Monday, 30 November 2009

India’s Greatest Shame

The December issue of IRC’s excellent Source Bulletin draws our attention yet again to India’s Greatest Shame with its article The Worst Job in the World − here’s a quote:

About 1.3 million Indians are still trapped in the degrading and dangerous job of manual scavenging of human excreta sixteen long years after the country passed a law to make the health threatening job illegal. Even in modern India, manual scavengers are still working to clean what Wilson Bezwada of Safai Karmachari Andolan calls “shit from the pit” of people who then discriminate and look down on the scavengers.

Watch the video The Worst Job in the World − also well worth watching is The Scavengers − India.

It’s all just a Total Disgrace. India, especially the Government of India and all the State Governments, should be truly ashamed of this unbelievably awful practice of manual scavenging. Just read this (also from Source Bulletin #58):

Without any protective clothing such as boots, masks or gloves, manual scavengers, clean toilets and clogged sewer lines. They collect the faecal matter into baskets lined with leaves, an activity which leaves many sick. About 80 per cent of these workers are women, the majority of them are Dalits. They are paid a paltry 900 rupees (15 Euro) a month and can afford only cheap drugs to treat their illnesses. [INR 900 = EUR 12.88 = USD 19.320 = GBP 11.70 − today’s rates from Oanda]

Safai Karmachari Andolan has a three-year programme to eradicate manual scavenging by the end of 2010, called Action 2010. We should all do what we can to support this, and this “we” includes all Indians, the Government of India and all State Governments.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Sanitation in emergency camps

Dominique Porteaud, UNHCR’s senior water and sanitation officer, was interviewed on World Toilet Day (19 November) about his work (interview here). When asked what happens if no latrines are installed, he replied:

A good example is Goma in 1994 [see here], when a million people crossed the border and, I think, about 50,000 people died because there was no proper sanitation and water supply. One of the major problems in Goma was that it was impossible to dig latrines because the [volcanic rock] ground was so hard and all the waste was spread around and contaminated the water that people were drinking. As a result, there was cholera everywhere.

So, what can you do if you can’t dig pits? It has to be an above-ground solution, such as eThekwini latrines − urine-diverting alternating twin-vault ventilated improved vault latrines (UD-VIVs, for short). But you don’t actually need twin vaults in emergency camps − a single-vault UD-VIV is fine; and in the initial aftermath of an emergency you can do without vent pipes. Urine diversion is needed to keep the vault contents as dry as possible and, of course, it can be used to fertilize food crops. So, what’s needed is a urine-diverting single-vault latrine, but the vault has to be pretty big. Many years ago Oxfam developed a big butyl-rubber septic tank to receive both faeces and urine from a multi-compartment latrine block (designed specifically for emergencies − the packing case became the superstructure), so something like this is what’s needed, but with each compartment discharging directly into the butyl-rubber tank (no flush water) and with urine diversion into a second butyl-rubber tank. Anyway, it’s worth thinking about.

Instituto Cinara

Cinara is the Instituto de Investigación y Desarrollo en Abastecimiento de Agua, Saneamiento Ambiental y Conservación del Recurso Hídrico (Research and Development Institute in Water Supply, Environmental Sanitation and Water Resources Conservation) in the Faculty of Engineering at the Universidad del Valle in Cali, Colombia. I’ve been a visiting professor here since 1996, but today was the first day I was interviewed (by Professor Mariela García) on what I thought was good (and bad) about Cinara. Well, I said, Cinara’s excellent because its staff are very enthusiastic and highly motivated and because they train engineers in low-cost water supply and sanitation for the poor, there aren’t enough institutes like Cinara in the world, and the world needs engineers properly trained in low-cost water supplies and sanitation for the poor − and lots of them. One of the other questions was: ‘Why are there institutes of development studies in industrialized countries but not in developing countries?’, and I said that, because the remit of IDSs is much broader than WatSan for the poor, they tend to be overpopulated with sociologists, anthropologists, planners, economists, etc. but underpopulated with engineers − people who can actually do something about providing the poor with low-cost water supplies and sanitation . Of course, these other professionals have a role, an important role, to play in WatSan for the poor (John Kalbermatten taught us this in the 1970s − see here), but you have to have engineers. As Jamie Bartram says: “Infrastructure? Yes please, and lots of it”. And who gives you Infrastructure? Engineers, that’s who.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

IWA Development Congress

I’m now in Mexico City at the 1st IWA Development Congress on “Water and sanitation services: what works for developing countries” (15−19 November). According to the homepage blurb it “will set the practice and research agenda for water and sanitation services in developing countries” and “it will have a strong focus on what works in a development setting and those projects that have potential for large-scale delivery” − well, that should exclude EcoSan!

