Community-led total sanitation

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Community-led total sanitation (CLTS) is an approach used mainly in developing countries to improve sanitation and hygiene practices in a community. The approach tries to achieve behavior change in mainly rural people by a process of "triggering", leading to spontaneous and long-term abandonment of open defecation practices. It focuses on spontaneous and long-lasting behavior change of an entire community. The term "triggering" is central to the CLTS process: It refers to ways of igniting community interest in ending open defecation, usually by building simple toilets, such as pit latrines. CLTS involves actions leading to increased self-respect and pride in one's community.[1] It also involves shame and disgust about one's own open defecation behaviors.[1] CLTS takes an approach to rural sanitation that works without hardware subsidies and that facilitates communities to recognize the problem of open defecation and take collective action to clean up and become "open defecation free".

The concept was developed around the year 2000 by Kamal Kar for rural areas in Bangladesh. CLTS became an established approach around 2011. Non-governmental organizations were often in the lead when CLTS was first introduced in a country. Local governments may reward communities by certifying them with "open defecation free" (ODF) status. The original concept of CLTS purposefully did not include subsidies for toilets as they might hinder the process.[2]

CLTS is practiced in at least 53 countries.[1] CLTS has been adapted to the urban context.[3] It has also been applied to post-emergency and fragile states settings.[4]

Challenges associated with CLTS include the risk of human rights infringements within communities, low standards for toilets, and concerns about usage rates in the long-term. CLTS is in principle compatible with a human rights based approach to sanitation but there are bad practice examples in the name of CLTS.[5] More rigorous coaching of CLTS practitioners, government public health staff and local leaders on issues such as stigma, awareness of social norms and pre-existing inequalities are important.[5] People who are disadvantaged should benefit from CLTS programmes as effectively as those who are not disadvantaged.[6]


CLTS triggering process: Community members in Ghana are drawing a map of open defecation for their community.

Open defecation is the practice of defecating out in the open, rather than using a toilet.

"Open defecation free" (ODF) is a central term for community-led total sanitation (CLTS) programs. It primarily means the eradication of open defecation in the entire community. However, ODF can also include the additional criteria, such as:[7]

  • Household latrines or toilets are hygienic, provide the safe containment of feces, offer privacy and a roof to protect the user, have a lid to cover the hole, or a water seal for toilets.
  • All household members and all members of the community use these latrines or toilets.
  • A handwashing facility with water, soap or ash is nearby and used regularly.

Even more stringent criteria which may be required before a community is awarded "ODF status" might include:[7]


A facilitator and the community during a triggering in Malda District, West Bengal, India
School-led total sanitation "triggering" event: These school children in West Bengal, India are looking at a glass of water and fresh feces. Flies will pass from the water to the feces and back, which demonstrates how water can get polluted with pathogens.
This is what CLTS tries to stop: Open defecation in rural Bihar, India

CLTS focuses on community-wide behavioural change, rather than merely toilet construction. The process raises the awareness that as long as even a minority continues to defecate in the open, everyone is at risk of disease. CLTS uses community-led methods, such as participatory mapping and analyzing pathways between feces and the mouth (fecal-oral transmission of disease), as a means of teaching the risks associated with OD.

A tool called "triggering" is used to propel people into taking action. This takes place over a day with a team of facilitators.[8] The team visits a community which is identified as practicing open defecation and encourages villagers to become aware of their own sanitation situation. This aims to cause disgust in participants, and the facilitators help participants to plan appropriate sanitation facilities.

Using the term "shit" (or other locally used crude words) during triggering events or presentations – rather than feces or excreta – is a deliberate aspect of the CLTS approach, as it is meant to be a practical, straight forward approach rather than a theoretical, academic conversation.[2][8]

CLTS is practiced in at least 53 countries.[1] To be successful in the longer term, CLTS should be treated as part of a larger WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) strategy rather than as a singular solution to changing behavior.[1]



Pre-triggering is the process by which communities are assessed to be suitable for CLTS intervention. This involves visits and a number of different criteria, which are used to identify communities likely to respond well to triggering.[8] During pre-triggering, facilitators introduce themselves to community members and begin to build a relationship.[8]


The "CLTS Handbook" from 2008 states that there is no "one way" of doing triggering in CLTS.[8] A rough sequence of steps is given in this handbook which could be followed. Facilitators are encouraged to modify and change activities depending on the local situation.

