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Focus on African Development (TICAD V)

June 6, 2013

The Challenge of Improving Sanitation in Sub-Saharan Africa
–Finding a Way to Change People’s Behaviors and Build a Community without Water-Borne Diseases–

Two out of three people do not have access to a toilet. This fact represents the sanitary conditions in Sub-Saharan Africa. One of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)[1] established by the United Nations General Assembly in 2000 is to "Halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation," sanitation meaning toilets. Although access to safe water was achieved in 2010, in Africa overall, the percentage of people without access to basic sanitation facilities was 44 percent in 2000 and 37 percent in 2010, and achieving this MDG by 2015 is considered to be extremely difficult. In Sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, 70 percent, or two out of three people, do not have access to a toilet, a staggering statistic. Such a deplorable sanitation environment causes problems such as widespread diarrhea and an increase in the mortality rate for children aged five and younger, making sanitation a priority issue.

Building Toilets and Establishing the Custom of Use

PhotoA double-vault toilet built by the project. There are two containers. When one gets full, the other can be used to provide continuous service. Two vent pipes provide an air flow that carries away the smell and flies. Additionally, the strong metal door ensures privacy.

To eradicate this problem, JICA has launched the Project for Sanitation and Hygiene Improvement in Rural Areas of Tambacounda, Kedougou and Matam Regions in Senegal as the first technical cooperation project focused on promoting toilet construction. In Senegal, the population without access to basic sanitation facilities is high, 71 percent in 2010, and to reduce this to 37 percent to meet the MDG by 2015, the combined efforts of the government and aid agencies in promoting sanitation improvements are essential.

Making improvements, however, is easier said than done. In many cases where aid agencies have built toilets, the local people do not use or maintain them. The practice of using a toilet entails a major change in a lifestyle habit for people accustomed to using the outdoors. Before they will change their behavior, they therefore need to understand the need for doing so and see how convenient toilets are. This project has therefore adopted a method called Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS), developed in South Asia and currently being spread in Africa. Rather than depending on external assistance or pressures, CLTS aims for members of the community themselves to understand the effects that open defecation has on the environment and community health, and to recognize the importance of using toilets. They assist each other and provide a peer check, while building toilets and eliminating open defecation.

Also, even after a community switches to a toilet, some members may return to the old practice of open defecation after a time. This project aims to go even further and ensure there is no regression to outdoor toilet practices.

PhotoThis traditional toilet has been abandoned. It was made by digging a hole and surrounding it with dried reeds for privacy, and then the ground was hardened with clay.

With CLTS, communities build the toilets themselves, and the results are often a primitive type made by digging a hole and surrounding the immediate area with a small wall of branches. It is no surprise that people do not want to use them due to the smell and flies. In response, social marketing is being employed in the communities where open defecationwas once eliminated, as a technique to further improve residents' hygiene practices and avoid regression to open defecation. This is done by reminding residents of the significance of sanitary toilets and providing knowledge about more comfortable toilets—such as those with a vent pipe and those that use a small quantity of water to make a water seal, both to suppress smells and flies. Integrating CLTS and social marketing, JICA's approach has generated hope in the Government of Senegal and the attention of other aid agencies for reliably improving sanitation.

Promoting an Approach Combining Safe Water and Sanitation

Even in areas where access to safe drinking water has been improved, disease-causing bacteria get into rivers and wells due to open defecation, making the water unsafe again. However, once safe water access has been established, it can be tied to improvements in such hygiene practices as hand washing, further promoting health. In this way, access to safe drinking water and sanitation improvements (promotion of toilets and such good hygiene behavior as hand washing) have an inseparable relationship, and incorporating both is important.

At the Fourth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD IV) in 2008, the Government of Japan announced a commitment to providing safe drinking water to 6.5 million people and achieved that goal in five years. At TICAD V in June 2013, a policy was worked out integrating the two elements of access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation to benefit 10 million people. JICA will proactively implement its approach of combining the provision of safe drinking water, a front on which it has had much success and experience, with sanitation and hygiene improvements.


  • [1] Eight goals to be achieved by 2015 in the areas of reducing poverty, education, gender equality, maternal and child health, infectious diseases and the environment.


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