The morning started off with the opening plenary addresses − all good stuff, of course, but I was glad to get some coffee when they were over!

Erdos Eco-Town: in the afternoon Dr Arno Rosemarin, of the EcoSanRes Programme at the Stockholm Environment Institute, gave a presentation on Striving for innovation: Dry and wet sanitation in multi-story apartment buildings with on-site compost and greywater treatment – the Erdos Eco-Town project − this was a good, honest (‘warts and all’) evaluation of the project, listing all the problems the project had had and why it’s now been replaced by settled sewerage. The paper’s well worth reading if only to make you happily realise that you’d never have considered doing anything like this yourself! [If you’d like a copy of the paper, it would be best to email Arno (] A little more detail on costs would have been nice − but the paper does say “Materials input for the ecosan system is higher than for the waterborne one [i.e., conventional sewerage] by about USD 920 for each household”, so it was always far from being a low-cost solution!

More opening plenaries! But later there were some good presentations, especially the one by Dr Juliet Waterkeyn (of Africa Ahead) on community health clubs in Uganda and Zimbabwe. Very interesting meeting in the late afternoon on sanitation in emergencies.

Yet more plenaries! The one by Dr Graham Alabaster was really good: the lessons learnt from some of UN-Habitat’s regional WatSan programmes and what they tell us about the best ways forward. In the afternoon Dr Elizabeth Kvarnström (EcoSanRes/SEI) gave a spirited presentation on the need to revamp the ‘sanitation ladder’ by using function-based (rather than the JMP technology-based) indicators, and Professor Christine Moe of Emory University gave an excellent account of her rural EcoSan work with indigenous communities in Mexico. The afternoon ended in splendid style with Professor Jamie Bartram (UNC) giving the final plenary of the Congress on What Works. Excellent gala dinner in the evening!

Only rather unexciting field visits today, so I’m flying back to Cali for meetings on the giant American bamboo!

Overall this was a very good conference indeed. IWA should be proud that it has started this series of biennial development congresses. Special thanks are due to Dr Darren Saywell (IWA Development Director) and Professor Blanca Jiménez (Chair of the Technical Programme Committee) − you both (and your countless helpers) did us all and IWA proud! Muchísimas gracias!

PS: Today − 19 November − is World Toilet Day.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

EcoSan in Africa

The WSP-Africa report Study for Financial and Economic Analysis of Ecological Sanitation in Sub-Saharan Africa, by Richard Schuen, Jonathan Parkinson and Andreas Knapp, is based on three case studies, which all promoted urine-diverting dry toilets, in Kabale (Uganda), eThekwini (South Africa) and Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso). Here’s an excerpt from the Executive Summary:

Based on the case study analysis, none of the currently implemented systems are seen to provide an obvious model for scaling up without considerable external support. Much research is still required to assess the costs of marketing ecosan compared with conventional sanitation, and to assess the costs of different management arrangements. ... There is need to look in more detail, at the different management arrangements and costs for setting up and operating house-to-house collection services. There may also be ways of introducing more cost effective technologies to enhance the efficiency of the operation. [Emphasis added]

‘Without considerable external support’ means massive subsidies. So now we know (again): EcoSan just hasn’t yet reached a stage where it can be implemented at scale in urban areas without the need for huge subsidies. So why is it so heavily promoted? Will all the EcoSanologists please wake up?!

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Agua 2009

This week I’m in Cali, Colombia at Agua 2009, the biennial international conference on all things water. On Monday the main theme was water and climate change with some excellent presentations on Coping with climate change through adaptive management (by Professor Henk van Schaik of the Cooperative Programme on Water and Climate Change), effects on human health, on biodiversity, plus a few on the local situation in Andean countries. On Tuesday there were parallel sessions − I was at the one in nearby Palmira on New paradigms for urban water supplies and sanitation. On Wednesday I went to the session on wastewater treatment and presented a paper on Natural wastewater treatment and carbon capture − collect the biogas from a high-rate anaerobic pond to generate electricity and then use the final effluent to irrigate bamboo. In this way you not only produce a useful product but you should be able to earn carbon credits as some bamboos can capture over 30 tonnes of C per ha per year, so you could substantially reduce the cost of wastewater treatment − well, that’s idea anyway. Very swish conference dinner/dance on Thursday evening!

