Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Sustainability of conventional sewerage

As you know, there are people who decry conventional sewerage, saying it’s simply not sustainable. Of course, we know that it’s too expensive in low-income areas in developing country towns and cities − but is it sustainable in low-income urban areas of the industrialized world? Well, here in England we’ve sustained conventional sewerage for around 150 years − which tells us that it’s been sustainable for this period (well, perhaps not all this period as it's only fairly recently that we've prevented adverse effects on the receiving waters through good wastewater treatment). And it’s affordable: the average annual sewerage charge in 2007/08 was GBP 162, or GBP 3.12 per week (details here) which is only 0.7% of the 2007 median male income of GBP 457 per week, and only 1.3% of the median income of the ‘bottom 10%’ of GBP 252 per week (details here). For the vulnerable group of single pensioners the sewerage charge is 3.7% of their basic state pension of GBP 83.30 per week (details here).

Of course, the fact that conventional sewerage has been sustained for the past 150 years or so doesn’t necessarily mean that it’ll be sustainable in our climate-changing future in which water will become much scarcer. However, we can easily reduce our in-house water consumption without fear of the reduced wastewater flow causing blockages in the receiving sewer − here’s what the Environment Agency (the environmental regulator for England & Wales) says in chapter 1 of its 2007 publication Conserving Water in Buildings:

As the amount of water we use has increased considerably since most of the UK’s sewers were built, sewers are no more likely to become blocked due to less water being used to flush the toilet or indeed due to any other water efficiency measures.

So we’ll be sustaining conventional sewerage for years to come!

Monday, 25 August 2008

Stockholm World Water Week

Sunday 17 August
Arrived in Stockholm last night for the World Water Week and, judging by the programme, it’s going to be a busy week! There’s a special focus this year on sanitation (see the WWW ‘Theme Sheet’ on sanitation, health and hygiene) – quite right too as it’s IYS2008!

In the afternoon I attended the IWA session for Young Water Professionals and gave a short talk on a career in academia. Afterwards I met up with many friends and colleagues in the foyer/exhibition area.

Monday 18 August
I went to the launch (actually a sort of pre-launch) of the outcome of a study on the benefit-cost ratios of sanitation − well, really the economic costing of sanitation interventions and methods for attempting to quantify their socio-economic benefits. Quite disappointing as the methodology given for economic costing was no different from that applied to sanitation 30 years ago by Dr DeAnne Julius, who was the lead economist on John Kalbermatten’s 1976-78 World Bank research project on low-cost sanitation (details here – chapter 4 of Appropriate Sanitation Alternatives: A Planning and Design Manual, John Hopkins University Press, 1982). And the benefits weren’t clearly quantified either. I guess this is what you get when you let economists work on their own without any technical input from low-cost sanitation engineers − something that John Kalbermatten didn’t let happen .

In the early evening I participated in the launch of the WHO-IDRC-FAO Information Kit on the WHO Guidelines for the Safe Use of Wastewater, Excreta and Greywater in Agriculture and Aquaculture – a basic introduction to the Guidelines (including a nicely printed version of my Guide to the Guidelines – however, this new version is not yet available on the WHO website as a downloadable pdf).

Tuesday 19 August
In the afternoon I went to (and was a panellist at) the session Europe’s Sanitation Problem: 20 Million Europeans Need Access to Safe and Affordable Sanitation organised by Women in Europe for a Common Future (see my blog of 30 January). I was, as might be expected, promoting low-cost sewerage in small towns in Members States in the east of the EU (Bulgaria and Romania, for instance), but it’s clear that, to get low-cost sewerage implemented, design guidelines need to be available in the local languages – yet another IYS2008 task!

In the evening I attended the Stockholm Junior Water Prize award ceremony during which HRH Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden presented the prize (US$ 5000!) to the winner, Ms Joyce Chai of the USA. I was a member of the SJWP jury during 1997−2003, so I know how well the entrants do and this year was no exception. A really nice event and the Princess was just fantastic!

