Project Results: 

PULA - App service for faecal sludge management

Closing the data gap for sanitation businesses and authorities

The project aimed further development of a cloud-based app service that is supporting operators in Faecal Sludge Management (FSM). Access to data is crucial for service providers, in order to deliver a better service, while reducing costs and expanding their client volume. Also for city authorities require real data for making informed and effective decisions on FSM. However, such data is often unavailable, inaccurate or not used effectively to improve service delivery – particularly in low-income areas. The ultimate goal of the PULA app is closing this data gap.

The idea was already tested and elaborated in Ghana and Kenya with a paper version. In this pilot, the app was developed and validated for Mozambique and Zambia. The Zambia part was co-funded from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Key results

  • Minimum Viable Software service: a working app, ready for modification in a next stage.

  • (Outline of) a business plan.

Tips for the future

  • Planning of staff that is only temporary available is a challenge.
  • App was demanding too much from phones and network; should be able to work offline and with other data requirement.

  • Working in parallel in different countries made it quite complex: next time one country.

Potential for growth
Testing showed that the product was still too complicated for the target group. Hence, the final product needs more additional steps before it can really be launched. The business plan indicates that the PULA app service can be profitable. Authorities become interested when there is sufficient data collection (mass). Interest is shown by entrepreneurs in different countries. There is also an interested party to own PULA for further development, jointly with contract partner UX.

Project partners
BOP Inc, WSUP (UK) and UX (Mozambique/Mauritius).

2017 - March 2019


Maputo, Mozambique
Lusaka, Mozambique


Access to sanitation in urban areas of sub-Saharan Africa has stagnated over the past few decades – increase in access to toilets has just about kept up with population growth and urbanisation. In the future and under the SDGs for 2030, focusing on access to safe FSM services (i.e. safely managed sanitation services) will be necessary. A lack of access to reliable data for national and local stakeholders in this realm as well as others has been a huge challenge in clearly identifying evidence-based solutions.

In many urban areas, the FSM sector is dominated by private sector operators (Client A), both formal and informal. Private operators serving middle- and high-income areas of a city typically use vacuum tankers or other mechanical means, while those serving low-income households typically use unsafe, unregulated manual emptying. Based on WSUP’s experience with FSM in all 6 of its programme countries, some of the major challenges faced by these businesses include:

• Retaining and Managing Customers: Names and numbers of customers are typically put into a book that is only referred to for billing purposes. Operators would like to have a stronger understanding of their customer base (i.e. frequency of emptying, size of tank, location, etc.), and a system to manage this data more effectively. For instance, it is difficult to find information on the size of septic tanks of previously served customers, leading to dispatching inappropriately sized vehicles – an inefficient practice that prevents FSM businesses from reaching additional consumers.
• Billing and Payment: For high-frequency customers of Client A such as factories, institutions (government, schools, etc.) and public toilets (including those serving low-income communities), billing of customers that typically pay on a monthly or less frequent basis is often cumbersome, requiring significant paperwork and time spent invoicing.
• Locating Customers: Location of customers is crucial; not only is it difficult for drivers to physically locate new customers, it is also a challenge for them to find existing customers due to high staff / driver turnover. This is just as relevant in middle and high-income areas as in low-income areas, as many cities lack road and house number systems. Where these do exist, they are not widely used or known – even by local people.
• Targeted Promotion of Customers: When asked what capacity building support they required, vacuum tanker operators in Ghana responded that demand creation was their most pressing issue. With an often saturated supply market, pamphlets or small signs advertising their FSM services solicited below-capacity demand. Client A lacks an easy-to-use, cost-efficient marketing system that allows them to reach out to customers that are due for emptying, which would increase demand for their services.
• Managing / Tracking Vehicles: One of the challenges that owners of vacuum tanker businesses face is that their drivers provide services to customers without their knowledge. This has become such a challenge that in Maputo, at least one owner of a vacuum tanker business has had to invest in a GPS tracking system. Traffic is also a major issue which reduces the profitability of businesses.

Mobile applications for small service-oriented businesses developed for and focused on markets in Europe and North America (particularly customer relationship management applications) currently offer as much as 20% increased profitability due to efficiency savings and greater revenues. However these applications are not easily transferrable to developing cities, as they are designed for users with high levels of literacy and mobile data connectivity, and charge high service fees that are not affordable for the target Client A. A mobile application more suited to countries with a lower literacy rate, comparatively more expensive mobile data packages and more affordable charges is required and must be designed with the specific market and target users in mind in order to achieve the same benefits seen in the FSM management sector of developed countries.

The public sector in developing countries is also struggling to respond to demand for and the supply of FSM services. Limited public resources does not allow for a strong enforcement process, urban planning for services, and understanding the market based on evidence. Typically, regulators have limited to no information on the number of private operators available, the demand for services, faecal sludge production rates and other relevant data. Although loans and grants are given to authorities from financing institutions to fund initiatives that will generate a better understanding of the FSM market, this data not collected consistently and hence is rarely accurate, for example data is often estimated using surveys with households rather than gaining statistics service providers.