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Dr Peter Morgan

During the 2nd Africa Water Week being held this week in Johannesburg the winners of the AMCOW AfricaSan Awards 2009 were announced. A press release dated Monday 9 November on the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs website gives all the details, including:

The AMCOW AfricaSan honor for Technical Innovation was awarded to Dr Peter Morgan, a Zimbabwean national, who for four decades has provided Africa with the most innovative technical ideas in sanitation and hygiene directly affecting poor people.

Peter’s achievements in sanitation are, quite simply, outstanding: the VIP latrine, the Arborloo, the Fossa Alterna, the Skyloo, and he’s also made equally brilliant innovations in water supply and hygiene − so the AMCOW award is very richly deserved. Well done, Peter!

Peter’s website is here.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Governments behaving badly

I’ve just re-read the excellent paper Institutional challenges in water supply and sanitation in Pakistan: revealing the gap between national policy and local experience (Water Policy 11, 582–597, 2009) by Bahadar Nawab (Department of Development Studies, COMSATS Institute of Information Technology, Abbottabad, Pakistan) and Ingrid L. P. Nyborg (Department of International Environment and Development Studies, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Ås, Norway). Here’s a quote from the Abstract:

Wide gaps were found between local people’s needs, desires and expectations and government policies and services, between people’s practices and historical and proposed institutions, and between local people’s and policy-makers’ understanding of the issues. The study warrants the formulation of realistic and people-centred water supply and sanitation institutions and engaging local actors in the processes. Along with regulatory mechanisms, the findings argue for the use of cognitive and normative instruments in the implementation of policies while tailor-making solutions to local culture, working together with local actors, rather than imposing solutions on them.

Amazing, isn’t it, that governments still don’t understand what they should do? It’s ain’t rocket science: they just have to work with their people. Over 30 years ago John Kalbermatten realised that the intended beneficiaries had to be part of the sanitation planning process (details here) − clearly a lesson that still needs to be learnt in Pakistan (at least in rural Pakistan, where the study by Nawab and Nyborg was done) and, of course, in many other developing countries.

However, Pakistan is showing the world the way in urban areas − read The Urban Resource Centre, Karachi by Arif Hasan (Environment and Urbanization 19 (1), 275−292, 2007). Here’s part of the Abstract:

The Urban Resource Centre is a Karachi-based NGO ... set up in response to the recognition that the planning process for Karachi did not serve the interests of low- and lower-middle-income groups. … The Urban Resource Centre … has created a network of professionals and activists from civil society and government agencies who understand planning issues from the perspective of these communities. … This network has successfully challenged many government plans that are ineffective, over-expensive and anti-poor and has promoted alternatives. It shows how the questioning of government plans in an informed manner … can force the government to listen and to make modifications to its plans, projects and investments.

So rural Pakistan needs to learn from urban Pakistan. A good NGO shouldn’t find this too overwhelming.

►Clearly an Urban Resource Centre of the type described above is needed not just in Karachi but in almost every developing-country city!


I’ve had two nice emails in response to my CLTS blog of 27 October. Here’s an excerpt from one − from sometime who works for an NGO/charity in southwest England:

CLTS is excellent when it mobilises people, but to expect them to dig their own pits and use locally available material to construct a covering is absolutely absurd. And then do the same thing again when nobody is around to encourage them! In Sierra Leone they are telling people to build pit toilets in a flood area. Goodness knows what happened to common sense.

The other was from a Health & Sanitation Specialist working for the Rural Village Water Resources Management Project in Nepal − here’s a quote:

After one year most of the pit latrines were unused, unimproved and [people were not] motivated to rebuild the same; so we changed model and technology which found success − people's willingness to pay for choices are found for pour flush, easier to clean, looks fancy and available at local market. However, for same standard of latrine poorest of poor need to be financially supported by local governments and other in kind.

Stopping open defecation is just not enough. So I think what’s needed is not CLTS but CLGS − community-led good sanitation. Something to mull over, anyway!