Almost USD 5 billion is lost yearly due to unimproved sanitation across 18 African countries. This is according to the new research paper, Fecal sludge management in Africa, by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
“Poor fecal sludge management contributes to huge economic loses: on the continent, poor sanitation leads to losses of approximately 1 to 2.5 percent of a country’s GDP. It is also a major contributor of 115 deaths per hour from excreta-related diseases in Africa, while improved sanitation has been shown to decrease diarrheal disease by 25 per cent.” reads the research paper.
Access to toilet facilities is beneficial to most households in terms of improved health status and gains in time saved for productive activities. Revenues are generated through tariffs and taxes to the Government and service providers. Yet, the use of unimproved toilet facilities causes major economic losses due to the cost of treating illnesses that result from poor sanitation, and the loss of income through reduced productivity.
In Burkina Faso and Ghana, the cost of premature death and health care due to unimproved sanitation is estimated at USD 136 million and USD 54 million each year, respectively. While in Niger, where about 79 per cent of the population practice open defecation, the time cost to access these areas is estimated at USD 23 million every year.
“Emptying of fecal sludge also continues to remain a major challenge in various cities such as Maputo, Mozambique, especially in low income households which are not able to afford the services. Most of these households prefer manual latrine emptying – which ends up being dumped or buried in drainage systems- costing up to USD 13 per service.” reads the report.
Another major challenge is the lack of general fecal sludge treatment facilities in many countries across the continent due to financial reasons. Operation and maintenance costs for a treatment plant in Ghana average about USD 100,000 annually, whereas in countries such as India this could be as low as USD 40,000. As for countries such as Gabon, Benin and Mali, the treatment facilities are owned and operated by private companies while public private partnership (PPP) arrangements are common in most other countries.
Overall, poor fecal sludge management is associated with economic losses which can be expressed in terms of health-care cost, productivity cost, mortality and time lost searching for access to good sanitation.