Sunday 21 December 2008

What has IYS2008 achieved?

As we end the International Year of Sanitation 2008 it’s timely to ask what’s been achieved. Well, no great reduction (if any at all) in the numbers of people needing good sanitation (and ‘good’ = ‘adequate’, not ‘improved’). But this wasn’t really the point of IYS2008. Rather, it was to raise awareness about the truly awful (shocking, shameful, disgraceful − take your pick of adjective) state of sanitation in the developing world today, and this it has done very successfully. At least political leaders can’t now claim to be ignorant about the awful/shocking/shameful/disgraceful state of sanitation in their countries: there’ve been regional sanitation conferences in all parts of the developing world, each with its own Declaration. But the poor need sanitation now, not just politicians talking about it − so we’ll just have to wait and see if there are Actions on the scale required, in addition to all those fine Words.

Isn’t it very extraordinary that politicians in many developing countries still continue to allow their people, in huge numbers, to live without adequate water supplies and adequate sanitation − actually to die in huge numbers because they lack an adequate water supply and adequate sanitation? I wonder if they’ll ever really wake up and face facts. Time is not on the side of the Poor.

This blog will continue into 2009 and beyond...

Wednesday 17 December 2008

More good reads!

Three more good reads for IYS2008: (1) Sanitation Challenges and Solutions (IWA Reference Paper, 2008); (2) Progress and Prospects on Water: For a Clean and Healthy World, with Special Focus on Sanitation − Synthesis of the 2008 Stockholm World Water Week (SIWI, 2008), especially pages 7−12; and (3) Water and Sanitation For Developing Clean and Healthy Cities − Seminar Report from the World Urban Forum 4, Nanjing, China (SIWI, 2008).

The last publication includes the presentation Water & Sanitation for Developing Clean and Healthy Cities by Dr Graham Alabaster of UN-Habitat, in which he presented the Lake Victoria sampling data for water supply in Kenya as an example to show that statistics on access to water coverage change significantly when quantity, cost and burden of collection are considered. (Monitoring that only looks at the type of water source can mislead policy makers who rely on these statistics.) The extreme case here is the town of Kisii where 71 percent of the population had access to an “improved” water supply in 2006, but only 2 percent had access to an “adequate” water supply (defined as >20 litres of water per person per day, <10 percent of household income spent on water, and <1 hour per household per day spent collecting water) (see blog of 14 January).

Free access in DCs to all IWA journals

The International Water Association has just announced that free online access to all IWA Publishing journals (including Water Research) will now be available in developing countries under the HINARI and OARE schemes − at last, and only five years after I said they should do this (see Free on-line access for poor countries to IWA journals?), but better late than never.

The list of countries qualifying for free access is given here.

Thursday 4 December 2008

WatSan advocacy

I was kindly sent a free copy of the new World Bank book Environmental Health and Child Survival: Epidemiology, Economics, Experiences − an excellent read, and here’s what Sandy Cairncross, Professor of Environmental Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, says about it on the back cover:

This rigorous study is a godsend to anyone involved in advocacy for water and sanitation in developing countries. Until now, proving that environmental health measures make good sense economically has been a tricky business. Now this rigorous and detailed study shows that inadequate environmental health has huge costs to the economy (about 9 percent of the GDP of typical developing countries) in addition to the pain and suffering they cause. For politicians who are unmoved by arguments that failure to invest in water and sanitation will make their people poor, this study offers a clincher: it shows how lack of investment will also negatively affect their children’s educational and cognitive performance, because of the effects of malnutrition, exacerbated by frequent episodes of illness.

The economic evidence that WatSan works is building up and in IYS2008 we need to get it all across to politicians in developing countries, so that they stop permitting their citizens (to use the words of the late Barbara Ward) to “defecate themselves to death” − actually “permitting” is not strong enough; lack of action means that they are, in effect, encouraging this appalling waste of life to continue.

Sunday 30 November 2008

The EcoSan fallacy − again!

Unfortunately I couldn’t go to the IRC symposium on Sanitation for the Urban Poor which was held in Delft, The Netherlands, during 19−21 November. One of the papers presented was entitled “Alternatives to waterborne sanitation – a comparative study – limits and potentials” and, yes, it’s EcoSan promotion, but with the common error of comparing EcoSan costs (given as USD 935 per household) only with those of conventional sewerage (USD 1038–1227 per household). I’d guess the cost of condominial sewerage would be no more than ⅔ of that of conventional sewerage, so cheaper than EcoSan! Why is this mistake so often made and why is it tolerated? It certainly doesn’t do EcoSan any favours.

