Blog by Sam Drabble, Research & Evaluation Manager

Through the course of any conference, key themes emerge and are picked up and echoed by participants in presentations and side events – big questions that are difficult to solve. In promoting access to household sanitation for low-income households the first question is obvious and much repeated – how can we make access affordable?

Many approaches to providing finance have been tried in the sanitation sector, ranging from the direct provision of grants or subsidies to households or enterprises involved in construction, to enabling the provision of micro-loans at market rates through micro-finance institutions.

Often multiple approaches can be found in a single market with little if any coordination and harmonisation, leading to missed opportunities for leveraging one approach against another. The situation is made more challenging in Ghana by unusually high interest rates which place constraints on what MFIs can offer.

The annual WEDC Conference, which took place in Kumasi, Ghana earlier this month, is one of a select group of international conferences that WSUP regularly attends. And it was even more relevant to us this year given that we are one of the leading actors supporting improved sanitation in Kumasi.

When Frank Kettey from our Ghana team presented on the Compound Sanitation Strategy that we have developed in Kumasi on Monday morning, the issue of financing dominated the audience discussion. Ahead of us lay WSUP’s Side Event on this theme, which would discuss how to trigger an effective financing market for household sanitation in Ghana. It was clear from this first session that we were asking the right question – so is there an answer?

Issaka Balima Musah, WSUP Ghana’s Country Programme Manager, speaking at the WEDC Conference

Coordination needs a mechanism

The nature of the question required a diverse panel – one which gave a voice to the numerous stakeholders involved in sanitation financing in the Ghana context. Who are these ‘stakeholders’? Led by WSUP’s Head of Sanitation Georges Mikhael, the session brought together actors from:

  • The Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development – MLGRD (Henrietta Osei-Tutu, Public Health Engineer);
  • The commercial banking sector (Dr William Derban, Director for Inclusive Banking and Corporate Social Responsibility at Fidelity Bank); MFIs involved in providing loans for sanitation to low-income households (Kofi Boateng, HFC Boafo); the municipality responsible for providing sanitation services (John Gorkeh-Miah, Kumasi Metropolitan Assembly – KMA);
  • The World Bank Greater Accra Metropolitan Area (GAMA) Water and Sanitation Project (George Asideu, MLGRD);
  • And international organisations with strong knowledge of the Ghana context (Kwame Asuponteng, IRC Ghana).

As per the complex world of urban sanitation, progress in the financing market requires actors to be in constant dialogue – just getting these people in the same room was a good start. Expertly facilitated by Abdul Nashiru-Mohammed, an impassioned debate followed which I’ll do my best to summarise in five key points (this is, of course, a huge oversimplification):

  1. Coordination needs a coordination mechanism – and at present there isn’t one. A coordination mechanism must be established to bring together sanitation financing initiatives. Options include setting up a new, decentralised working group for sanitation financing, or (as favoured by the Ministry) harnessing existing national-level technical working groups that feed into water and sanitation.
  2. The Ministry has a vital role to play in providing monitoring and oversight of sanitation financing initiatives.
  3. As acknowledged by KMA, “more public spending is required”, including more resource allocated to enforcement of bylaws requiring every landlord to provide a toilet for their tenants.
  4. The private sector offer should be more refined and more flexible. It must respond to the reality that low-income households can more readily afford ‘little and often’ payments than monthly or annual instalments.
  5. Education is required to help consumers make sense of the costs. To, in the words of Kofi Boateng, “make it clear that the Ghanaian interest rate is high – that is the reality. We can’t charge the rate below the rate”.

WSUP understands how difficult it is to create a functioning financing market for sanitation to low-income households, but there are steps that can be taken to make success more likely. In the Ghanaian context, the creation of a well-functioning coordination mechanism is such a step – one we will continue to advocate for as the compound sanitation strategy rolls out.

About the WEDC Conference

Some conferences will be overtly political – for example AfricaSan, where government ministers make spending commitments to sanitation – while others are characterised by high-level panel and plenary discussions around system strengthening and sector trends. At WEDC a core focus is implementation: many participants are directly involved in programmes on the ground and have come to hear how others are tackling specific challenges. This emphasis is reflected in WEDC’s status as the only international WASH conference typically hosted by Southern Universities. The term ‘capacity building’ can sometimes feel opaque and difficult to get a handle on – but to attend the WEDC Conference is to see capacity building in practice.

WSUP Ghana at the forefront

As one of the leading actors supporting improved sanitation in Kumasi, this year’s WEDC venue offered a rare opportunity for WSUP Ghana to showcase their work.

With ongoing funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, WSUP has been active in Kumasi – Ghana’s second city, with a population of 1.6 million – for a number of years. Together with PSI and PATH, WSUP’s Ghana team are currently supporting Kumasi Metropolitan Assembly (KMA) in implementing a holistic approach to citywide sanitation under USAID’s Sanitation Service Delivery Programme.

The programme responds to an urgent need: only 19% of Kumasi’s population has access to improved sanitation, with around 40% of the total population dependent on the city’s network of 419 public toilets. KMA’s long term solution is to promote in-house sanitation for the city’s many low-income residents living in compound housing.

As presented at the conference by WSUP’s Frank Kettey, a 5-year compound sanitation strategy is now underway, based on the pillars of  a stronger role for the municipality – including improved enforcement of bylaws requiring landlords to invest in a toilet, and improved mediation between landlords and tenants – mobilising municipal finance for sanitation, engaging private sector suppliers and financiers, and empowering the vulnerable to participate in the decision-making process.

In the same session Issaka Balima Musah, WSUP Ghana’s Country Programme Manager, outlined how the strategy is complemented by parallel improvements to the quality of Kumasi’s public toilets aimed at ensuring these facilities provide the best possible service while the strategy gains traction.