Ethan Arpi

Cleaning Up The Streets

NMT?Shit business is serious business,? explains Otunba Gadaffi, founder of DMT, a Nigerian based mobile toilet provider.? And he is right?poor sanitation is a major problem in this burgeoning nation of over 130 million, causing an array of preventable diseases like dysentery and cholera.? In fact, an editorial published last month by the Daily Champion, a Lagos based newspaper, laments the lack of publicly available toilets in Nigeria’s cities and the unsightly occurrences that result: ??Nigerians suffer the undignified sight of citizens urinating and defecating in open spaces to the embarrassment of onlookers, foreign and local.? No sight or sign is as defining of a people’s level of being as that of sane, adult Nigerians openly answering the call of nature without qualms or embarrassment. This is a daily occurrence in all major city centres in the North and South of the country.?? Fortunately for everyone involved, if Mr. Gadaffi gets his way, rogue and shameless defecators, like the ones described the Daily Champion, will have a new and private place to relieve themselves.

According to its website, DMT has provided mobile toilets at outdoor events and other public functions in Nigeria since 1992.? The website explains that the company employs ?idle street miscreants? to manage its public toilets, which are now found throughout Lagos, Nigeria’s capital, in places like bus stops, markets, and other densely populated areas.? Not only does the company get massive amounts of street cred for using these ?idle street miscreants,? who charge customers 20 Naira or $.15 to use a toilet, but it also provides work to the unemployed while keeping them out of trouble.? As they say, idle hands are the devils play.? DMT also has a social service arm, the DMT Foundation, which provides portable toilets, free of charge, to schools.Unfortunately, however, Mr. Gadaffi’s toilets are not as green as they could be.? With the exception of the solar powered light, which is oh-so sustainable, DMT’s toilets are nothing more than your run of the mill Port-O-Potty.? They don?t compost, they aren?t low flush, and they aren?t dry.? But in spite of these shortcomings, there is still cause for joy.???

In a conversion I had earlier today, Rob Katz, a colleague of mine and a fellow contributor to Nextbillion, pointed out that these portable toilets and microfinancing schemes have an interesting parallel.? So what does defecation and money lending have in common?? Well, it occurred to Rob that both address the poverty penalty, or the increased cost in time, money, and resources that the poor incur by virtue of their economic status.? I could not agree more.

For example, according to DMT, there are only 500 public toilets in all of Nigeria, a significant penalty for those who cannot afford to buy their own private latrines.? As the Daily Champion points out, ?When there are no facilities for such natural, biological activity as defecating and urinating, citizens will do so anywhere and anyhow.?? And while portable toilets might not be the most ideal form of human waste disposal, they are still a significant improvement to the existing infrastructure. ?

Likewise, in many poor areas without access to financial institutions, residents typically borrow money from informal money lenders who charge upwards of 1000% annual interest.? By middle class standards, microfinance, with average interest rates hovering between 40 and 100%, amounts to usury.? But when compared to the rates charged by informal moneylenders, it begins to look pretty darn good.? Like DMT’s Port-O-Potties, microfinance is an important first step, which should help mitigate the poverty penalty.

Alas, Mr. Gadaffi could make a few changes and significantly improve DMT by converting it into a green business complete with composting toilets.? But for the time being, let’s celebrate and applaud DMT for decreasing the number of people who defecate and urinate on Nigeria’s streets. ?