Friday 21 November 2008

IYS2008: another brilliant read

This time it’s the paper The great promise of the International Year of Sanitation by Jon Lane (Executive Director of the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council) in the October issue of Waterlines. Read it! A couple of quotes to whet your appetite:

► “…our dysfunctional world consists of two halves: half have good sanitation, and half don’t even have basic sanitation. For the half with good sanitation, it is a world with access to the collection, transport, treatment and disposal or reuse of human excreta, domestic waste water and solid waste. It is also a world where associated hygiene behaviours such as washing hands after using the toilet, before and after preparing food, and when handling sick children, are ingrained routines. For the other half without even basic sanitation, it is a world where, quite simply, proper disposal of human excreta would be a luxury of life-saving proportions.”

► “Over the past 10 years diarrhoea has killed more children than all the people lost in armed conflicts since the Second World War. That depressing reality can be turned around, and lives can be saved, through clean toilets. Clean toilets generate economic development. Clean toilets bring social inclusion and dignity. Clean toilets protect the environment. And clean toilets for everyone can be achieved. These messages must continue to be heard beyond the International Year of Sanitation.”


Wednesday 19 November 2008

World Toilet Day

Today is World Toilet Day! Read all about it here (WaterAid), here (World Toilet Organization) and here (Royal Society For Public Health @ Medical News Today). Play WaterAid’s game “Turdlywinks”, buy a WaterAid bog, or enter the WaterAid lottery! Get involved!

Saturday 8 November 2008

Low-cost sewerage in the Nile Delta

This week I’ve been asked to look at low-cost sewerage schemes in two small villages in the Governorate of Kafr El Sheikh in the Nile Delta in Egypt (populations <5000). This is a GTZ-funded project on decentralized wastewater management, executed by Rodeco, a firm of German consulting engineers (details also here), and Aldar Consulting Engineers, Cairo. One village, El Mofty El Kobra, has had settled sewerage since February 2005 and the other, Om Sen, has had simplified sewerage since November 2007. In both villages the wastewater is pumped from the village a short distance and then treated in waste stabilization ponds. The capital costs were covered by funds from GTZ and the Egyptian Fund for Social Development.

Apart from the different forms of sewerage, the solutions adopted for the two villages (and several others not yet commissioned) were essentially identical. Each village had to form a Community Development Association which first of all had to raise from the village households the money required for the waste stabilization ponds (about 1½ feddans or 0.63 ha). Once the system was commissioned the CDA assumed ownership of the whole system and responsibility for its operation and maintenance (collection and treatment) − it does this by (a) collecting a monthly fee of EGP 10 (USD 1.83) from each household and (b) contracting a local contractor to do the actual O&M of the system, including in the case of El Mofty El Kobra annual desludging of the solids interceptor tanks. The monthly fee of EGP 10 represents a huge financial benefit to the village households as before the project they were each paying EGP 25−30 per month to have their ‘septic tanks’ (really cess pits) emptied − so they now pay much less for a much improved wastewater management system. Both villages have a healthy surplus in their CDA bank accounts.

There have been very few problems and both WSP systems produce effluents compliant with Egyptian standards for village wastewaters (<60 mg BOD/l, <50 mg suspended solids/l and <3000 faecal coliforms /100 ml). The one major problem was the villagers discharging animal manure into the sewer system − they thought this was a convenient method of disposal, not realising the hugely adverse effect it would have on the wastewater treatment plant (the BOD increased by about ten times!). The problem was solved (more or less, anyway) by (a) explaining to them why they shouldn’t dispose of animal manure in the sewers and (b) by the CDA fining them if they did − the fine is very large (EGP 400 for the first offence, EGP 1000 for repeat offences), so very few households now put animal manure in the sewers.

Water consumption has increased from <40 litres per person per day to ~80−90 lpd as, prior to the project, all households made a real effort to keep consumption low in order to avoid having to pay for their ‘septic tank’ to be emptied more than once a month. Now there is no such requirement and they use as much water as they need − indeed quite a few households now enjoy the status of having washing machines!

The engineering aspects of the project are quite straightforward (correct design of the sewer system, pumping station and the ponds) and account for only about 20% of the consulting engineers’ time. The remaining 80% of their time is spent on social aspects of the system: activating, developing and supporting the CDAs, which need to understand how the system works, how it should be operated and maintained, how to bank the money collected each month from the village households, and how to contract and supervise the O&M contractor. The evidence so far is that the CDAs are performing very well.

The USD 201 million World Bank project ‘Egypt − Integrated Sanitation and Sewerage Infrastructure Project’ (Project Appraisal Document here, Project Information Document here) will extend this work on decentralized wastewater management. So in the none too distant future the wastewater management models developed in El Mofty El Kobra and Om Sen will be replicated many times over, which can only be good news for Nile Delta villagers.