The UNICEF manual approved for use of CLTS in Sierra Leone suggests the following steps for the triggering process:[9]

  • Visit the community, emphasising the purpose of learning about their sanitation situation
  • Facilitate "Kaka Mapping" – drawing a map of important locations in the village, then adding common sites for defecation
  • Pretend to leave[clarification needed]
  • Facilitate a "Walk of Shame" to sites with frequent Open Defecation
  • Collect a piece of feces in a bag
  • Put feces on the ground where all present can see it, and discuss how flies move between food and feces
  • Wait for the shocked realization that the community is indirectly eating each other's feces
  • Put some feces into a water bottle and ask if anyone would drink it
  • Calculate how much feces is produced each day and ask where it goes
  • Ignition (see below)
  • Wait for the emergence of "Natural Leaders" to work with in order to develop a plan of action.

The "ignition" phase occurs when the community becomes convinced that there is a real sanitation problem, and motivated to do something about it.[10] Natural Leaders are members of the community who are engaged by the process, and able to drive change.[11]

The goal of the triggering process is to let people see the problem first-hand, thereby evoking disgust. However, it has been reported that communities which respond favorably tend to be motivated more by improved health, dignity, and pride than by shame or disgust.[1]


After a positive response to the ignition phase, NGO facilitators work with communities to deliver sanitation services by providing information and guidance relevant to the local situation.

There are many challenges that occur in the post-triggering phase. These are mainly related to the supply of durable and affordable latrine hardware and technical support on latrine construction.[1] Toilet owners may need advice how to upgrade and improve sanitation and handwashing facilities using local materials.[1]


The original concept of CLTS did not include subsidies for toilets.[2] CLTS proponents at that time believed that provoking behavior change in the people alone would be sufficient to lead them to take ownership of their own sanitation situation, including paying for and constructing their own toilets. This was not always the case.

Applications to urban situations, schools and other settings

Since about 2016, CLTS has been adapted to the urban context.[3] For example, in Kenya the NGOs Plan and Practical Action have implemented a form of urban CLTS.[12][13] CLTS has also been used in schools and the surrounding communities, which is referred to as "school-led total sanitation".[14] The school children act as messengers of change to households.[citation needed]

CLTS has also been applied to post-emergency and fragile states settings.[4] There has been some experience with this in Haiti, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Philippines and Indonesia. In 2014, UNICEF reported positive outcomes with CLTS in fragile and insecure contexts, namely in Somalia and South Sudan.[15]

People who are disadvantaged should benefit from CLTS programmes as effectively as those who are not disadvantaged.[6] This is referred to as equality and nondiscrimination (EQND).[6]

Outcomes and health aspects

Millions of people worldwide have benefitted from CLTS which has resulted reductions in open defecation and increases in latrine coverage in many rural communities.[1] Practitioners have declared many villages as "ODF villages", where ODF stands for "open defecation free".

Reviews of effectiveness

A systematic review of 200 studies concluded in 2018 that the evidence base on CLTS effectiveness is still weak.[1] This means that practitioners, policy makers, and program managers have little available evidence to inform their actions.

There is currently a lack of scientific review about the effectiveness of CLTS, although this has been changing since 2015. A study in 2012 reviewed reports by NGOs and practitioners and found that there was little review of the impact of local Natural Leaders, that anecdotes were used without assessing impacts, and that claims were made without supporting evidence.[16] It concluded that these kinds of reports focus on the 'triggering' stage of CTLS instead of the measurable outcomes. A peer-reviewed article considered the sustainability of CLTS in the longer term: It found that there was little monitoring or evaluation of the impacts of CLTS, even though large international organizations were involved in funding the process.[2]

Reviews about the effectiveness of CLTS to eliminate open defecation, reduce diarrhea and other gastrointestinal diseases, and decrease stunting in children are currently underway.[17] In some cases, CLTS has been compared with India's Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) when assessing the effectiveness of the approach.[18] However, this comparison may be invalid, as the presence of subsidies in the TSC process may fundamentally change the effectiveness of the CLTS process.[19]

Comparison of different CLTS programmes

One small study compared different CLTS programmes.[20] Participants from NGOs involved in delivering CLTS reported that although they included some of the activities described in the guidance materials, they often omitted some and included others depending on the local situation. Some reported that subsidies were included, and some offered specific design and construction options.

