SISS comes at a critical time. Spurred on by Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals, along with changing national realities, many low- and middle-income countries will need to invest heavily in sanitation in the next decade. The decisions they make and the approaches they take today will have far-reaching consequences for sustainability and for the well-being of their citizens.Sanitation – a catalyst for sustainable development

SISS envisions sanitation as an integral piece of the sustainable development puzzle. The right sanitation systems can not only minimize health and environmental risks associated with open defecation and poorly managed waste disposal – they can also, in many cases, yield multiple benefits in areas from health to food security, resilient livelihoods, business growth, energy, and ecosystem services. The Initiative focus on “productive” sanitation approaches.


Sustainable sanitation systems become mainstream choices for sanitation development and accessible to all.


To boost sustainable sanitation provision at scale in low- and middle-income countries, through research, knowledge exchange, capacity development, policy dialogue, with a focus on productive sanitation approaches that yield multiple economic, social and environmental co-benefits.


To help policy-makers, practitioners and communities make the best choices, SISS will:

  • build the capacity of sustainable sanitation implementers, planners and practitioners through training, knowledge management and translating knowledge into tailored and user-friendly materials;
  •  strengthen the knowledge base through new research and analysis, including elaborating and piloting new implementation models; and
  •  offer policy advice and guidance on scaling up sustainable sanitation.


Sustainability as a system issue

In the search for improved and upscaleable implementation models, the Initiative examines not just “hardware” issues but also the wider systems around sanitation, including enabling institutional conditions and governance frameworks, and ways to change users’ perceptions and practices. Work under SISS therefore looks at many aspects of system implementation, not least users’ behaviour and choice as well as work at policy level in several countries. Sanitation, Wastewater Management and Sustainability examines these different aspects of sustainability in depth.

In search of implementation models that work

One of the most common problems in community-level sanitation interventions – particularly those aimed at ending open defecation – is lack of long-term impact. Sometimes users are initially enthusiastic – making the project look like a success – but revert to open defecation within a few months or years, for example because their new toilet fills up or stops functioning and there is no-one to empty it or fix it. In other cases, a project only installed the systems and did not properly address cultural, psychological or practical barriers to toilet use. One of the important activities started under SISS has been to revisit completed sanitation projects after a space of a few years to see whether systems are still being used, and identify keys to success (or failure). This will inform the design of new community-level interventions models we hope to pilot in 2017–2018.


SISS is envisaged as a five-year programme. The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) is providing core funding. The Initiative and partner organisations will also seek for a range of sanitation-related activities and projects.

Read the new SISS brochure (PDF, 900 KB).

Sustainable Sanitation and Agenda 2030

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the centrepiece of Agenda 2030, provide a much stronger basis for promoting sustainable sanitation than did their predecessors, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). This is partly in the fact that the SDGs deal directly with sanitation, giving water and sanitation their own dedicated goal, Goal 6. The only mention of sanitation in the MDGs was under Goal 7, Ensure Environmental Stability: “Target 7.C: Halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation” (this sanitation target was met by only 95 countries).Another advantage of the SDGs is moving beyond a relative target (halving the proportion without basic sanitation access) to sanitation “for all”, with “special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations”.

And the SDGs take more of a system perspective on sanitation. While the MDGs called only for access to “basic sanitation” (although in progress monitoring this was substituted with “improved sanitation facility”, defined as “one that hygienically separates human excreta from human contact”), SDG Target 6.3 also considers wastewater disposal, recycling and safe reuse.


Sustainable Development Goal 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

Target 6.2: By 2030 achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all, and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations

Target 6.3: By 2030 improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater, and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally


However, a quick look at the SDGs reveals that more sustainable sanitation and wastewater management can help countries make progress copst-effectively in many goal areas beyond Goal 6. This is especially true when wastewater and excreta management includes safe recovery and reuse of water, nutrients, organic matter, energy content and other valuable resources.

The figure at the top of the page shows which SDG target areas can be improved through more sustainable sanitation and wastewater management, and how more ambition in the systems leads to more “added value” in terms of broader sustainable development. Click on the figure to see a full-size version. The figure comes from the 2016 SEI-UN Environment Programme publication Sanitation, Wastewater Management and Sustainability: From Waste Disposal to Resource Recovery.