Engaging with the business community to innovate for safe sanitation for all

Creating opportunities for innovation at the Regional Sanitation Expo

HanChul Kim & Brooke Yamakoshi
Screenshot of opening remarks at the Regional Sanitation Expo in EAP
17 August 2021

“Safe sanitation for all is a significant investment, but the economic benefits of sanitation have been estimated at 5 times the cost. Improved sanitation also benefits businesses: it improves productivity, talent recruitment, and business climate, as well as increases consumer purchasing power and reduces water treatment costs.” said Karin Hulshof, Regional Director, UNICEF East Asia and Pacific.

The global pandemic has reminded the world that water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) is one of the most simple and cost-effective measures to beat infectious diseases like COVID-19. However, an estimated 215 million people across the Asia Pacific region still lack access to basic sanitation facilities, and further 39 million have no toilet at all, being forced to defecate in open public places. The consequences of poor sanitation are stark: illness, disease, indignity, violence, pollution, and costs to society, often with women and girls suffering the most from this deprivation.

Accelerating safe sanitation for all by 2030

With less than 10 years left until 2030, the rate at which sanitation coverage is increasing will need to quadruple if the world is to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal sanitation targets.

The good news is that business engagement has the capacity to accelerate change and achieve safe sanitation for all by 2030, for example by providing toilets and septic tank products, tank emptying services and product financing to support households in building toilets and septic tanks. In addition, the sanitation market has great potential to generate decent jobs and financial returns. A study commissioned by UNICEF in Indonesia found that the market size may exceed USD 5.3 billion over the next five years.

UNICEF EAPRO convened a virtual Regional Sanitation Expo during 23 – 25 June 2021, in collaboration with the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT), Siam Cement Group (SCG) and the Thai Chamber of Commerce, aimed at sharing innovative sanitation solutions and lessons from rapid progress in Thailand and other countries. The event brought together 200 sanitation practitioners from 80 organizations in 29 countries, including business, government, NGOs, and academia. The focus was on opportunities to develop innovative solutions for the poorest communities by working together as government, non-government, community, and business sector engagement in WASH.


Screenshot of Thailand Sanitation Expo Day 1

The first day featured opening remarks; a keynote speech on the sanitation sector and opportunities for private sector engagement by UNICEF’s Associate Director for WASH, Kelly Ann Naylor; and a virtual exhibition to share innovations in facilities and service provision.

The second day enabled participants to join four ‘virtual field visits’ to companies and municipal governments, which helped understand better the challenges that these institutions, households, and communities face as well as the technical solutions that will support safe sanitation.

While the first two days were focused on Thailand, the third day drew conclusions and reflections from companies and governments across the region. The expo ended with a panel discussion on ‘expanding sanitation services to the ‘last mile’: reaching marginalized and vulnerable groups’ and closing remarks of ‘Final Reflections from the Region,’ with representatives from China, the Philippines, South Africa, and Mongolia sharing their toilet innovations and experiences on working towards equality in sanitation services.

The Regional Sanitation Expo highlighted the momentum and potential for further business engagement to achieve safely managed sanitation for all, particularly the most vulnerable and lowest-resource communities. Through the three-day event, participants connected with each other through an active chat box and were able to exchange ideas and opportunities for collaboration.

At UNICEF, we are working with different partners, including business, to scale up sanitation for all children in East Asia and Pacific region  and stand ready to facilitate connections, provide advice, share ideas and initiatives to broker, facilitate and communicate any opportunities that contribute to support this goal.


About the author:

HanChul Kim and Brooke Yamakoshi are WASH Specialists at UNICEF EAPRO

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The UNICEF Blog promotes children’s rights and well-being, and ideas about ways to improve their lives and the lives of their families. We bring you insights and opinions from the world's leading child rights experts and accounts from UNICEF's staff on the ground. The opinions expressed on the UNICEF Blog are those of the author(s) and may not necessarily reflect UNICEF's official position.

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