Health outcomes

A cluster-randomized controlled trial in rural Mali conducted during 2011 to 2013 found that CLTS with no monetary subsidies did not affect diarrhea incidences,[spelling?] but substantially increased child growth (thereby reducing stunting), particularly in children under two years of age.[21]

Challenges and difficulties

A health worker (centre) gets villagers to draw a map of the area, showing the main features like the road and the river (a village near Lake Malawi, Malawi).
Villagers go to the place where meals are prepared to observe how flies are attracted to human feces and carry diseases by landing on the food (village near Lake Malawi, Malawi).
Villagers making a transect walk or 'walk of shame' to the open defecation places, singing 'let us end open defecation' (village near Lake Malawi, Malawi)

Human rights

The CLTS behavioral change process is based on the use of shame. This is meant to promote collective consciousness-raising of the severe impacts of open defecation and trigger shock and self-awareness when participants realize the implications of their actions. The triggering process can however infringe the human rights of recipients, even if this was not intended by those promoting CLTS. There have been cases of fines (monetary and non-monetary), withholding of entitlements, public taunting, posting of humiliating pictures and even violence.[22][23] In some cases CLTS successes might be based on coercion only.[24] On the other hand, CLTS is in principle compatible with a human rights based approach to sanitation but there are bad practice examples in the name of CLTS.[5] More rigorous coaching of CLTS practitioners, government public health officials and local leaders on issues such as stigma, awareness of social norms and pre-existing inequalities are important.[5]

Catarina de Alburquerque, the former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Water and Sanitation, is quoted as saying that "Observers have also recognized that incentives for encouraging behavior change and the construction of latrines are sometimes unacceptable, and include public shaming, including photographing, of those who still practice open defecation."[2]

More debate is still needed regarding humans rights consequences of post-triggering punitive measures.[1]

Toilet standards and toilet types

CLTS does not specify technical standards for toilets. This is a benefit in terms of keeping the costs of constructing toilets very low and allowing villagers to start building their own toilets immediately. However, it can produce two problems: first in flood plains or areas near water tables, poorly constructed latrines are likely to contaminate the water table and thus represent little improvement. Second, long-term use of sanitation facilities is related to the pleasantness of the facilities, but dirty overflowing pits are unlikely to be utilised in the longer term.[25] A related issue here is that CLTS does not address the issue of latrine emptying services or where they exist, how they dispose of waste. This has led some researchers to say that the success of CLTS is largely down to the cultural suitability of the way it is delivered and the degree to which supply-side constraints are addressed.[26]

If villagers do not know about alternative toilet options (like urine-diverting dry toilets or composting toilets), and are not told about these options by the facilitators of the CLTS process, they may opt for pour flush pit latrines even in situations where groundwater pollution is a significant problem.

Reuse of treated excreta as fertiliser

Feces are given a strong negative connotation in the CLTS approach. This can cause confusion for villagers who are already using treated human excreta as a fertiliser in agriculture and can, in fact, discourage the reuse of human excreta.[citation needed]

Long-term usage rates (sustainability)

There is also concern about the number of people who go back to open-defecation some months after having been through the CLTS process. A Plan Australia study from 2013 investigated that 116 villages were considered Open Defecation Free (ODF) following CLTS across several countries in Africa.[27] After two years, 87% of the 4960 households had fully functioning latrines – but these were considered the most basic and none of the communities had moved up the sanitation ladder. 89% of households had no visible excreta in the vicinity, but only 37% had handwashing facilities present. When broader criteria for declaring communities ODF was used, an overall "slippage rate" of 92% was found.[27] Some researchers suggest that this means support is needed to support communities to upgrade facilities in ODF villages which have been triggered by CLTS.[20]

A study in 2018 has found little evidence for sustained sanitation behavior change as a result of CLTS.[1]


Kamal Kar at 12th SuSanA Meeting (in Stockholm prior to World Water Week)
Kamal Kar presented information about CLTS at a meeting of the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance in Sweden in 2010.