Wednesday 20 August
I went off to one of the islands in the Stockholm archipelago to check out some compost toilets. Quite good, but not too pleasant to view when you raise the lid and – shock horror – no urine diversion!

Thursday 21August
In the morning I attended (and gave a short presentation at) the workshop on The Lingering Failure of Sanitation – Why? There was no answer to the question as the workshop had so many presentations – no time for a good debate to try and get some answers. Conference organizers please note!

In the afternoon I went to the WHO/UNICEF/JMP/UNSGAB/etc. session on Monitoring Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation: Moving Beyond 2015, Preparing the Next Generation of Indicators. There was some, almost surreptitious, acceptance that “adequate” might be better than “improved” (see blog of 14 January), but it seems that this is somewhat of a ‘step too far’ for JMP, at least for now – but it’s going to be really important post-2015. So we’ll have to wait and see what happens. Fingers crossed!

Friday 22 August
I gave the closing ceremony a miss (as I did the opening ceremony on Monday – too much ‘motherhood and apple pie’) and instead had meetings with some colleagues on where to go next on a few defined topics (mainly what to write and say in joint papers and presentations at events coming up this autumn/winter).

All in all, a really good, if over-busy, week!

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Sanitation coverage and ‘Freedom’ in Africa

Further to my blog of 15 June, I’ve been looking at sanitation coverage in Sub-Saharan Africa, using the JMP’s A Snapshot of Sanitation in Africa, and ‘freedom’ as defined by Freedom House, both for the year 2006 (the latest for which sanitation coverage is available).

Freedom House defines:
a Free country as one where there is broad scope for open political competition, a climate of respect for civil liberties, significant independent civic life, and independent media;
a Partly Free country as one in which there is limited respect for political rights and civil liberties. Partly Free states frequently suffer from endemic corruption, weak rule of law, and ethnic or religious strife, and they often feature a single political party that enjoys dominance despite a façade of limited pluralism; and
a Not Free country as one where basic political rights are absent, and basic civil liberties are widely and systematically denied.

The freedom status of countries in Sub-Saharan Africa (excluding those for which sanitation coverage is not available) is given in Freedom in Sub-Saharan Africa 2007 (which gives the info. for 2006), as follows:

Free’: Benin, Botswana, Ghana, Lesotho, Mali, Mauritius, Namibia, São Tome & Príncipe, Senegal, South Africa

Partly Free’: Burkina Faso, Burundi, Central African Republic, Comoros, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritania, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia

Not Free’: Angola, Cameroon, Chad, Congo (Brazzaville), Congo (Kinshasa), Cote d'Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Guinea, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, Swaziland, Togo, Zimbabwe

For each country the total population was multiplied by the fraction of the total population with access to ‘improved’ sanitation to give the total number of people in the country with access to improved sanitation. These numbers were then totalled for the countries in each of the above three groups and then divided by the total population in each group to give the percentage access to improved sanitation by freedom status. The results are:

Free countries: 41% with access to improved sanitation
Partly Free countries: 27%
Not Free countries: 31%

So, in Sub-Saharan Africa overall access to improved sanitation in Free countries is better than in Partly Free and Not Free countries − democracy is somewhat better for sanitation!

However, North Africa is completely different:

Egypt: Not Free, but 66% with improved sanitation
Libya: Not Free, 97%
Tunisia: Not Free, 85%
Algeria: Not Free, 94%
Morocco: Partly free, 72%

Is this relatively high sanitation coverage in North Africa due to ‘Islamic cleanliness’ or governments doing something to make their mainly unfree citizens ‘happier’? Or both (any shade of ‘bread and circuses’)?

And what about the other regions of the developing world?

Monday, 11 August 2008

New Internationalist

The August issue of New Internationalist has ‘Toilets’ as it theme − you can access it here (‘current issue’) (only the editorial by Maggie Black can be viewed at present), but I think from next month it’ll be here (‘back issues’) and you should be able to read the whole issue.

