Project Results: 

Innovative sanitation services for Bamako

Professional and affordable desludging for low income households

About the project
The project aimed to make sure that at least 20 emptiers of toilet pits offer a complete, hygienic and professional service, affordable to households and profitable for the emptiers. By doing this,  professional sanitation services are improved, and consequently the living conditions of 100,000 low income inhabitants of 9 peripheral neighbourhoods in Bamako. With this an innovative, sectoral approach to faecal sludge management is developed, including all actors involved.

Key results

  • A market analysis of local faecal sludge drainage.

  • The implementation of two semi-mechanical faecal sludge drainage services.

  • The development of a mobile application for monitoring the sludge drainage operations, used by 9 companies: less than the 20 envisaged, but all very dedicated.

  • The establishment of a call center to facilitate the connection between emptiers and households. Number of households covered by the centre: 127.098 = 630,000 people.

Tips for the future

  • Focus on the owners of the trucks (and less on the chauffeurs), as they have a stronger incentive to have an efficient and effective workflow.

  • A call center takes time to find its position and get enough orders to become self-sustainable.

  • Giving attention to improving your business model pays off: dare to think more entrepreneurial. In this case, it has led to contracts with large users of emptying services like hotels and large organisations.

Potential for growth
The project received an uptopping. This concerned the expansion of the mobile app, access to the call centre for some other Communes of Bamako and the building of a small faecal sludge treatment station (though acquiring the necessary piece of land is problematic). When the call centre becomes more mature and the app is more developed, this model could be replicated to other African countries.

Project partners
Join for Life/Protos, Practica Foundation, Commune I, IV and V in Bamako, BORDA, SADEV, local NGOs, private sector.

June 2016 - August 2018


Bamako, Mali


In the District of Bamako, capital of Mali with 2.2 million inhabitants, 98,5% of the population resorts to an autonomous sanitation. This translates into a considerable production of fecal sludge: about 550 m³/day.
Theoretically, the collection and transport of this sludge belongs to the domain of competence of the local authorities, who are, however, confronted with human and financial resource problems, that prohibit them from fully fulfilling this role. This context has favored the appearance of a dynamic private sector of emptiers.
The manual emptiers evolve into the informal and work in teams of two persons in unhygienic conditions. One emptier stays on the inside of the sewage tank while the other dumps the sludge in a hole dug for this purpose. There are no data on the number of manual emptiers in the District. The households who resort to manual emptiers evoke as reasons the inaccessibility of their house (narrowness or degradation of the road) or the high cost of the service of vacuum trucks. Those who possess a simple traditional pit, that produce a compact sludge that cannot be treated by the mechanical emptiers, often resort to the services of the manual emptiers. The price of a manual fecal slugde collection is negotiated and varies between €12 and €45. The costs of transport are not included in this price. In general, the sludge is not evacuated, but dumped in holes or in gutters or even on the roads, with severe consequences for health and environment.

The mechanical emptiers are equipped with vacuum trucks with a capacity between 6 and 20 m³. There are 155 operational vacuum trucks in the District. According to information provided by the drivers, the trucks make between 2 and 8 trips per week, a number which is largely exceeded in the rainy season, a period of high demand.
Once collected, the fecal sludge is transported and dumped illegally in the peripheries of Bamako in a zone of 20 to 25 km at most. Their performance costs vary between 30 and 75€ for a flat rate of 3-10 m³. 39% of the households who resort to mechanical emptiers think their rates are too high. The emptiers are organized in 10 sections piloted by a central union for the protection of the profession. Some emptiers possess their own trucks, while others rent their truck and pay a rate each month to the owner. The owners of multiple trucks use an intermediary to manage their trucks. There are no emptying companies. The investment necessary to launch the activity is considerable: a single truck, for example, costs between 25.000 and 35.000€. To the costs for amortization of the investment the maintenance costs are added, as well as the costs for fuel and salaries of the employees. But the profitability is interesting: the vehicles are – according to their operators – amortized in two to three years of activity.

