Leveraging the power of the private sector to tackle poverty and WASH challenges in Nigeria

The sanitation marketing and financing approach provides affordable toilet options to the poor, including giving them access to soft loans to build toilets.

Zaid Jurji and Bioye Ogunjobi
A boy using a toilet
UNICEF Nigeria
08 December 2019

Nigeria currently has the highest number of people – about 90 million - living in extreme poverty in the world, representing nearly half the population.

While there are challenges in all sectors, data coming from the water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) sector are particularly alarming. Findings from the 2018 WASH National Outcome Routine Mapping, a survey conducted by the Nigerian Ministry of Water Resources and National Bureau of Statistics, with support from UNICEF, revealed that only 11 percent of the population, 7 percent of schools and 5 percent of health facilities have access to basic WASH services.

Nigeria also ranks second in the world when it comes to open defecation (very closely behind India, and set to overtake them very soon), with 24 percent of the population – 47 million people – practicing open defecation.

WASH survey results also show that access to WASH services is unfairly biased against poor families. The poorest households are up to ten times less likely to access basic WASH services than their wealthiest counterparts.

Families that have poor access to safe water and sanitation services are exposed to debilitating and life-threatening WASH-related diseases. Children from these families experience nutritional deficiencies when they fall sick due to frequent episodes of diarrhea. The ripple effect is poor school attendance and lack of learning opportunities. These children also face increased risks of gender-based violence, child abuse and psychological trauma in search of better WASH services.

Parents or caregivers who bear the brunt of taking care of the sick lose hours of labour productivity and income as their time, energy and resources shift to nurturing their loved ones to recovery.

Sometimes the recovery process takes a more negative turn. It is estimated that more than 60,000 Nigerian children under five years die each year from diseases caused by poor WASH services.

To achieve the SDG target of universal basic sanitation by 2030, Nigeria needs to add 3 million latrines per year between 2019 and 2030. Nigeria’s current delivery of improved latrines is only about 160,000 per year.

In response to this challenge, the government, with UNICEF’s strong support, has created the Clean Nigeria Campaign Programme, a national movement to end open defecation by 2025.

Experience reveals that sanitation marketing and financing is a viable tool for helping to achieve the goal of ending open defecation in Nigeria.

Findings from research commissioned by UNICEF reveal that Nigerians in rural communities want improved sanitation but lack the resources for it.

The sanitation marketing and financing approach provides affordable toilet options to the poor, including giving them access to soft loans to build toilets. Similarly, the approach supports small and medium entrepreneurs to extend their businesses into toilet construction and the sale of sanitation materials, thereby making money while contributing to the ‘End Open Defecation’ initiative. It also strengthens sanitation supply chains and connects entrepreneurs to communities and households desiring improved toilets.

A man building a toilet
UNICEF Nigeria

As part of a catalytic initiative for replication, UNICEF has trained and empowered toilet business owners across communities, which have been instrumental in constructing more than 13,000 toilets for households in rural areas.

"Sanitation marketing has given me a job. Before, I was a hunter moving from one bush to another searching for meat. But now, I keep myself busy identifying households that need to construct smart toilets and making an income at the same time," said Rabe Chinkis, a toilet business owner, sharing the transformative impact sanitation marketing has made on his life.

The sanitation financing mechanism also facilitates partnerships with micro-financing institutions and community savings and credit groups, and advocates to state governments through pooled funds, to provide affordable sanitation loans to households interested in constructing improved toilets.

Community credit and savings groups, locally called Adashes, are designed to support members with soft credit to build toilets. Poor households access loans to construct toilets outside the conventional loan scheme, which most of them are not qualified to join, due to lack of collateral.

More than 1,600 Adashes have been set up across the country, and more than 6,000 improved toilets have been built or upgraded. Toilet business owners construct these toilets at a fee tailored to fit the toilet option of their choice.

Some community members also engage in bartering schemes, whereby poor households in need of toilets offer farm produce or other valuable commodities to local merchants, who provide the resources needed to construct the toilet in exchange for those items.

Through the sanitation marketing and finance approach, the private sector is also supporting poor households to access affordable toilets. For example, Innoson Group of Companies, a Nigerian company, is now manufacturing affordable squat pans called “sato pans,” which are made available to households interested in pour-flush toilets. UNICEF is also supporting the government, through the Organised Private Sector on WASH (OPS-WASH), to engage the wide spectrum of key private sector players to scale up business and corporate initiatives to end open defecation in Nigeria by 2025.

Engagement with the private sector on this issue really gathered steam in November 2018, when UNICEF Nigeria hosted the first West Africa regional conference of key private sector actors to discuss the numerous market opportunities in the sanitation sector in Nigeria.

There is no doubt that the state of the WASH sector in Nigeria is a huge challenge. But these pilots show that with concerted effort, sanitation marketing/financing and engagement with the private sector can offer Nigerians a way to access improved sanitation services and ultimately, eradicate poverty.  

With strong effort by all key players - government, development partners, the media, the private sector, traditional rulers and the people themselves, Nigeria is more likely to end open defecation by 2025, come closer to eliminating poverty by 2030, and create an enabling environment for every Nigerian child to survive and thrive.