There’s a good debate ‘To sewer or not to sewer’ with David Satterthwaite, Senior Fellow, Institute for Environment and Development, ‘in praise of sewers’ (but he doesn’t mention simplified/condominial sewerage, only the Orangi Pilot Project in Karachi) and Mayling Simpson-Hébert, regional WatSan adviser, Catholic Relief Services Kenya, ‘in praise of pits’ (arborloos, fossas alternas, skyloos, in particular). Mayling says it all really: “Sewerage systems have advantages for crowded urban areas, but for small towns and rural areas, the simple pit is best.” Agreed (well, more or less).

The article ‘A lifetime in muck’ highlights the misery of the manual scavengers in India, the ‘frogmen’ in Dar es Salaam, and bucket-latrine emptiers in Ghana, really everyone who has to handle other people’s excreta for a living.

There’s a good article on what women need from a sanitation facility: privacy, security, soap and water, disposal facilities (for sanitary cloths, wastewater, garbage), potties (for children’s excreta), proximity to home, and easily cleanable designs. Not a lot to ask really, so all this should always be provided, at least wherever possible.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Manual scavenging in India

There was a nice short article in The Economist on 12 July: India’s manual scavengers: Clean-up − How to abolish a dirty, low-status job. Well worth a quick read (see my blogs of 17 April and 18 January).

Copenhagen Consensus 2008

The Copenhagen Consensus Center reported the outcome of the Copenhagen Consensus 2008 (CC08) on 30 May. “Over two years, more than 50 economists have worked to find the best solutions to ten of the world’s biggest challenges. During the last week of May, an expert panel of 8 top-economists, including 5 Nobel Laureates, sat down to assess the research.” These eight top economists were “asked to address the ten challenge areas and to answer the question, “What would be the best ways of advancing global welfare, and particularly the welfare of the developing countries, illustrated by supposing that an additional $75 billion of resources were at their disposal over a four-year initial period?” The ten challenge areas were:

Air pollution
Global warming
Malnutrition and hunger
Sanitation and water
Subsidies and trade barriers
Women and Development

Professor Dale Whittington (University of North Carolina) was the lead author of the Sanitation and Water Challenge Paper. The final ranking of 30 chosen solutions (“based on the costs and benefits of the solutions”) is given here and, if you open the pdf file hyperlinked to just above the list (difficult to get its URL!), you can read these comments on Sanitation and Water:

“Under this heading, the experts considered interventions that would improve access to clean drinking water and/or sanitation. The solutions they considered were: setting up a rural water supply program providing poor communities in Africa with deep boreholes and public hand pumps; developing campaigns that raise awareness of disease transmission, health costs, and the social benefits of sanitation; ensuring affected communities have access to technology to remove contaminants in raw water supplies; building reservoirs in some parts of Africa, such as the sparsely inhabited Blue Nile gorge in Ethiopia. The expert panel considered that biosand filters and the rural water supply program offered some promising benefits as intermediate solutions to this problem.”

There were four Sanitation and Water solutions in the top 30: bio-sand filters for household water treatment (ranked 15th), rural water supply (16th), total sanitation campaign (20th) and large multipurpose dam in Africa(24th). [Not sure these would have been my choices!]

There was a Youth Forum meeting at the same time as the main panel of experts. The Youth Forum came up with a rather different ranking: rural water supply was ranked 3rd, total sanitation coverage 9th, bio-sand filters 22nd and large multipurpose dam in Africa 31st.

The CC08 book is Solutions for the World's Biggest Problems: Costs and Benefits, published by Cambridge University Press in November 2007 (i.e., before the CC08 meeting in May 2008 … ???). Chapter 23 is ‘Unsafe water and lack of sanitation’ and was written by Dr Guy Hutton, who also wrote the Problem Paper on water and sanitation for the CC08 ‘A day with Bill Gates’ which took place in March 2008 (see also my blog of 22 January).

