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Are there any global standards for number of people per toilet in developing countries? Where can I find more information on this?

Claire Grayson

4 Answers

Rémi Kaupp

Joint Monitoring Programme of WHO/Unicef is how WASH stats are measured across the world, and it contains very useful definitions, on, of what is improved WASH or not. According to the “ladder”, improved sanitation means a toilet for each household. The size of a household varies in each country, city and community, so it’s hard to give a universal figure (which is why you wouldn’t find an exact number in official definitions). Typically, fundraisers often use 4 to 5 people per household (and therefore per toilet) in their proposals.

Be aware though that such definitions are flawed in two regards, something the JMP is working on: they don’t include shared toilets in “improved” sanitation even though it is often the only choice in crowded urban environments, and they neglect institutional toilets (in schools, health centres, workplaces, public spaces…) which are as important.


In my experience the big leap is one latrine per family / household whatever the exact figures are. People in a family / household will be comfortable sharing a toilet, will be interested in keeping it clean and be able apply sanctions to anyone who misuses it! Excellent point about next best being when a number of households share a toilet where space is tight - which usually means padlocked or similar with keys held only by those sharing use and cleaning. Again number is not so important as how people have organised themselves to keep latrine usable and used. I guess next best might be paying public toilet with attendant but I do not have direct experience in developing countries.


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 ... (more)


As a very very very basic indicator, look at the Sphere standards for emergency provision