Tuesday, August 18, 2015

In a revolutionary step for collecting waste, the nation of Senegal has developed an SMS service that not only reduces the high cost of sanitation management, but also promises a small profit for the customer. The program is being hailed as the “Uber of Waste Management” because it helps to circumvent the skyrocketing costs fixed by the pit emptiers’ association, while concurrently spurring the pit emptiers to compete for business. Essentially, it’s a win-win for Dakar and the surrounding provinces.

The Situation in Senegal

Currently, 80% of the populace in Senegal uses pit latrines. Unfortunately, pit latrines pose several problems for the relocation of waste. While some regions do not have adequate infrastructure for the demand, others claim that they cannot afford the existing service, digging makeshift holes to transfer the waste. The result of poor reclamation has been an increase in the number of people affected by the condition known as environmental enteropathy.

The text messaging solution, developed in part by the Senegal National Sanitation Utility (ONAS), has built a database of over 65,000 customers. Whenever services are needed, customers contact the call center via SMS, and pit emptiers bid for that customer’s business. Formerly, the service costs for waste removal averaged about $150 US dollars per year for a given resident. The new SMS service has reduced that cost to $90, and aims to reduce it further to $60 per year.

“For someone earning less than $2 a day, that’s a big difference,” said Mbaye Mbeguere of ONAS.

The trouble for Senegal is that its infrastructure hasn’t been able to keep up with its rate of growth in the past few decades. Dakar alone can only collect about a thousand cubic meters of waste per day, leaving about half that amount to be dumped into the ground by residents. Seasonal flooding stirs up this waste, causing further instances of environmental enteropathy. Additionally, researchers expect the population of Senegal to double by 2030.

The Next Steps

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been pivotal in supporting the program and providing funds for pit emptiers to improve their equipment and transportation. On the manufacturing end, the Foundation has worked with the Senegalese government to develop enhanced methods of treatment that produce electricity, material for farming, and even fresh drinking water. The next steps for the country are to create a regular cycle of collection, develop means to collect from hard-to-reach customers, and find a safe way to transport the waste.

As time goes by, the SMS service for Senegal’s waste will be examined closely for improvements and scalability, and financial assistance for emptiers will continue to be provided by organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. As evidenced by these great strides in sanitation, the “Uberification of Business” has certainly grown into a global concept. And it certainly sends the message that SMS solutions truly can bring about remarkable change in the world.