Confused? You might well be! Especially if you look at the CC04 rankings: three sanitation and water projects were ranked ‘good’: small-scale water technology for livelihoods (ranked 6th overall), community-managed water supply and sanitation (7th) and research on water productivity in food production (8th). There’s also the CC06 rankings: community-managed water supply and sanitation shot up to 2nd place, small-scale water technology for livelihoods fell to 11th, and research on water productivity in food production fell to 15th; re-using wastewater for agriculture came in at 19th, and sustainable food and fish production in wetlands entered at 21st. The CC08 sanitation and water solutions don’t seem to bear any relation at all to those of CC04 and CC06. Of course, they don’t have to, but such huge inconsistencies can’t be much help to policy makers in developing countries.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

What is “Sustainable Sanitation”? − 2

When writing today’s earlier blog I forgot to consult the website of the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance − SuSanA (unforgiveable, of course). It has a page titled What is sustainable sanitation? which has this to say:

“The main objective of a sanitation system is to protect and promote human health by providing a clean environment and breaking the cycle of disease. In order to be sustainable, a sanitation system has to be not only economically viable, socially acceptable, and technically and institutionally appropriate, it should also protect the environment and the natural resources.”

It then describes the sustainability criteria related to health and hygiene, environment and natural resources, technology and operation, financial and economic issues, and socio-cultural and institutional aspects that should be considered when improving an existing and/or designing a new sanitation system. Very comprehensive! It goes on to say:

“The concept of sustainability is more of a direction rather than a stage to reach. Nevertheless, it is crucial, that sanitation systems are evaluated carefully with regard to all dimensions of sustainability. Since there is no one-for-all sanitation solution which fulfils the sustainability criteria in different circumstances to the same extent, this system evaluation will depend on the local framework and has to take into consideration existing environmental, technical, socio-cultural and economic conditions. Taking into consideration the entire range of sustainability criteria, it is important to observe some basic principles when planning and implementing a sanitation system. These were already developed some years ago by a group of experts and were endorsed by the members of the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council as the “Bellagio Principles for Sustainable Sanitation” during its 5th Global Forum in November 2000.”

The Bellagio Statement doesn’t actually mention the words ‘sustainability’ or ‘sustainable’, although it does use ‘unsustainable’ (see Summary Report of Bellagio Expert Consultation on Environmental Sanitation in the 21st Century 1−4 February 2000 and Bellagio Statement: Clean, Healthy and Productive Living: A New Approach to Environmental Sanitation). The 2005 WSSCC/Eawag-Sandec report Household-Centred Environmental Sanitation: Implementing the Bellagio Principles in Urban Environmental Sanitation − Provisional Guideline for Decision-Makers uses ‘sustainable’ 26 times and ‘sustainability’ 6 times, but no definitions are given. In his 2005 paper From conventional to advanced environmental sanitation (Water Science and Technology 51 (10), 7−14) Roland Schertenleib, the ‘architect’ of Household-centred Environmental Sanitation, uses “advanced” to mean “sustainable” [he writes: “advanced (sustainable) environmental sanitation systems”].

For the moment I'm standing by the definition I gave earlier today!

What is “Sustainable Sanitation”?

Someone asked me this on the ‘phone the other day, so I set about seeing what other people and organizations thought about this.

The 2003 WHO-IRC report Linking technology choice with operation and maintenance in the context of community water supply and sanitation defines sustainable water and sanitation as follows:

“A service is sustainable when:
■ It functions properly and is used.
■ It provides the services for which it was planned, including: delivering the required quantity and quality of water; providing easy access to the service; providing service continuity and reliability; providing health and economic benefits; and in the case of sanitation, providing adequate sanitation access.
■ It functions over a prolonged period of time, according to the designed life-cycle of the equipment.
■ The management of the service involves the community (or the community itself manages the system); adopts a perspective that is sensitive to gender issues; establishes partnerships with local authorities; and involves the private sector as required.
■ Its operation, maintenance, rehabilitation, replacement and administrative costs are covered at local level through user fees, or through alternative sustainable financial mechanisms.
■ It can be operated and maintained at the local level with limited, but feasible, external support (e.g. technical assistance, training and monitoring).
■ It has no harmful effects on the environment.”