The profession of emptiers is confronted with numerous difficulties which are, among others:
- Technical difficulties: bad mechanical condition of the trucks (especially the suction pumps); difficulties to access septic tanks or pit latrines; difficulties to extract the solid fraction of the septic sludge and the solid waste of the pits; the non-existence of fecal sludge treatment plants.
- Organizational difficulties: lack of protective equipment for the emptiers; insufficient parking space; lack of managing capacities (difficulty to follow up and optimize the technical performance and finances of the services)
- Difficulties regarding administration: the informal character of the sector, the absence of a legal framework (the profession of emptiers isn’t recognized as a profession by the Malian State)
- Difficulties regarding finances: higher operation costs due to the long distances to the dump sites (resulting in higher fuel expenses), the bad condition of the roads to the dump sites which leads to breakdowns (broken axis, frequent puncture and deterioration of the tires), the numerous taxes to pay, the badgering of the police.

In the whole District, the traditional type of latrine with a simple pit is used by about 42% of the households, the improved latrine by 35% and the septic tank by 22% of the households. When the latrines are full, most of the households call for a collection service. About 70% of the households resort to mechanical emptiers, 30% resort to manual emptiers. The frequency of fecal sludge collection varies from 3 months up to multiple years, with those of ‘a year and longer’ as the highest (47%). These numbers are explained by the vulnerability of the living conditions of the households. When full, the latrines are often not immediately emptied due to financial problems. The households adapt to this unhygienic situation while saving enough to pay the emptier. The most used emptying services are those with a rate lower than 30€ per month. This fact should not solely be attributed to the household’s purchasing power, but also to the importance the households accord to sanitation (for example, the households spend more on telephone than health).

On the demand side, the main constraints are the following:
- The low capability to pay for a large part of the population
- The dominant type of latrine stays the traditional pit, which produces a compact sludge, difficult to handle by the mechanical emptiers.
- The inaccessibility of certain neighborhoods (narrowness or road degradation) which leaves no choice but to resort to manual emptying and which makes sludge transport very difficult.
- Limited comprehension of the population concerning the importance to resort to a professional emptying service.

Despite the multiple constraints and difficulties, fecal sludge collection and transport is a profitable business in Bamako, with a market potential of 0,5-1,6 billion FCFA (0,9-2,4 million euros) on an annual basis. To reinforce the fecal sludge collection and transport market, it is important to assure the financial viability of the business and watch over the quality and accessibility of proposed services, while preserving the environment. An entire system has to be instated, which englobes the whole fecal sludge chain, and links the private and the public sector.

It is with this logic that Protos, since May 2014, has implemented the project ACASIA (Amélioration des Conditions d’Acces aux Services et Infrastructures d’Aissainissement des Communes urbaines I et IV de Bamako), co-financed by the European Union, the Direction Générale du Développement belge (DGD) and Protos itself. This project aims to make a liquid sanitation sector operational that is socially viable and economically profitable, and is respectful for the environment as well.

The Municipalities I and IV (C I et C IV) are privileged partners of Protos, with whom is collaborated continuously since 2003 (C I) and 2008 (C IV). This co-operation, based on the Local Contractorship, has permitted us to come a long way, and has reached a real partnership today, founded on direct participation in all stages of the project and on mutual responsibility to reach our results.

The ACASIA project intervenes on:
- The “capture” link: realizing improved sanitation devices and execution of sensitization campaigns.
- The “collection and transport” link: supporting the development and organization of emptying operators through capacity building and coaching of small enterprises.
- The “treatment” link: constructing 2 fecal sludge treatment stations.
- The transversal plan: giving support to the Municipalities so they can fulfill their role in the realization and management of infrastructure, and in the regulation of the sanitation sector; stimulating the organization of dialogue between the different actors and participants of the sector.

