CLTS in urbanised areas: is it time to stop tweaking and start targeting?

3 min read
CLTS triggering taking place in Ekiti State, Nigeria.
Image: WaterAid/Abdulazeez Musa - CLTS triggering taking place in Ekiti State, Nigeria.

How effective is Community-led Total Sanitation? After more than a decade of implementation in Nigeria, new WaterAid research suggests it may be significantly more effective in rural communities than more urbanised settings. Erin Flynn, WaterAid's Research Manager, discusses the findings and their implications for future community sanitation projects.

Community-led Total Sanitation (CLTS) is one of the most prevalent approaches to improving sanitation behaviour. It’s practised in more than 20 countries in Asia and Africa, of which at least 15 have made CLTS a national policy to address the challenge of reducing widespread open defecation. 

The policy brief ‘Improving CLTS Targeting: Evidence from Nigeria’ details findings from the Sustainable Total Sanitation (STS) project, conducted by WaterAid in partnership with the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which aims to evaluate the effectiveness of CLTS and Sanitation Marketing.

The brief details findings from the STS project that suggest community population data could be a good predictor of CLTS success and could enable significant improvement of Nigeria’s approach to ending open defecation.

A decade of CLTS

Nigeria officially adopted CLTS in 2007 as a national approach to rural sanitation promotion, after rigorous learning processes involving key stakeholders, under the leadership of the National Task Group on Sanitation (NTGS) and facilitated by WaterAid. 

Despite almost ten years of implementation, improvement of sanitation has been slow, and, in fact, coverage is declining. 25% of Nigeria’s population openly defecate and a further 22% use unimproved toilets, totalling around 86 million people to be reached by improved sanitation by 2030, if Sustainable Development Goal 6.2 is to be achieved. Such large numbers raise the question: is CLTS is the right approach by which to address the problem at hand? 

Two interrelated questions need to be answered here: 1) can CLTS be implemented in all targeted communities, and 2) conditional on implementation, is CLTS cost-effective at improving sanitation practices?

A matter of context

Globally, CLTS is understood to be most suitable for small, rural and homogeneous communities. However, it is often applied in contexts not considered ideal, for example more urbanised, heterogeneous communities. 

In Nigeria, like other places, the poor results of CLTS in more urbanised communities have led to years of adjusting or tweaking the approach, for example engaging young people or creating smaller clusters for triggering.

In the STS project, we implemented CLTS in primarily rural communities; but, in line with practice in Nigeria, we also implemented it in a significant number of larger, diverse urbanised communities, where we tested smaller clusters. 

When assessing the effectiveness of CLTS in these communities, we found that those with populations of 20,000 or more:

  • Are difficult, sometimes impossible, to mobilise for triggering, even if smaller triggering clusters are created
  • Triggering, if it occurs, does not lead to significant improvements in the sanitation situation

Contrastingly, in communities with fewer than 20,000 people, we found that CLTS results in a significant increase in toilet ownership. These interim findings support years of anecdotal evidence that the CLTS approach is not readily implementable in urbanised contexts. 

Implications of the results

The findings show that, in the study states – Ekiti and Enugu – the Government, donors and NGOs could use publicly available population data to target CLTS programmes to communities where they are predicted to work. 

We suggest that this model is tested in other states of Nigeria. If effective, population size could be used to improve CLTS targeting across Nigeria, and possibly other countries, freeing up scarce resources to identify and test complementary sanitation approaches suited to more urbanised communities. 

The STS project is now testing whether commercial marketing techniques in conjunction with a more desirable and accessibly priced toilet product range can help drive up demand and uptake in Ekiti and Enugu.

The brief ‘Improving CLTS targeting: Evidence from Nigeria’ was co-authored by Erin Flynn at WaterAid, and Laura Abramovsky, Britta Augsberg and Francisco Oteiza from the Centre for the Evaluation of Development Policies (EDePo), at the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS). For more information please visit their website >