In 1999 and 2000, Kamal Kar was working in a village called Mosmoil in Rajshahi, Bangladesh, and decided that a system of attitudinal changes by villagers might have a longer-lasting effect than the existing top-down approach involving subsidies from NGOs and government.[28] The Bangladeshi government began a programme of installing expensive latrines in the 1970s, but the government decided this was too costly, and many of the original latrines were abandoned.[29] In the 1990s, a social mobilisation plan was begun to encourage people to demand and install better sanitation systems, but early success did not last, according to Kar. At that point Kar, a participatory development expert from India, was brought in by Wateraid and he concluded that the problem with previous approaches was that local people had not "internalised" the demand for sanitation. He suggested a new approach: abandoning subsidies and appealing to the better nature of villagers and their sense of self-disgust to bring about change. The CLTS Foundation is the organisation set up by Kar to promote these ideas. Kar and Robert Chambers stated in their 2008 CLTS Handbook:

It is fundamental that CLTS involves no individual house-hold hardware subsidy and does not prescribe latrine models.

— Kamal Kar, Robert Chambers, CLTS Foundation Handbook, 2008 page 8[8]

In time, NGOs and governments began to see the value of the approach and ran their own schemes in various countries, some with less aversion to subsidies than Kamal Kar.[2] Community-led Total Sanitation as an idea had grown beyond its founder and is now often being run in slightly different ways, e.g. in India, Pakistan, Philippines, Nepal, Sierra Leone and Zambia.[30][31] Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were often in the lead when CLTS was first introduced in a country. India was an exception – here the government led the somewhat similar "Total Sanitation Campaign" which has been turned into the "Clean India Mission" or Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in 2014.

It eventually became standard practice for NGOs to leave the community quite soon after "triggering" activities.[citation needed] When communities took the lead, change in sanitation practices was more longer term and sustainable.[citation needed]

CLTS as an idea now has many supporters around the world, with Robert Chambers, co-writer of the CLTS Foundation Handbook, describing it this way:

"We have so many "revolutions" in development that only last a year or two and then fade into history. But this one is different. In all the years I have worked in development this is as thrilling and transformative as anything I have been involved in."

— Robert Chambers from Institute of Development Studies, The Guardian, 30 May 2011[32]

The Institute of Development Studies (IDS) coordinated research programme on CLTS since about 2007 and regards it as a "radically different approach to rural sanitation in developing countries which has shown promising successes where traditional rural sanitation programmes have failed".[33]

Today there are many NGOs and research institutes with an interest in CLTS, including for example the CLTS Knowledge Hub of the Institute of Development Studies, the CLTS Foundation led by Kamal Kar, The World Bank,[34] Wateraid,[35] Plan USA and the Water Institute at UNC,[36] SNV from the Netherlands and UNICEF.[37]

CLTS has spread throughout Bangladesh and to many other Asian and African countries with financial support from the Water and Sanitation Program of the World Bank, DFID, Plan International, WaterAid, CARE, UNICEF and SNV. Large INGOs and many national NGOs have also been involved.[28] Many governments have in the meantime initiated CLTS processes or made it a matter of national policy.[1]

The concept originally focused mainly on provoking shame and disgust about open defecation. It also involved actions leading to increased self-respect and pride in one's community. With time, CLTS evolved away from provoking negative emotions to educating people about how open defecation increases the risk of disease. Currently, CLTS triggering events focus more on promoting self-respect and pride.[1]

