Monday, 13 April 2009

Sanitation choices in the real world

The other night I met up with Rose George, the perspicacious author of The Big Necessity who’s recently moved to Leeds, for a quick drink. Naturally enough we talked about sanitation and she asked at one point what I’d recommend and why. This set me thinking and I have to say that, if we are to have any chance of attaining universal sanitation provision in the relatively near future (and remember it has to be ‘adequate’, not just ‘improved’, sanitation), then we need to be pretty clear about the sanitation systems we can actually use. So I reckon it has to be something like this:

A. High-density urban areas: simplified/condominial sewerage, low-cost combined sewerage, or SPARC-style community-managed sanitation blocks.

B. Medium-density urban and rural areas: eThekwini latrines (properly called ‘urine-diverting alternating twin-vault ventilated improved vault latrines’ or ‘UD-VIVs’ for short), simplified/condominial sewerage or low-cost combined sewerage, though alternating twin-pit VIPs and PF toilets could also be used if they can be desludged easily.

C. Low-density rural areas: Arborloos (‘excreta in, money out’) or ‘fossas alternas’, though long-life single-pit VIPs and pour-flush toilets could also be used.

No EcoSan until it’s a financially viable option! (You can argue that Arborloos and fossas alternas are EcoSan systems, but they’re the only affordable EcoSan options at the moment.)

And don’t even think any more about trying to meet the MDG sanitation target − we haven’t a cat in hell’s chance of meeting it, so it’s better to face facts and forget about it, and have instead the more equitable goal of universal provision of adequate sanitation by − well, who knows when? But if you need a date, then 31 December 2025, as recommended in the Global Water Supply and Sanitation Assessment 2000 Report.

Key success factors for WatSan

Once more ex Africa aliquid boni − to paraphrase the Latin tag (original here). I say this as I came across for the first time the other day the excellent paper Managing water supply and sanitation services to developing communities: key success factors by Professor C. F. Schutte of the University of Pretoria. His ‘key success factors’ are:

1. Developing credibility of the organisation providing WatSan services with the community it serves:
(a) Creating an organisation-wide culture of service to customers,
(b) Ensuring reliability in the water supply, and
(c) Ensuring community involvement.

2. The creation of a culture focussing on maximising income and minimising losses:
(a) Create a culture and awareness of focussing on generation and collection of income, and
(b) Create a culture of cost consciousness and focus on minimisation of losses.

The paper has several ‘pearls of wisdom’ − for example:

The typical approach of a bureaucratic type of organisation is that it functions as a cost centre. This means expenditure is budgeted for and the approved budget is spent irrespective of what the income is. To be successful a water services organisation must operate as a business centre which means that expenditure must be linked to income. This requires that the financial systems must support such an approach and furthermore that a culture of cost consciousness must be established throughout the organisation – with management leading by example.

This is a really good paper, well worth reading in full.