Everyone Has a Right to Basic Sanitation Services

Harnessing World-Class Design and Engineering to Improve Access to Safe and Affordable Sanitation

By John Sauer – Sr. Technical Advisor, WASH, PSI; and Peter Solar – Manager, Strategic Partnerships, PSI

Nearly two billion people around the world still live without access to safe and sanitary toilets. Poor access to sanitation is linked with transmission of diarrheal diseases, which lead to nearly 300,000 unnecessary deaths among children under five each year. The lack of access to safe sanitation is associated with increased risk of anxiety, sexual assault, and poor educational outcomes, leading to reduced economic development and social and individual well-being.[1]

As part of our commitment to improved health outcomes, PSI has embarked on an initiative to rapidly scale up access to basic sanitation services. In the last five years, we have supported the private sector to sell more than 550,000 inexpensive, high-quality toilet products that can be safely used without sewer infrastructure. In the process, however, we learned that improving access at a large scale requires not just a smart product, but also simple installation.   

The toilets our private sector partners sell require bespoke installation services from skilled masons and use expensive inputs like cement and rebar.  This means that households cannot easily purchase the product directly from retailers and install it themselves. This limitation increases the cost of buying a toilet and makes it more difficult for interested customers to get one installed.

To address this challenge, PSI collaborated with the Autodesk Foundation to tap into the diverse skillsets of Autodesk employees to help us better articulate our design challenge and begin to develop initial options for an easier-to-install sanitation product.  

Over six months, we have explored multiple design concepts of an easy-to-install toilet that would increase the level of adoption across markets with the highest need. The design concepts integrated various critical aspects, such as affordability, practicality, availability of materials and ease of use, as well as longer-term considerations such as easy scale up and distribution. The collaboration benefited from Autodesk’s world-class design and engineering capabilities, combined with PSI’s local consumer knowledge, first-hand market insights and global sanitation expertise.

“This project with PSI was a great opportunity to grow my skills. We were able to develop a revolutionary new concept to help address a critical barrier to product adoption. It makes me proud to be part of this team.”

– Melanie Thilo, Technical Specialist, Autodesk Design and Manufacturing

As we continue our journey to reach universal coverage for all households with safe, desirable and affordable sanitation by 2030, these design ideas will help us more quickly advance on additional iterations of a product that meets the needs of consumers in sub-Saharan Africa and leads to improved health and socio-economic outcomes. With climate change posing an additional threat to water and sanitation access, there is an added sense of urgency to make sure every family has access to a safe toilet.

Our engagement with the Autodesk Foundation is just one of many examples of how we bring companies to the fold during different stages of our service delivery innovation journey.

PSI brings some of the sector’s most significant experience and best track record in market-based approaches to sanitation, innovative product development, a consumer-powered focus, corporate and philanthropic partnerships, and a track record of programs designed for scale and sustainability. We believe combining these unique capabilities with the core competencies of our private sector partners will help us demonstrate a pathway towards universal access to basic sanitation and better health outcomes for all.

[1] https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/sanitation

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