The South African Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, in its May 2008 Position Paper Appropriate Technologies in the Water Sector in South Africa (draft, version 4), quotes this section of the WHO-IRC report and adds:

“Sustainability of a service is achieved when the community wants and accepts the level of service provided, is able to pay for it and the skills are available locally to service the system. It makes sound economic sense if the scheme can be managed locally, as it not only reduces the cost of running the scheme but also ensures that money is retained in the local area. In the case of an advanced technology, however, this may not be possible if operator skills are not available.”

It goes on to say:

“A sustainable sanitation service is generally understood to be a system that is affordable to the community and the local government over a long term period without having adverse effects on the environment. Thus:
pollution is reduced to a minimum and water resources are available for future generations; and
where affordability refers to the community and the local government’s ability to operate, maintain, extend and replace the infrastructure to obtain a reliable service.”

UN Water’s “IYS Flagship Publication” Tackling a Global Crisis: International Year of Sanitation 2008 doesn’t mention “sustainability” or “sustainable” at all. The 2008 WHO-UNICEF JMP report mentions “sustainable” a few times (e.g., “Millennium Development Goal 7 calls on countries to halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.”), but doesn’t attempt to define it.

The UN Millennium Task Force on Water & Sanitation’s 2005 report Health, dignity, and development: what will it take? has this to say:

“… sustainable access must be viewed from social, economic, and environmental perspectives. Access includes a physical dimension—for example, access to drinking water requires the existence of infrastructure in good working order—but also embraces a concept of use. Access to sanitation, for example, cannot be measured simply by whether a toilet is installed, but must also determine whether that toilet is working and used for safe disposal of excreta with improved hygienic practices. Otherwise, the contribution of the toilet itself to human health will be negligible or even negative. There are likewise two aspects of sustainability, a service aspect and an environmental aspect. In terms of service, sustainable access refers primarily to a type of service that is secure, reliable, and available for use on demand by users on a long-term basis. This is possible when there are credible arrangements to ensure a regular and reliable flow of adequate performance-determining resources—human, financial, institutional, and technical know-how, among others—needed to ensure proper functioning and satisfactory operation and maintenance of service infrastructure. In terms of environmental impact, sustainable access refers to the effects on resources within or outside the service area of the technology and the processes required for adequate access. Thus, such technology and processes should not result in environmental damage or other negative consequences within or outside the service areas, such as exposing people to health risks or creating pollution or degradation of the local living environment or of downstream water resources. In a broader sense, the service should also be one that “meets the needs of the present [generation] without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (World Commission on Environment and Development 1987); it should be one that does not compromise the goals of sustainable development, namely, economic development, social equity and justice, and environmental protection..”

We know sustainable sanitation is not just EcoSan (see blog of 21 May). So how about this for a definition?

Sustainable hygienic sanitation is a sanitation system that is affordable; socially, technically, physically and institutionally feasible; able to be used easily, properly and on demand, and able to be maintained easily, regularly and at low cost, by its users, including women and children, in the long term; provides a hand-washing facility (or has one nearby); and has no adverse effects on the environment.

Friday, 1 August 2008

HRH The Prince of Orange

The speech given by HRH The Prince of Orange, Chairman of UNSGAB, at the AU Summit in Sharm El-Sheikh (see blog of 14 June) is given here. An excerpt:

To meet the MDG drinking water target for Africa, 33 million people a year will have to gain access to an improved drinking water source. At the current rate of only 15 million new users a year, it is obvious that we are not going to meet this target. We need to more than double our efforts.

But to meet the MDG sanitation target, the number of people using improved sanitation will need to rise far more. At the current rate of 10 million new users a year, it will take an enormous effort to bring the number to 45 million people a year – almost a five-fold increase on current levels.

Africa is clearly not on track to meet the Millennium Development Goal target for drinking water and sanitation. We must not allow Africa to reach the point where it faces a continuous, endemic water and sanitation crisis that debilitates and kills huge numbers of people, threatens the health of the workforce, stands in the way of economic growth, and limits access to education and therefore life opportunities.

Let’s hope Africa’s leaders really were listening to the Prince.