward, but the study revealed that there is downward movement as well. Various factors affect that movement, such as economic stability, resource constraints and housing instability (such as death of a family member) etc. Ensuring that these factors don’t cause a family to lose access to this service is one way to stop the up and down movement on the sanitation ladder.

According to Froggi, adoption of improved sanitation (privately owned latrine, flush toilet or dry toilet) was the goal of every household that participated in this study. The study found that the barriers to achieving this goal were fundamentally economic and location based. The participants really wanted a toilet, especially a private one, but the barriers in place made it difficult.

“At the moment, I think CBS is absolutely the most appropriate sanitation solution for vulnerable areas like urban Haiti. I haven’t seen other technologies and systems that can achieve what CBS can in these environments. It is appropriate to both the physical and economic environments.” -Froggi VanRiper  

The relationship between sanitation and poverty is well documented in the publication. Lack of resources such as access to sanitation, reinforces poverty. Sanitation also has a feedback loop with health. Lack of sanitation creates health concerns for the family and the environment, which may lead to missing work due to illness, making it difficult to climb out of poverty. Sanitation is the easiest of these factors to address and has the potential to greatly improve livelihoods.  

“With a very simple sanitation intervention like SOIL’s, you can interrupt the feedback loop that keeps a family from rising out of poverty”. -Froggi VanRiper  

Despite the numerous challenges to achieving inclusive access to sanitation around the world, this study shows that improved sanitation is not only desired, but appreciated. SOIL’s work in Haiti, using container-based sanitation, proves that providing access to safe and dignified sanitation can be done in even the most vulnerable areas. We are proud to be part of the sanitation revolution and encourage you all to join us. You can check VanRiper’s full publication here.        

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