Statement On Funding For Safe, Public Latrines In Africa And Asia

In the year 2017, when some people live in extravagant homes with half a dozen or a dozen bathrooms with marble floors and the latest fixtures, an estimated 2.5 billion people live in squalor with no access to modern sanitation.  One billion people have no access to latrines and defecate in the open, like our ancestors did thousands of years ago. 

The United States spends about $400 million a year on water supply and sanitation programs worldwide, pursuant to the Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act of 2005.  One of our late colleague’s many public policy contributions was his focus on pressing issues such as the growing scarcity of clean water sources – even in our own country – and the preventable suffering that comes from poor sanitation.  His book, “Tapped Out,” is another contribution he made to greater understanding of these challenges.  The law named for him requires the Secretary of State, in consultation with the U.S. Agency for International Development and other U.S. government agencies, to develop and implement a strategy to provide affordable and equitable access to safe water and sanitation in developing countries. 

For the past several years, the Congress has directed that $14 million of those funds be used specifically to design and build safe, public latrines in Africa and Asia.  Our purpose has been to help reduce the risk to woman and girls, particularly in rural areas in these countries, who are often assaulted at night or subjected to humiliation and harassment, due to the lack of safe and accessible latrines. 

Unfortunately, USAID has not utilized these funds as effectively as we intended, and the fiscal year 2018 Department of State and Foreign Operations appropriations bill, which was reported unanimously by the Senate Appropriations Committee on September 7th, specifies that not less than $15 million shall be made available “to support initiatives by local communities in Africa and Asia to build and maintain safe, public latrines.” 

What we intend is not rocket science.  Today, communities in Africa and Asia, often with the assistance of small local or U.S. nongovernmental organizations like the Advocacy Project, are building low cost, easy to maintain, public latrines.  Something as basic as a latrine can transform a community, particularly for women and girls.  Not only does it reduce their vulnerability to assault, it reduces the obvious health problems caused by open defecation.  It also increases girls’ access to education, if there are latrines for girls at schools.  The cost of such projects can be as little as a few hundred dollars, particularly when members of the community volunteer their labor.  Just as important as the design and construction is a plan for community members to regularly maintain the latrines and to educate the local population – men, women and children – on their use.

Access to water and sanitation are fundamental to social and economic development.  The lack of safe drinking water and proper sanitation, coupled with poor hygiene, are leading causes of sickness and death worldwide.  Nearly one thousand children under age five die each day from diarrhea caused by contaminated water, and from poor sanitation and hygiene.  There are few ways to safeguard a person’s health and improve their dignity more basic than by providing them access to sanitation facilities for safely disposing of human waste. 

There should be no confusion about what we intend for these $15 million.  We want USAID missions in countries where women and girls in rural areas lack access to safe, public latrines to identify communities for pilot projects, where local leaders want to address this problem and where a small investment can make a significant difference.  Working with those leaders and utilizing the technical expertise of local or U.S.-based NGOs, we can help set an example for other communities to replicate.  

Press Contact

David Carle: 202-224-3693