This project adopts a multi-stakeholder approach with an active involvement of following organizations:

Implementing parties
Protos is the owner of the project, and responsible for the project towards VIA Water. Protos is charged of all methodological and transversal aspects, follow-up and management of the project, contacts with the donor, technical support for communities and other actors involved, and completion of reports. Protos has an important expertise in managing water and sanitation projects and in supporting Local Contractorship.
Practica is a Dutch foundation that brings in its international technical assistance to develop innovative solutions:
- Participatory design of an alternative emptying service
- Development of the call center and smartphone application and its management
- Capacity building of operators to use the new tools, support for the collection of data for monitoring those tools, and continuous optimization of results
- Technical supervision and evaluation of the developed methods and tools.
The Municipalities I and IV of the District of Bamako are the local partners responsible for the general coordination and project management of infrastructure (planning – contracting – follow-up and control – acceptance of works – delegation of the management and follow-up).
The NGO AMASBIF (Municipality I) and the NGO ADeCB (Municipality IV) are charged with the social engineering, the sensibilization of the population, the support to the municipality, the neighborhood committees, and the emptying operators. The two NGO’s will work in close collaboration with BESE (Municipality I) and COPIDUC/AEP (Municipality IV), the municipal technical services for water and sanitation. This partnership allows an active participation of the Municipalities in social engineering, and allows capacity building through « learning by doing ».
The SNCSM/SYNACOR and its members, will mainly have a role of representing the organized emptying operators. In this way, they will be involved in identifying and analyzing the needs of the operators, as well as in the search for solutions, the improvement of the working conditions and the regulation of the fecal sludge collection and transport sector. The SNCSM/SYNACOR will be the interface between the project, the Municipalities and the organized emptiers.

Steering Committee
Taken into account the fact that the project integrates the program ACASIA-MYP Bamako and in order to avoid a duplication of the activities and a non-rationalization of the costs, only one Steering Committee will be organized for ACASIA-MYP-VIAWATER.
This Committee will be presided by the governor of the District of Bamako and composed of the different members of the consortium, the regional Technical Services, the mayors of the concerned municipalities and the governor of the Region of Koulikoro. The Committee will meet two times per year to approve the results of the previous period, adapt the strategy if necessary and approve the plan of action. It watches over the conformity of the project, with respect for the national strategies and the spirit of the project proposal.

Since the start of the ACASIA project, Protos and its partners have organized multiple dialogues with the different parties involved. One of the findings that came out of those dialogues, was that even if the project foresees actions for fecal sludge collection and transport, some major obstacles still have no solution:

1- The difficulty, for the mechanical emptiers, to access the many narrow and degraded streets with their vacuum trucks, which leaves no other choice to the households involved but to resort to manual emptiers. From whence the interest to develop alternative technologies that allow to improve the accessibility of remote zones. The “alternative” fecal sludge collection service, which uses small vehicles, generally costs a lot more per m³ but can be proposed for limited volumes, so the price per collection can drop, and become affordable for low-income households.
2- Even if an evolution to suppress the manual emptying is desirable, it has become clear that on an intermediate term, the manual emptying will stay a reality in Bamako, because of the weak financial capacity of the majority of households and the difficulty to empty traditional latrines mechanically. From whence the interest to invest in the alternative fecal sludge collection, which combines manual and mechanical operations.
3- In order to improve the management capacities of the small emptying enterprises, there is no system in place that allows to follow the technical and financial performance of the enterprises.
4- The difficulty for the emptiers to meet the demand and for the households to meet the supply, from whence the interest to develop a tool that allows to facilitate the relation between emptier and household, that allows to inform the households about the different emptying services that are offered and their respective costs.
5- The difficulty for the Municipalities to effectively implement Local Contractorship to the « fecal sludge collection and transport » link of the sanitation chain, contrary to the other links of the chain (“capture” and “treatment”) where implementing Local Contractorship is a lot more evident.
6- The animations and classic sensitization foreseen in ACASIA only have a relative impact in an urban environment, especially in regards to a complex theme like sanitation. From whence the interest to test innovative approaches.
7- The absence within the partner framework of an international technical assistance, capable of accompanying the project to address technical challenges, and the impossibility to mobilize this assistance with EU financing.

