Safe Sanitation for a Healthy, Sustainable World

Text reads: “6 Clean Water and Sanitation”. Light blue square with a container that has an arrow coming out of the bottom holding water.


Today, about 4.2 billion people – more than half the world’s population – use toilets that are unsafe or poorly managed. When human waste escapes into the environment and pollutes drinking water, it has significant health and economic consequences. Each year, sanitation-related diseases kill nearly 500,000 children under the age of five. In 2015, the outcomes of unsafe sanitation – increased healthcare costs, losses in productivity and income, and other economic consequences – cost the world an estimated $223 billion.


In order to truly solve the global sanitation problem, far greater levels of investment are needed. World Bank studies have indicated that governments and donors will need to increase their investment by tenfold in the sector to meet SDG targets by 2030 (mainly SDG 6, but also 3, 11 and 12.) Partnership and coordination across public and private sectors are also critical to helping achieve this vision – from providing government funding and setting city-level goals, to designing and implementing regulations and services that not only keep communities and sanitation workers safe, but also protect the local environment.


Perhaps nowhere is safe sanitation needed more than in the world’s rapidly growing cities. Every year, 80 million people move to urban areas, with about one in three living in informal settlements. In Kenya – where this Accelerator is focused – it’s estimated that 10 million people live in these settlements. Such high volumes of people in relatively close quarters places huge pressure on sanitation systems—especially as water scarcity and the impacts of climate change increase.


These settlements have always been particularly susceptible to water-borne and other infectious diseases – and the same is true, now, with COVID-19, which could have major social and economic impacts on this vulnerable population. In Nairobi, 2.5 million of the city’s 4.4 million residents live on just six percent of the landmass, making it among the highest densely populated and overcrowded areas in Kenya. As economies have slowed down in the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic, millions of people have been forced to remain home, contending with the challenge of social distancing and with reduced income to purchase essential safeguards - putting them at a very high risk of not only contracting COVID-19, but a host of other diseases.


Kenya’s recent transition to being classified as a middle-income country – and the social and economic recovery plans in response to COVID-19 – means we are at a pivotal moment in history; one that must be harnessed to drive progress forward on sanitation in Kenya. The opportunity lies in positioning safe sanitation as not only having the potential to save millions of lives – and help us realize all of the SDGs in the next decade – but is also a major driver of economic opportunity. New, creative sanitation solutions are central to building smart, sustainable cities – and as urban populations swell, now is the time for partners across public and private sectors to deliver safe, equitable, resilient services that can both improve lives and help the industry thrive as a whole.


Sanergy – an innovative, Kenya-based company that provides safe and affordable non-sewered sanitation solutions to Nairobi’s urban residents – has long been a leader in advocating for the world to see sanitation as a connected issue; one that, if managed effectively, can have a major impact on helping us achieve major goals around primary healthcare, gender, the environment, the economy and the SDG agenda more broadly. For women and girls in particular – who bear the brunt of caring for family members sick from water-borne diseases and face unique challenges around menstrual hygiene – progress on sanitation is critical to unlocking their potential in the near-term.


Access to sanitation and basic hygiene also provides greater safety, protection and resilience to residents of informal settlements, who would otherwise be left vulnerable to the impacts of health crises, such as COVID-19. As more and more people move from rural areas to cities, we must ensure that people have quick and easy access to the supplies and resources they need to keep themselves and their families safe.


Sanergy’s circular economy approach – where they take and treat safely removed waste and upcycle it into agricultural inputs – keeps urban residents healthy and builds a thriving economy by creating valuable products developed from waste. Importantly, this model also protects our environment from the impact of climate change by recycling waste that would otherwise be left to rot, producing major carbon emissions.


Sanergy currently serves over 120,000 people in Nairobi, providing cost-effective container-based toilets. Every day, Sanergy removes 15 metric tons of sanitation waste from its toilets, converting it into commercial products they then sell to farms, such as insect-based animal feed, organic fertilizer and biomass fuel briquettes. As the pandemic hit Nairobi, Sanergy pivoted quickly to help residents better protect themselves from the virus, while still accessing the effective sanitation services they rely on.


Scale efforts to stem the spread of COVID-19 in Kenya’s vulnerable informal settlements while driving critical progress towards SDG 6, by providing essential personal protective equipment and sustainable, safe sanitation - ultimately reaching 1.3 million residents across Nairobi and Kisumu by the end of 2025.


Specifically, this Accelerator will:


  • Support the scaling of COVID-19 prevention measures through the provision of safe sanitation services and hygiene products to 1.3 million people living in Kenya’s informal settlements, providing access to hand-washing stations, PPE, soap, sanitizers, masks and surface disinfectants, and the training and education to undertake effective, frequent hand washing.
  • Increase sanitation coverage in Nairobi to serve 1 million people by the end of 2025, in partnership with the Nairobi county government.
  • Partner with Kisumu local authorities to expand Sanergy’s core sanitation services to 300,000 people in Kisumu – Kenya’s third largest city – by 2025. Currently, most of the waste from Kisumu’s informal settlements ends up in Lake Victoria, causing enormous economic, health and environmental damage, polluting the city’s water and fueling the water hyacinth infestation.
  • Close the funding gap needed to achieve SDG 6 – and others – by engaging new sectors and launching new investment models.



Funding for sanitation solutions comes in many forms – and Sanergy is eager to work with individuals and cross-sector partners to help move the needle on this critical issue. As a conscious consumer, you have the purchasing power to support companies like “Who Gives a Crap,” which donates a percentage of its profits to tackling sanitation issues. As a donor – in the private sector, government, philanthropy and more – you can help expand Sanergy’s work through direct funding or by helping finance new public/private investment models that Sanergy is leading.


Cross-sector partnership is critical to realizing the SDGs by 2030. Sanergy wants to partner with municipalities and county governments looking to implement safe sanitation solutions for their residents – along with private sector partners who are eager to advance research on new sanitation products and services. Sanergy is also interested in working with universities to help create a pipeline of emerging, young leaders who are eager to bring new talent and innovation to the sector.


Use your voice! Now is the time to advocate for more resources to implement non-sewered sanitation solutions serving the urban poor. Whether you’re sharing on your social channels on World Handwashing Day (Oct 15), World Cities Day (Oct 30) or World Toilet Day (Nov 19) – or talking about this Accelerator with your networks – we all have a role to play in helping position water and sanitation issues as having a major impact on people, the environment and the economy.

Get in touch at [email protected] to learn more.