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Today, a third of Africans still practice open defecation, and half rely on traditional latrines, the health effects of which are largely unknown

Nearly 540 million people, more than 60 percent of Africa’s population, currently do not have access to safe sanitation, defined as an improved latrine or septic tank. Meeting the MDG for sanitation—which calls for halving by 2015 the percentage of the population that did not have improved sanitation in 1990—appears a daunting task.

Traditional latrines—a heterogeneous collection of facilities with poorly understood health impacts—are the most prevalent sanitation option in Africa, used by half of the population—urban and rural, rich and poor alike. Traditional latrines are also the fastest growing form of sanitation in Africa, reaching an additional 2 to 3 percent of the population each year.

Improved sanitation, on the other hand, is mainly the prerogative of wealthier urban residents. Flush toilets, most connected to septic tanks rather than to sewers, remain a luxury, as do improved latrines, which have made headway in just a handful of countries. The prevalence of open defecation has finally started to fall, but coverage of traditional latrines is growing much faster than any of the improved alternatives.


Patterns of access to sanitation in Africa