Sunday 26 October 2008

The World's Top Ten Worst Pollution Problems 2008

The Blacksmith Institute and Green Cross Switzerland have just issued a Top Ten list of the world’s most dangerous pollution problems (here and here). The report names pollution as one of the leading contributing factors to death and disability in the world and highlights its disproportionate effects on the health of children. The Top Ten are (in alphabetical order):

Artisanal Gold Mining
Contaminated Surface Water
Ground Water Contamination
Indoor Air Pollution
Industrial Mining Activities
Metals Smelters and Processing
Radioactive waste and Uranium Mines
Untreated Sewage
Urban Air Quality
Used Lead Acid Batteries

The Untreated Sewage page starts off talking about untreated sewage, but then gets on to sanitation, or rather the lack of it. So some confusion here! Why don’t they call a spade a spade? One of the Top Ten global pollutants, probably the Top One, must be human faeces.

Tuesday 21 October 2008

SHOP for Life

Thinking of buying Christmas presents? Well, do something different in IYS2008: visit WaterAid’s on-line shop and buy your spouse/partner, children, grandchildren, friends a Gift for Life, actually a Gift of Life − there’s a choice of water gifts, sanitation gifts and hygiene gifts. Try it! And it’s not just for Christmas − any religious festival will do equally well.

Wednesday 15 October 2008

Global Handwashing Day

Yes, today is Global Handwashing Day and it has its own website (here) and logo (above). The BBC News website has a worrying story today: Faecal bacteria join the commute − researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine swabbed 409 people at bus and train stations in five major cities in England and Wales and found that more than one in four commuters had faecal bacteria on their hands. Very alarming! Get washing your hands!

Friday 3 October 2008


I should have said yesterday that the only rural EcoSan system that's currently scalable and has a good chance (given the right advocacy) of contributing to the MDG sanitation target is the Arborloo.

Thursday 2 October 2008

Sustainable Sanitation or just EcoSan?

IWA Publishing will publish in November the book Pathways for Sustainable Sanitation: Achieving the Millennium Development Goals by Arno Rosemarin, Nelson Ekane, Ian Caldwell, Elisabeth Kvarnstrom, Jennifer McConville, Cecilia Ruben and Madeleine Fogde, of the EcoSanRes Programme at the Stockholm Environment Institute (it’s expensive: GBP 25 for 64 pages!). This is part of what the pre-publication blurb says:

The report is a product arising from the work of the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance which was initiated prior to the International Year of Sanitation in 2008 in an attempt to inject sustainable development ideas into the sanitation sector. ... It reviews the global progress being made towards achieving the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target on sanitation. ... The report also provides a critique in that the UN has not yet introduced the concept of sustainability into the MDG programme in general and in particular into the sanitation sector which is highly dysfunctional and suffering from limited political leadership at both the local and global levels. It introduces the various sustainable sanitation options available and what approaches can be taken to improve sanitation systems – not just toilets which are only a small part of the overall system of food, nutrients and water cycles. ... The report estimates the potential fertiliser replacement capacity that reuse of human excreta can have for all world regions. Finally it provides a vision for future development within the sector where more sustainable options like source separation and reuse are promoted giving positive environmental or “green” impacts but also catalysing greater involvement and understanding on the part of individuals in society.

The key bit for me is “... more sustainable options like source separation and reuse ...”, and these are (according to the book’s title) going to achieve, or help to achieve, the MDG sanitation target. Well, I’ve got news for the authors: they won’t! There’s absolutely no way that ‘source-separation EcoSan’ is going to make any significant contribution to the MDG sanitation target. Why? Because there’s only seven years left to achieve the target and EcoSan just isn’t ready to go to scale. Ralf Otterpohl said at the Sanitation Challenge conference (see blog of 21 May) that it was only ready to go to scale in rural areas – and my view, reinforced by what I saw in Ouagadougou (see today’s earlier blog), is that EcoSan progress in rural areas is so slow that not much will happen by 31 December 2015.

There’s no doubt that the EcoSan ‘philosophy’ is sound, but its advocates need to realise that not enough has been done to get it to scale. They might argue that it is already scalable in rural areas – this might be true, but will it actually get to scale before the end of 2015? I have my doubts.

Sanitation conferences

There’s been quite a few sanitation conferences recently (as should be expected in IYS2008): Sanitation Challenge in Wageningen (see blog of 21 May), World Water Week in Stockholm (25 August), and the IWA Congress in Vienna (13 September). Last week it was the NETSSAF conference in Ouagadougou and this week it’s the IWA Sanitation MDG conference in Amsterdam.


NETSSAF (Network for the development of Sustainable Approaches for large scale implementation of Sanitation in Africa), a coordination action sponsored by the European Commission under the Sixth Framework Programme, held its end-of-project conference in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso during 24−27 September. NETSSAF’s overall objective has been the coordination and integration of current scientific research and technological innovations in Africa (but in practice Western Africa), and thus create synergies to support the large-scale implementation of sustainable sanitation systems in periurban and rural areas. The aim has therefore been to propose feasible solutions for the achievement of the MDG sanitation target in Western Africa.