As a result of these workshops, it was decided to formulate a complementary project to address the difficulties mentioned above. It is on this base that Protos and Practica Foundation – already partners in a research-action project on the Manual Drilling financed by UNICEF – have agreed to search for a donor willing to finance this complementary project.

Project Plan

This project will be implemented in the Municipalities I and IV of the District of Bamako and will focus on 9 neighborhoods with approximately 300.000 inhabitants, mostly poor immigrants from rural areas and refugees from the armed conflict in the north of the country. These neighborhoods register the highest growth rate of Bamako, where the access to basic infrastructure is very limited.

The duration of the project is 18 months. The operational start-up is set at the 1st of June 2016, so the end is foreseen at the 30th November 2017.
The present action is positioned as an action research pilot phase which aims at finding – in a participatory way – answers to the question of how to guarantee the physical and economic accessibility (affordable rates) for the majority of households and also the profitability of the fecal sludge collection activity.
For Protos, action research is both a « philosophy » of intervention, which aims at clearly posing the central issue to resolve, as well as a « method» of action to reach the solution. In fact, the action research pursuits the following complementary objectives:
- Action to implement a transformation;
- Research to obtain the action and to make it more durable, and also to improve the impact of the action by the acquisition and valorization of knowledge concerning the domain of the action
- A diffusion and a valorization of the knowledge of other actors in the sector

So the project aims at finding adapted solutions to offer deprived neighborhoods an affordable and high quality fecal sludge collection service. To find these solutions, the project will look to solve the following questions:

Q1: Which are the viable sanitation chains that allow assuring the fecal sludge collection and transport of fresh and septic latrine sludge in Bamako?
Q2: For fresh sludge, what are the appropriate technologies to extract the sludge from the pits and transfer it to the treatment site?
Q3: What are the recurring costs of the different feces collection services in Bamako? Which posts can be optimized to minimize the costs?
Q4: On basis of which institutional and commercial models can the fecal sludge collection services be developed? Under which conditions are they viable?
Q5: Would emptiers and authorities be interested in a smartphone application to follow and analyze the technical and financial performance of the emptying business.
Q6: Would a community interface for ordering fecal sludge collection improve the access of households to affordable and qualitative collection services?

To achieve the outcome of the project and its outputs, the follow activities will be implemented:
Output 1: Within 18 months, 1 alternative fecal sludge collection service, with a basic formula of 30€, will be implemented in each Municipality.
Activité 1.1: Selection of partner emptying operators
- Presentation of the project to the manual and mechanical emptiers
- Selection of partner operators on basis of motivation and competences.
- Establishment of partner conventions between operators and Protos for experimenting the alternative service.

Activity 1.2: Development of alternative emptying services
- Analysis of the need for alternative emptying service
- Participatory conception of kits for alternative emptying service
- Development of kits for pilot tests
- Formulation of a detailed protocol for hygienic emptying service (materials to use, steps, control points)
- Participatory evaluation and adjustment

Activity 1.3: Acquirement of alternative feces collection equipment
- Endowment of the more expensive alternative extraction/transport equipment to the Municipalities (management will be delegated to private operators in the form of a contract).
- Endowment of the less expensive alternative extraction equipment to partner operators (small tools, hygiene and security equipment)

As part of the ACASIA project, it is foreseen that in return:
- The emptiers will vouch for a qualitative service in the municipality at rates established in a well-informed manner, and will commit to only deliver to the municipal treatment plant.
- Agreements will be established between the operator of treatment plant and the organized emptiers.
- The fees of the expensive equipment payed to the municipalities by the emptiers will only serve to finance the sanitation sector (renovation of the vehicle park, facilitation of the access to credit for the operators and private GIE, co-financing of sanitation projects…)

Output 2: Within 18 months, 20 emptiers (mechanical and alternative) will have improved their technical and financial performance
Activity 2.1: Reinforcement of capabilities of the collection service
- Realization of a market study on the emptying service
- Elaboration, based on the market study, of a plan to reinforce the capacities and performance of the manual and mechanical emptiers.
- Training of emptiers (emptying in safe and hygienic conditions, elaboration of business plans and operating accounts)
- Follow-up (via a smart phone application) and analysis of commercial results of the emptiers.

