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Three-wheeled carts, better septic tanks help clean up Jakarta

Mini 'sanitation trucks' that remove fecal sludge, and improved holding tanks, may help bring improved sanitation to millions of Indonesians without it.

By Stephen OliverGlobal Envision / June 19, 2012

The Kedoteng sludge cart can maneuver through Jakarta's narrow streets to service latrines. About 94 million Indonesians live without access to sanitation services and 22 million have to pay for the use of communal latrines.

Jen Dillan/Mercy Corps

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In Jakarta, Indonesia, an international aid nonprofit is getting into some dirty business: the sanitation industry.

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By all statistical accounts, the United Nations' Millennium Development Goal of halving the world’s population without access to sanitation services is failing. Some estimate the world won't reach that goal until 2049—34 years late.

For many of the world’s poorest, access to clean sanitation—like toilets and hand-washing stations—remains a luxury. Annually, 50,000 Indonesians die as a result of poor sanitation; one person every 10 minutes.

RELATED: Top 10 nations lacking toilets

The gravity of this problem, combined with the failures of previous efforts to solve it, led Mercy Corps’s Indonesia team to author a public health project in Jakarta with a nontraditional approach. Instead of simply funding a project to build latrines in Jakarta’s slums, they take a market-development approach that will strengthen the value chain of Jakarta’s private sanitation services industry, utilize new technology to enable sanitation companies to access previously unreachable people, and turn those people into customers.

Basically, they want to fundamentally change the sanitation industry in Jakarta.

A Mercy Corps project titled PUSH (Program of Urban Sanitation and Hygiene Promotion) undertook a market analysis of Jakarta’s sanitation industry. Funded by the Suez Environment Foundation, the project found a massive untapped market of potential customers in urban Indonesia.

Around 94 million Indonesians live without access to sanitation services and 22 million people—more than two and a half times the population of New York City—have to pay for the use of communal latrines. This incredible number of people, who live mostly in urban slums, have long been overlooked by traditional markets under the assumption that they cannot afford sanitation services.

It became clear that improvements in this system could lower prices, reach more customers and, through marketing and education, encourage more Indonesians to value and pay for improved sanitation services.

To include more people in the market, costs had to fall and products had to specialize. By this time the PUSH initiative had ended, and a new Mercy Corps program called RW Siaga++ (“neighborhood alert”) began to take over the design and development phase. Funded by Coca-Cola, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and in coordination with the local ministry of health, the project designed two specialized products that helped increase access to the unmet sanitation market:

1. Custom Sludge Cart: Innumerable inhabitants of Jakarta’s urban slums are considered unreachable by modern sludge-removal techniques because they live down narrow pathways where large sludge removal trucks cannot pass. RW Siaga++ designed a custom-made, three-wheeled sludge cart, called Kedoteng, equipped with a mini-sludge removal tank and a pump that can access latrines up to 50 meters (164 feet) away.

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