Community toilet use in slums: willingness to pay and the role of informational and supply side constraints

Publication Details

3ie Funded Evaluation, DPW1.1105. A link to the completed study will appear here when available.

Alex Armand, Orazio Attanasio, Britta Augsburg, Bhartendu Trivedi
South Asia
Water and Sanitation
None specified
Gender analysis
Equity Focus
Gender, Poverty
Evaluation design
Randomised Control Trials (RCT)
Ongoing 3ie Funded Studies
3ie Funding Window
Development Priorities Window 1


The study explores the role that informational constraints and inadequate facilities play in driving the willingness to pay (WTP) for access to community toilets and their use in the context of Indian slums.


Shared public toilets will, for the foreseeable future, continue to be an important solution to improve sanitary conditions in slums, given numerous constraints to increasing access to private toilets and sewerage. However, even where public toilets are available, open defecation remains common behaviour among slum dwellers. One of the major reasons for this is the low willingness to pay (WTP) for sanitation and access to clean water.

While exploring some potential drivers behind the low WTP, this study will shed light on whether usage of public toilets is generally perceived to be too expensive, due to household financial constraints or for lack of information; or due to the dirtiness of the available infrastructure.

Research questions

  1. What is slum dwellers’ WTP for community toilet access?
  2. Can slum dwellers’ WTP for community toilets be affected by the provision of information about private and public benefits of reducing open defecation?
  3. Can slum dwellers’ WTP for community toilets be affected by promoting and ensuring cleanliness of public toilets?
  4. Are there complementarities between the provision of information and supply side improvements in terms of affecting WTP?
  5. Are slum dwellers that are able to use community toilets at the cost they are willing to pay changing their sanitation behaviour in the longer term?
  6. Does the provision of information and supply side improvements increase the sustainability of any behaviour change observed?


Intervention design

The study includes two complementary interventions that aim to improve the water and sanitation situation in slums by promoting the use of public shared toilets and thereby reducing open defecation. The first intervention targets the demand side through improved sanitation literacy of the user, such as repeated information and reminders through text messages. The second intervention targets the supply side through the improvement of community toilets, by addressing issues such as the lack of cleanliness and poor upkeep. These interventions will be fine-tuned throughout the first year of pilot and formative activities of the study.

Theory of change

It is assumed that open defecation has a significant impact on the water quality of slum dwellers in India. The theory of change suggests that the low WTP for sanitation and access to clean water is driven by both demand and supply sides factors. It further suggests that by supplying information about the link between poor sanitation and disease, and improving the experience of using community toilets by ensuring its cleanliness are major factors to promote the use of public toilets. A possible negative externality of increases in WTP for sanitation and access to clean water would be congestion, and possible difficulties in keeping improved standards due to higher usage.

Evaluation design

This study will use a cluster randomised design, where slums will be randomly allocated to either information provision, the supply intervention or both. The experimental design will have four treatment arms, consisting of slum dwellers exposed to: 1) information only; 2) information and maintenance activities for keeping the toilets clean; 3) maintenance activities only; and 4) no intervention. This study is proposed to be conducted in the cities of Varanasi and Lucknow, that are comparable to many other cities in India and Southeast Asia. The final selection of the study sites will be decided after the detailed community toilet survey.

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