In parallel, the ACASIA project will work with the Municipalities on the formalization, the certification and the regulation of fecal sludge management (pricing, taxing).

Activity 2.2: Development of a smart phone application to optimize the technical and financial performance
- Participatory conception and development of the application
- Training of partner operators on the use of the application to optimize their technical and financial performance
- Participatory evaluation and adjustment of the application

Output 3: Within 18 months, 2.000 supplementary households in the 9 neighborhoods will be convinced to resort to professional emptiers

Activity 3.1: Promotion of emptying services towards the population
- Elaboration of a strategy of sensitization/communication to promote the services to the households, with integration of marketing techniques of sanitation
- Sensitization/communication campaigns (house visits, radio messages, etc.)

Activity 3.2: Implementing a call center to facilitate the connection between emptiers and households
- Participatory conception and implementation of the center
- Recruitment and training of personnel
- Training of partner operators on the functioning of the call center
- Progressive implementation
- Follow-up of the center’s performance
- Elaboration of a business model for the call center
Output 4: The achievements of the project will be capitalized and diffused among 35 active services/institutions in the sanitation sector
Activity 4.1: Realization and distribution of a documentary on the activities
Activity 4.2: Presentation of the achievements in local workshops and meetings

Target group

The local private sector (the supply): The project aims to foster local entrepreneurship, more specifically of the emptying operators.
- Both the formal private sector (organized mechanical emptiers) and the informal private sector (manual emptiers) will be trained to improve their performances, in order to increase the quality of service whilst maintaining affordable prices.
- At the start of the project, with a call for expression of interest, two emptying operators will be selected to develop an alternative fecal sludge collection service, complementary to their actual service, that should improve access to professional emptying services in poor neighborhoods
- A group of 5 to 10 emptiers will be selected to be monitored through a smartphone application, in order to analyze their technical and financial performances on a regularly basis.
- The sample of selected emptiers will be supported materially, by the Municipality and the SNCSM/SYNACOR, to assure a well-ordered transport of fecal sludge from the household to the treatment stations.
- A call center will be set up to optimize the encounter between offer and demand.
- Emptying services will be promoted through a WASH Marketing campaign.

The proposed actions aim to respond to the most important barriers holding back the development of the fecal sludge collection and transport sector in Bamako.
Certain actions of the project will indirectly involve other private operators like garbage collectors, local craftsmen (masons, plumbers) for the construction of latrines, and farmers for the valorization of the fecal sludge after treatment. After the pilot phase, and in function of its results, the exploitation of the call center could be assigned to private operator in the form of a delegation management contract.

The clients of the fecal sludge collection and transport services (the demand):
A lot of households do no dispose of an appropriate toilet/latrine, which inhibits their access to a sanitation service that is affordable, hygienic and durable. A lot of households are currently not served by professional emptiers (physical and/or economical inaccessibility), which results in the use of the occasional and informal services, with severe consequences for health and environment (lack of hygiene, illegal dumping, etc.).
In addition to accessibility problems, a lot of poor households are not willing or able to pay for emptying services, which further feeds the non-adherence of households to professional emptying services.

To the adherence of households to professional emptying services, the project will intervene on 2 complementary levels:
- At the supply side: improve access to professional emptying services through the development of alternative emptying services and the improvement of the emptiers performances, actions that should reduce the price of emptying services;
- At the demand side: the sensitization of the households by using classic animations and the stimulation of the demand through a Sanitation Marketing campaign.

