Leaving no-one behind in moving up the sanitation ladder

Moving up the sanitation ladder is not easy for rural households in Rwanda. There are few available and attractive sanitation products and services that suit their needs. An improved latrine costs an average of US$ 48.99 and overall willingness to pay for

District sanitation centre

Moving up the sanitation ladder is not easy for rural households in Rwanda. There are few available and attractive sanitation products and services that suit their needs. An improved latrine costs an average of US$ 48.99 and overall willingness to pay for sanitation is low. In addition, natural disasters and heavy rains tend to demolish some household latrines, making it difficult for households to rebuild new latrines. Through the Isuku Iwacu [1] project, SNV explored the reach and impact of different instruments for consumer support, as well as sanitation market development in the Rwandan context. In this blog, we share some of the lessons we have learnt from this process.

On the sanitation market development side, the establishment of District Sanitation Centres as mandated by the Rwandan government, was the point of departure used by the project. Isuku Iwacu renovated and constructed eight District Sanitation Centres across the project’s eight districts,[2] but infrastructure is of course just a small part of the bigger picture.

Private entrepreneurs were selected (in consultation with districts) to run the centres based on personal interest to engage in the sanitation business. Through SNV, private entrepreneurs received training in running the business, financial management, promotion, and sales before entering into a five-year contractual agreement with the district. The centres offer a range of sanitation technology options, such as Sanplat, Satopan, Safi latrine, etc. at affordable prices. The centres also serve as sanitation training and demo sites for the community. To reach consumers at village level, the support of Community Hygiene Clubs (CHCs) – trained and equipped to carry out the Rwandan government’s Community Based Environmental Health Promotion Programme (CBEHPP) through the USAID Gikuriro project – was also sought. Currently, the CHCs are operating as sales agents on a small commission, linking customers in villages to the District Sanitation Centres – all of which are operational across the eight districts.

Benefits of project

Through Isuku Iwacu, more households now have access to a latrine

Toilet voucher example

An example of a household latrine set up by a toilet voucher system

On the consumer side, SNV explored different instruments, which included a voucher system, and the set-up of loan mechanisms and village savings groups.

The Isuku Iwacu project applied the voucher system in collaboration with local district authorities to provide access to sanitation facilities for households in Ubudehe 1 & 2 categories. Through the project, 11,371 vulnerable households gained access to basic sanitation facilities through this system. While voucher systems have shown potential to increase purchasing power of the lowest wealth quintiles (Ubudehe 1 and 2), and to accelerate the market, this effect was not fully realised in the project due to the timing of the instrument before development of the supply side.

Sanitation loans were implemented in partnership with financial institutions to facilitate sustainable access to financial products and services for households and small and medium enterprises. To this end, Isuku Iwacu successfully signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Association of Microfinance Institutions (AMIR). Through the MOU, Isuku Iwacu gained access to AMIR’s network of more than 300 Microfinance Institutions (MFIs). As this process consumed much time, only 433 households were able to access sanitation loans by the end of the project period. The experience showed that loans can be taken to scale among Ubudehe 3 and 4 households. Although these do not represent the poorest groups, their sanitation progress contributes to area-wide access.

In addition, the village savings groups, though a relatively slower pace instrument, helped enable households in the 2nd and 3rd wealth quintiles to access sanitation and hygiene services. Members gained access to small loans, without interest, which helped them upgrade their household toilets and handwashing stations through the Gikuriro programme.

Overall, our experience in exploring several instruments to heighten sanitation demand (for higher levels) taught us that rather than promoting one instrument over another, bringing together different instruments in one package for a carefully timed implementation over the course of the project is worth considering to develop the sanitation market. Further, having clear consumer profiles can feed into targeting and timing instruments better to promote area-wide sanitation and hygiene access that leaves no-one behind.

Written by: Getachew Tessema, WASH Sector Leader, SNV in Rwanda

Photo: (Banner) The inside of a district sanitation centre, showcasing different types of sanitation products to meet diverse consumer preferences

1 Between 2016-2020, USAID funded two large, complementary WASH programmes in Rwanda, which includes the Rwanda Rural Sanitation Activity (Isuku Iwacu) and the Integrated Nutrition and WASH Activities (Gikuriro). SNV managed in-country implementation of the Isuku Iwacu project, while in Gikuriro, SNV was a sub to CRS, and responsible for the programme’s WASH component.
2 Kayonza, Kicukiro, Ngoma, Nyabihu, Nyanza, Nyarugenge, Ruhango, Rwamagana