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John Cody gravatar image

As far as I know there are no ‘global’ standards in existence, though I think there are standards at national levels. I have been racking my brain for a reason why I think this but have not been able to come up with an answer, which leaves me both dissatisfied and irritated. You could try either Kenya or Uganda. I am definite that India does not apply such a standard, though it may have one published.

For most of the MDG epoch, the goal has been household sanitation, and the focus has been on the sanitation ‘ladder concept’. Certainly in my experience the idea of communal sanitation in non-humanitarian contexts would have been unacceptable. While there are technical and economic justifications for communal latrines, it is difficult to reconcile these with value based arguments such as human dignity, protection and gender concerns (would you allow one of your kids to use a communal public lavatory in London unaccompanied?). My experience of communal latrine programmes (Kenya, Zambia, Ethiopia) would indicate that they are unmitigated disasters. My experience of using public conveniences in Dublin does not suggest that the reasons these have been disasters are exclusive to developing countries).

While the holy grail for the past few years appears to have been the idea that sanitation services should be run as a profit making concern, I think the basic premise that you can turn a profit from running communal latrines is ‘shit’. This is especially the case in urban areas where economies tend to be highly cash based, and the mere action of trying to charge to use a latrine results in them not being used. It is important to remember that the purpose of a sanitation programme is to isolate human faeces from the environment, rather than numbers of toilets, or how many cubicles per capita.

I seem to recall the Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor programme producing some materials circa 2010 on communal sanitation being a vehicle for achieving the sanitation MDG. You could try their website, . You might also try the JMP, which has (had?) responsibility for monitoring the MDG’s. I have no idea how the SDG’s will be monitored but it is likely a good starting point, and not to outdated. . You might also have some joy on the Susana network.

I don’t imagine that there would be published standards as standardisation on this issue would be hugely complex and unwieldy. Also, unlike access to water, access to sanitation is not a recognised as an explicit human right (yet). I think the best approach would be to not pursue communal latrines in any circumstances, but, if you really must, then take an empirical approach so that any standards are context appropriate.

I believe the World Bank’s view on sanitation is that it should be the responsibility of households to provide adequate sanitation rather than centralised authorities. I tend to disagree with this perspective, and think that an aspirational development goal should be for everybody should have access to a toilet in their home. I also don’t think that peoples ability to maintain a healthy environment should be contingent on their ability to pay bowel movement by bowel movement. In my view sanitation should be regarded as a public good and subsidised similarly to other key infrastructures, and that the alternative represents a misinterpretation of the Dublin principles I am perhaps a hopeless idealist and certainly not a development economist.

Hope this helps and apologies for the rant.