See also


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 Venkataramanan, Vidya; Crocker, Jonathan; Karon, Andrew; Batram, Jamie (2018). "Community-Led Total Sanitation: A Mixed-Methods Systematic Review of Evidence and Its Quality". Environmental Health Perspectives. 026001–1 (2): 026001. doi:10.1289/EHP1965. PMC 6066338. PMID 29398655.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Galvin, M (2015). "Talking shit: is Community-Led Total Sanitation a radical and revolutionary approach to sanitation?". Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Water. 2: 9–20. doi:10.1002/wat2.1055. S2CID 109255503.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Myers, Jamie; Cavill, Sue; Musyoki, Samuel; Pasteur, Katherine; Stevens, Lucy (15 June 2018). Innovations for Urban Sanitation. Practical Action Publishing Ltd. doi:10.3362/9781780447360. ISBN 9781788530170. S2CID 134862963.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Greaves, F. (2016) ‘CLTS in Post-Emergency and Fragile States Settings Archived 8 February 2023 at the Wayback Machine’, Frontiers of CLTS: Innovations and Insights 9, Brighton: IDS
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Musembi and Musyoki (2016). "CLTS and the Right to Sanitation, Frontiers of CLTS issue 8". Brighton: IDS. Archived from the original on 10 December 2020.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 House, S., Cavill, S. and Ferron, S. (2017) ‘Equality and non-discrimination (EQND) in sanitation programmes at scale’, Part 1 of 2 Archived 8 February 2023 at the Wayback Machine, Frontiers of CLTS: Innovations and Insights 10, Brighton: IDS
  7. 7.0 7.1 Cavill, S. with Chambers, R. and Vernon, N. (2015) ‘Sustainability and CLTS: Taking Stock Archived 17 March 2023 at the Wayback Machine’, Frontiers of CLTS: Innovations and Insights Issue 4, Brighton: IDS, ISBN 978-1-78118-222-2, p. 18
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 Kal, K and Chambers, R (2008) Handbook on Community-led Total Sanitation Archived 8 February 2023 at the Wayback Machine Plan UK and Institute of Development Studies
  9. UNICEF (2010). CLTS Training manual for natural leaders Archived 22 March 2017 at the Wayback Machine - UNICEF and Sierra Leone Government, Freetown, Sierra Leone
  10. Philip Vincent Otieno - Defecation mapping in progress CLTS FIRE IGNITED IN DRC Archived 20 April 2018 at the Wayback Machine Accessed 2015-02-16
  11. Bongartz, Petra et al. (eds) (2010) "Tales of shit: Community-Led Total Sanitation in Africa Archived 1 June 2023 at the Wayback Machine. Vol. 61. IIED, 2010. Accessed 2015-02-26
  12. "The Addis Agreement: Using CLTS in urban and peri-urban areas". 2016. Archived from the original on 23 January 2021.
  13. Kath Pasteur and Preetha Prabhakaran (2014) Lessons in Urban Community Led Total Sanitation from Nakuru, Kenya Archived 1 September 2022 at the Wayback Machine, implemented by Practical Action and Umande Trust in collaboration with County Government of Nakuru, health services department, CLTS Foundation
  14. ed. by James Wicken; et al. (2008). Beyond construction : use by all - a collection of case studies from sanitation and hygiene promotion practitioners in South Asia. Delft: IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre and WaterAid. p. 181. ISBN 978-9937-2-0472-9.
  15. UNICEF (2014) CLTS in Fragile and Insecure Contexts: Experience from Somalia and South Sudan Archived 19 August 2022 at the Wayback Machine, UNICEF WASH Field Note, Eastern and Southern Africa Sanitation and Hygiene Learning Series
  16. Venkataramanan, V (2012) "Systematic Literature Review (Grey Literature) of Publications on Community-led Total Sanitation Archived 16 September 2020 at the Wayback Machine" The Water Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Accessed 2015-02-16
  17. "Research projects on CLTS". Projects. Sustainable Sanitation Alliance. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 18 June 2015.
