A fix for latrines in Bangladesh

A public-private partnership in Bangladesh has created demand for hygienic latrines and demonstrated that healthy markets can deliver results that governments cannot achieve alone.

The Sanitation Marketing Systems project has produced sales of a quarter-million improved latrines in a country where, despite enormous strides in sanitation, diarrheal diseases still claim 100,000 lives a year.

The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and UNICEF helped pay for the project, which involved Bangladesh’s public health ministry; iDE, a poverty-fighting non-profit; Rangpur Foundry Ltd., the country’s largest plastics manufacturer; and hundreds of local entrepreneurs who got both marketing help and training on how to install sanitary latrines. The latrines incorporate an improved plastic pan that Rangpur makes.

Picture of a man demonstrating a latrine to group of village people (© Aladdin Al Azad)
An entrepreneur shows a more hygienic latrine to potential customers in Khulna, Bangladesh. (© Aladdin Al Azad)

The partnership won the P3 Impact Award from the U.S. Department of State, the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, and Concordia, a nonprofit that champions partnerships. (P3 stands for public-private partnership.)

“This is just the beginning of our noble initiative for achieving better sanitation,” Rashidul Huque, chief engineer with the Bangladesh Department of Public Health Engineering, said in accepting the award recently at the Concordia Summit in New York.

Bangladesh, a country of 158 million people, has nearly eliminated open defecation, but poorly designed or installed latrines remain a problem.

IDE, a Denver-based charity that operates in 14 countries, previously improved latrines in rural Cambodia. Tim Prewitt, its chief executive, said at the award ceremony, “We hope we’re there for the day when Bangladesh has 100 percent coverage on latrines and sanitation.”

Two people standing by a latrine (© Jess MacArthur)
A couple shows off their new, blue latrine, better sealed to stop spread of disease. (© Jess MacArthur)

Conor Riggs, iDE’s deputy director for Bangladesh, says the improvements can double the latrine price to $25 or more, but government subsidies sharply reduce that for the very poor. Faulty latrines afflict the lower middle class too, and the success of this project demonstrates people are willing to pay more for improved sanitation.