water, sanitation, hygiene, WASH, USAID

Vacuuming Out Market Imperfections in Sanitation: Breaking up the ‘Poop Cartel’

I write about governance of and corruption in the water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) sector all the time (here and elsewhere).  In its most simplest sense, governance is the context in which service delivery occurs, and includes the power and agency of public and private institutions and individuals. We’ve all heard of corrupt government institutions and large-scale private sector and how that can affect service provision, but what about the role of the small-scale private sector?

NPR’s ‘Planet Money’ podcast documented an excellent example of collusion/price fixing among the sanitation entrepreneurs in Dakar, Senegal.  This ‘Poop Cartel’ colluded to keep the price of their service- the removal of septage by large vacuum trucks- high, simply by refusing to compete on price with each other. When households could not afford this price, they were essentially forced to pay for a cheaper and less sanitary alternative- paying someone to manually shovel out their septic tanks and illegally dump the waste in pockets in road.  Ultimately, Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) helped devised a cellphone-based system to directly connect customers with the sanitation entrepreneurs, resulting in competition and lower prices.

Market imperfections and imperfect government accountability situations exist everywhere.  This context is what shapes existing water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) service delivery.  It can have major effects on the success and failure of projects.

Do you have a story of WASH sector corruption?

Have some particular aspects of the service delivery governance context affected the success of your project?

I’ve developed proposals to take WASH sector governance contexts into account, researched and written about this, designed and and I’ve seen first-hand many successes and failures.

I would love to help you win a proposal, evaluate a recent project, or help you advertise your successful project.


Contact me and let me know what you need.

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