  18. Patil, Sumeet; Arnold, Benjamin; Salvatore, Alicia; Briceno, Bertha; Ganguly, Sandipan; Colford Jr., John; Gertler, Paul (26 August 2014). "The Effect of India's Total Sanitation Campaign on Defecation Behaviors and Child Health in Rural Madhya Pradesh: A Cluster Randomized Controlled Trial". PLOS Medicine. 11 (8): e1001709. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001709. PMC 4144850. PMID 25157929.
  19. "An Open Letter in response to the World Development Report 2015". Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 23 March 2015.
  20. 20.0 20.1 Sigler, R; Mahmoudi, L; Graham JP. (2015). "Analysis of behavioral change techniques in community-led total sanitation programs". Health Promot Int. 30 (1): 16–28. doi:10.1093/heapro/dau073. PMID 25209916.
  21. Pickering, Amy J; Djebbari, Habiba; Lopez, Carolina; Coulibaly, Massa; Alzua, Maria Laura (2015). "Effect of a community-led sanitation intervention on child diarrhoea and child growth in rural Mali: a cluster-randomised controlled trial". The Lancet Global Health. 3 (11): e701–e711. doi:10.1016/s2214-109x(15)00144-8. PMID 26475017.
  22. Engel, S; Susilo, A (2014). "Shaming and Sanitation in Indonesia: A Return to Colonial Public Health Practices?". Development and Change. 45 (1): 157–178. doi:10.1111/dech.12075. Archived from the original on 21 June 2023. Retrieved 23 May 2023.
  23. Bartram, J; Charles, K; Evans, B; O'Hanlon, L; Pedley, S (2012). "Commentary on community-led total sanitation and human rights: Should the right to community-wide health be won at the cost of individual rights?". Journal of Water and Health. 10 (4): 499–503. doi:10.2166/wh.2012.205. PMID 23165706. Archived from the original on 23 May 2017. Retrieved 23 May 2023.
  24. Time to Acknowledge the Dirty Truth Behind Community-led Sanitation Archived 25 December 2022 at the Wayback Machine by Liz Chatterjee in the Guardian
  25. Black, M. and B. Fawcett (2008) The Last Taboo: Opening the Door on the Global Sanitation Crisis. London: Earthscan
  26. Mara, D; Lane, J; Scott, BA; Trouba, D (2010). "Sanitation and Health". PLOS Medicine. 7 (11): e1000363. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000363. PMC 2981586. PMID 21125018.
  27. 27.0 27.1 Tyndale-Biscoe, P, Bond, M, Kidd, R (2013) ODF Sustainability Study Archived 2 June 2023 at the Wayback Machine, Plan Australia
  28. 28.0 28.1 "The CLTS approach". Community-Led Total Sanitation. 2011. Archived from the original on 24 March 2015. Retrieved 12 March 2015.
  29. Ahmed, SA (2008) "Community Led Total Sanitation in Bangladesh:Chronicles of a People’s Movement" Archived 27 February 2015 at the Wayback Machine IDS Conference paper Accessed 2015-02-27
  30. UNICEF (2008). "Field Notes: UNICEF Policy and Programming in Practice" (PDF). UNICEF. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 12 March 2015.
  31. "PHWash | PhaTS". Archived from the original on 8 March 2022. Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  32. by Robert Chambers Accessed 2015-02-27
  33. 'Beyond Subsidies - Triggering a Revolution in Rural Sanitation' Archived 28 September 2018 at the Wayback Machine Institute of Development Studies (IDS) In Focus Policy Brief 10 July 2009.
  34. WEPA (2013) Community-based Sanitation lessons learned from Sanimas Programme in Indonesia Archived 27 November 2020 at the Wayback Machine Accessed 2015-03-04
  35. WaterAid (2011) Revitalising Community-led Total Sanitation: A process guide Archived 2 April 2015 at the Wayback Machine. Accessed 2015-03-04
  36. Plan USA and The Water Institute at UNC (2014) Testing CLTS Approaches for Scalability Archived 27 September 2021 at the Wayback Machine Accessed 2015-03-04
  37. UNICEF (2009) Field notes: UNICEF Policy and Programming in Practice - Community Approaches to Total Sanitation Archived 2 April 2015 at the Wayback Machine Accessed 2015-03-04

External links