Most importantly, the lack of oversight by local authorities of the reality of FSM services in cities has left low-income residents with limited to no access to safe FSM services. Significant investments have been made to collect data to better understand the FSM market and the impact of support provided to FSM services, but challenges remain in appropriately capturing that data. WSUP has always found it challenging to get supported service providers to self-report against their activities, and collecting data from households through surveys is expensive, inaccurate and not exhaustive. Furthermore, there has been a gap in data and understanding of how to get mechanical emptying service providers to deliver services to low-income areas, meaning that large numbers of people from low income communities are left behind and denied safe access to FSM services.

Project Plan

Design sprint Zambia
a. Engage and validate with businesses, municipalities and other key stakeholders
b. Define requirements & value proposition

Design sprint Mozambique
a. Engage and validate with businesses, municipalities and other key stakeholders
b. Define requirements & value proposition

MVP Coding Maputo
a. Development
b. Testing and refinement

Beta Testing
a. Concurrent testing in Mozambique and Zambia

Learning and Dissemination
a. Prepare learning and dissemination strategy and share with ViaWater
b. Mid term report (narrative)
c. Final report due (financial and narrative)
d. WSUP publications: practice note / topic brief – TBC
e. External presentations (x2) – date TBC

Target group

There are two distinct user groups for this application:
a) Client A (vacuum tankers and small-scale service providers providing services to low-income consumers), including an assessment of how the app will improve the performance and profitability of the client;
b) Client B (municipalities, utilities, regulators and financing institutions), as data needs to allow them to improve regulation of services, regulatory climate, how much they currently pay for similar services, their willingness to pay and interest in the service.

However our vision for PULA is that the ultimate beneficiaries overall will be domestic and non-domestic customers of Client A. Through PULA, businesses will be strengthened and enabled to pro-actively engage customers to provide services. Reaching more consumers will ultimately reduce the overall costs to market the emptying services to customers, and increasing customers will generate revenue. This revenue will, in turn, enable FSM providers to reach more low-income consumers, increasing the level of safe sanitation available to all.

We envision that PULA functionality will provide businesses and municipalities with data analysis and learning capabilities that will demonstrate the benefits to businesses to change their propositions from a reactive service for primarily domestic customers to a proactive service. Municipalities will define the triggers and incentives in the market that can contribute to uptake of household sanitation and FSM services.


Sustainability is inherent within the project design.
The aim of the project is to create a minimal viable product that can be used by Clients A and B on an ongoing basis, generating data that can be used by both parties to improve the state of FSM practices. We anticipate that this data will be generated both during the project delivery period and after the end - as the App will be fully functional and still in use by Client A. To ensure that the App can exist after the project end, we will consider long-term functionality throughout the development phases. This will involve ensuring that the App is designed in such a way that it can be further adapted, amended and iterated based on feedback from users.

Developing a business case // Ensuring financial viability
During the project, we will assess the business case for PULA. This will involve exploring Client A and B willingness to pay for use of the App and access to the data it generates; analysing the value of the data generated in terms of improving operational efficiency for Client A and providing insights for city-wide planning for Client B; evaluating the service provided by the App in terms of functionality and ease of use. This will give us an indication of PULA's financial viability in the long-term, as we will be able to use these insights to work out prices and costs.

Expansion and scalaibility
We will also explore the possibility of moving PULA into other countries. Given WSUP's experience of urban sanitation across developing markets, we are in a good position to explore marketing PULA to other cities and sanitation authorities/regulators.
Developing a business case will also support us in making a case for further investment if necessary.

Ongoing operation, maintenance and development
At the end of the project we will begin looking at key players within the sector and hopefully put PULA out to market, to be taken on by an App developer or software company to continue running it.

As the project is an initial pilot and an innovative product, there is inherently some risk and certain unknowns involved with regards to what happens after the project period. However we plan to mitigate these risks by taking into account long-term scalability and sustainability throughout.

Overview of Goals

- To create a functional, beta-version of the app
- To pilot this beta version in [Zambia/Mozambique]
- To take a user-centred approach and upgrade the beta-version to Version 1.0
- To pilot Version 1.0 in [Zambia/Mozambique]

Results and indicators

  • Produce Prototype Application
    • Stakeholders consulted in Zambia 15 ( target )
    • Consulted representatives from FSM businesses including drivers and owners on needs, wants and limitations relating to PULA. Also consulted with city authorities, municipalities and government representatives on their needs, wants and limitations relating to PULA.
    • Stakeholders consulted in Mozambique
    • Consulted representatives from FSM businesses including drivers and owners on needs, wants and limitations relating to PULA. Also consulted with city authorities, municipalities and government representatives on their needs, wants and limitations relating to PULA.
  • Beta application developed
    • Beta application
  • Working PULA App in MVP stage
    • Testing