At the level of this effort of stimulation of the offer, Protos and its partners will be supported by the Neighborhood leaders and the Neighborhood Committees, that will be the the interlocutors between the project and the population, and will be in charge of representing the communities. They will participate at hygiene and sanitation promotion campaigns, follow-up of the implementation of activities, and also at the mobilization of households to adhere professional fecal sludge collection and transport services.


Environmental durability:
The improvement of the performance (efficiency and effectivity) of fecal sludge collection and transport services, as well as the cost reduction, should increase the number of participating households, reduce practices of unhealthy emptying and illegal dumping of fecal sludge in nature.

Economical durability:
The improvement of the living conditions (through better sanitation services) will in its turn drive a reduction of waterborne diseases (diarrhea, schistosomiasis, etc.) and other hygiene-related diseases (malaria), which in its turn drives a reduction of heath expenditure and of time lost at work/school days due to illness. The project also stimulates the private sector and job creation. Emptying enterprises will improve their revenues (increase number of customers and reduce charges). In fact, the reduction of operational costs (distance reduction, more performant equipment, treatment plant, regulation) will allow them to gain more profit, reduce the price of collection and transport, and increase the demand for this service.
Technical durability: The organization of the emptiers in a union with a legal recognition and the systematic training of the members of the syndicate, will contribute to the durability of the fecal sludge chain. The project aims to train and to accompany the emptiers to have balanced operation expenses and to improve their performances.

Social durability:
The organized and regulated emptiers will gain dignity. The animation sessions will allow to develop a culture of systematic resort of the households to professional emptying services. The improvement of sanitation has an important impact on the gender issues, as women are the ones being affected the most in their daily life.

Multiplier effects:
The effect of professionalization measures for emptiers and the alternative emptying service developed by this project can be multiplied to other neighborhoods in Bamako or other cities in Mali, thanks to the sharing and spreading of the experience by the SNCSM/SYNACOR members.
Gained experiences will be shared in sectoral groups, and will be used in advocacy activities to take into account the whole sanitation chain (and not just a part of it) at the level of governmental politics and development aid).

Overview of Goals

Improve the living conditions of low income inhabitants of 9 peripheral neighborhoods of the Municipalities I and IV of the District of Bamako.

Within 18 months, the « fecal sludge collection and transport » link in the fecal sludge management chain is reinforced for 100.000 persons (13.300 households) of 9 neighborhoods of the Municipalities I and IV of the District of Bamako.

Output 1: Within 18 months, one alternative service of fecal sludge collection, with a basic formula of €30, will be installed in each Municipality.
Output 2: Within 18 months, 20 emptiers (mechanical and alternative) will have improved their technical and financial performances.
Output 3: Within 18 months, 2.000 supplementary households in the 9 neighborhoods will be convinced to return to professional fecal sludge collection.
Output 4: The achievements of the project will be capitalized and distributed among 35 active services/institutions in the sanitation sector.

Results and indicators

  • Within 18 months, the “fecal sludge collection and transport” link of the “liquid sanitation” chain is reinforced in 9 neighborhoods of the Municipalities I and IV of the Bamako District.
    • Rate of profitability of the emptying activity ( target )
    • Rate of access to professional emptying services ( target )
  • Within 18 months, the achievements of the project are capitalized and distributed to the actors of the sanitation sector
    • Number of services/institutions reached 35 ( target )
  • Within 18 months, 2000 extra households in the 9 neighborhoods will be convinced to resort to professional emptying services
    • Number of extra households convinced to return to the professional emptying services +2000 ( target )
  • Within 18 months, 20 emptying operators (mechanical and alternative) have improved their technical and financial performance
    • Number emptying operators with a better technical and financial performance 20 ( target )
  • Within 18 months, an alternative emptying service, with a basic formula of 30€, is implemented in each Municipality
    • Number of functional alternative emptying services 2 ( target )
  • Improve the living conditions of low-income inhabitants of 9 regions of the Municipalities I and IV of the Bamako District.