Sanitation and Water Challenge Paper

Published in: 2012

Copenhagen Consensus 2012: Solving the world's challenges

Rijsberman, F., Zwane, A. P.

Content - Summary

This Challenge Paper focuses on sanitation, as the world has met the water Millennium Development Goal, but will likely miss the sanitation target. It considers what it would cost to improve service for both the unserved population in developing countries, those one billion or so who must defecate in the open, and what it would cost to improve the quality of service for those people in urban areas who are nominally “served” but struggle to realize the gains from sanitation because of the challenges of emptying and safely disposing of latrine/septic tank contents.

Dramatically cutting open defecation rates in rural areas has been shown to be feasible with a reasonable public investment. At a scale of tens of millions of people, it has a positive, though modest, pay?off as measured by benefit cost analysis. Rural water interventions, which we consider briefly (as water was covered extensively in the previous Copenhagen Consensus round), have similar modest pay?offs. In the case of urban sanitation, the theoretical benefits of basic onsite sanitation will not be achieved unless specific innovations are put in place.

Investments in technological and institutional innovations to reduce the cost and increase the effectiveness of sanitation services to empty and treat human waste collected in latrines and septic tanks would have a very large pay?off. We believe the innovation required is achievable and that there is credible evidence that the fraction of roll?out costs to achieve adoption that would need to be borne by the public sector is sufficiently small as to make such an investment feasible and attractive.

Finally, there is also a need for radical innovation to “reinvent the toilet”. Such radical innovation is indeed high risk, but if successful would lead to very attractive benefit cost ratios.

Bibliographic information

Rijsberman, F., Zwane, A. P. (2012). Sanitation and Water Challenge Paper. Copenhagen Consensus 2012: Solving the world's challenges


Copenhagen Consensus 2012: Sanitation and Water Challenge Paper (pdf) • Size: 0.94 MB