September 2020

When pits fill up: Supply and demand for safe pit-emptying services in Kisumu, Kenya

Peletz, R., MacLeod, C., Kones, J., Samuel, E., Easthope-Frazer, A., Delaire, C., Khush, R. (2020). When pits fill up: Supply and demand for safe pit-emptying services in Kisumu, Kenya. PLoS ONE 15(9): e0238003. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0238003


Improving sanitation conditions in low-income communities is a major challenge for rapidly growing cities of the developing world. The expenses and logistical difficulties of extending sewerage infrastructure have focused increasing attention on the requirements for safe and cost-effective fecal sludge management services. These services, which are primarily provided by the private sector, include the collection and treatment of fecal waste from latrine pits and septic tanks. To determine the degree to which market forces can promote safe fecal sludge removal in low-income neighborhoods of Kisumu, Kenya, we compared household willingness-to-pay for formal pit emptying with the prices charged by service providers. Through surveys of 942 households and a real-money voucher trial with 646 households, we found that stated and revealed demand for formal emptying services were both low, with less than 20% of households willing to pay full market prices. Our results suggest that improving fecal sludge management in these neighborhoods via the private sector will require large subsides, ranging from 55.1–81.4 million KES (551,000–814,000 USD) annually, to address the gap between willingness-to-pay and market prices. Raising and administering subsidies of this scale will require the development of a city-wide sanitation master plan that includes investment, management, and regulatory procedures for fecal sludge management. In the absence of government investment and coordination, it is unlikely that the private sector will address safe sanitation needs in low-income areas of Kisumu.

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