The conference itself was OK (rather too much EcoSan for my liking!), but the really interesting part was the all-day field visits on the last day. We were taken to a rural EcoSan project in a village, a periurban EcoSan project in Ouagadougou linked to urban agriculture, and the wastewater treatment plant for Ouagadougou (a series of relatively new waste stabilization ponds with effluent reuse for crop irrigation). The EcoSan projects were interesting as they showed quite clearly that, at least in Burkina Faso, EcoSan is far from being ready for large-scale implementation. Of course, if you regard these two projects as pilot-scale experiments, then that’s fine; but much work remains to be done, particularly in relation to costs (especially in periurban areas), before EcoSan becomes a viable sanitation option able to contribute to the achievement of the MDG sanitation target.


The IWA conference “Millennium Development Goals on Sanitation” was held in Amsterdam during 30 September – 1 October. There was quite a bit on EcoSan, including the really pertinent paper entitled “What prevents ecological sanitation from going to scale?” by Dr. Snel (IRC) and Dr. ir. Mels (University of Wageningen), who had this to say:

From a user’s perspective, there generally remains a reluctance to focus on eco-san as a possible option, mainly because of reluctance of handling the by-products (urine and feces). Although a number of the champions in eco-san would argue that social barriers are overcome (or will be shortly!), the overall results from the questionnaires in both Phase I and II do not reflect this finding. In order to work towards a solution, it is of critical importance that stakeholders ranging from government personnel to households are more aware of the existing possibilities that eco-san can provide. Lack of information and know-how remain the real barriers towards the possible development of eco-san at any scale of development.

So now we know! So why not promote Arborloos – no handling of either urine or faeces!

Then there was my 2p’s worth (here) and an excellent thought-provoking paper “Sustainability in environmental protection (Priority to MDG over EWFD)” [EWFD = the EU Water Framework Directive] by Emeritus Professor Gatze Lettinga, but actually given by Professor Jules van Lier (both of Wageningen University). Dr. Darren Saywell (Development Director, IWA) also gave an excellent and equally thought-provoking paper on “Sanitation for 2.6 billion people. What we know and don’t know about the biggest public health scandal of the last 50 years”.

As part of my actual presentation I gave a sneak preview of a few of the results of UN-Habitat’s Lake Victoria study – details here. ‘Improved’ water supplies are a long way from ‘Adequate’ water supplies!! The same is true for sanitation. Oh dear!

Tuesday 30 September 2008

Bucket latrines almost eradicated in South Africa

The South African Department of Water Affairs and Forestry has just published The National Sanitation Bucket Replacement Programme: Lessons Learnt. This programme was “aimed at replacing all the bucket toilets in formal settlements in South Africa that were established before 1994”. The programme started in February 2005 when a total of 252,254 bucket latrines were in use in formal settlements in South Africa. The original aim was to replace them all by December 2007, mostly by flush toilets or, in some cases, by VIP latrines. The government allocated a total of about ZAR 1.8 billion over the 3-year period 2005/06 − 2007/08 (equivalent to around USD 270 million) − this was “one of the largest allocations for any single government infrastructure project in South Africa”. By December 2007 81% of the bucket latrines had been replaced, and by March 2008 this had risen to 91%. Presumably now the figure is very close to 100%. The DWAF report is really interesting as it gives details on exactly how this very impressive programme worked in practice at national, provincial and local levels. So, very well done, South Africa!

India (see blogs of 18 January, 17 April and 7 August), take note!

Friday 19 September 2008

The Big Necessity

Another truly excellent book to read in IYS2008: The Big Necessity: Adventures in the World of Human Waste, by Rose George (Portobello Books, 2008) − read some reviews here. [In the US it’s called The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why it Matters (Metropolitan Books, 2008).]

Saturday 13 September 2008

IWA World Water Congress, Vienna

The International Water Association held its biennial World Water Congress in Vienna during 7−12 September [there were other important Congresses in Vienna in 1515 and 1814-15 which had rather different outcomes!]. It was a really huge event with ~2,800 participants and many parallel sessions, so impossible to go to everything one would like to. IWA covers more or less the whole water cycle in all parts of the world, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise that ‘high-tech’ was represented more than ‘low-tech’ – although for the first time at these biennial conferences IWA made a really good effort, through its Development Director, Darren Saywell, to mainstream ‘development issues’ in general and sanitation in particular. The problem was, as in Stockholm (see blog of 25 August), too many presentations, so too little time for debate (and, even when there was some time, things went ‘off beam’ quite a bit – at least in a few of the sessions I attended).

Monday 8 September
I went to the afternoon sessions on the ‘Future of Sanitation: Expanding sanitation options to meet diverse needs around the world’ (fortunately interpreted as around the developing world). The main topic was the draft Vienna Charter on Urban Sanitation – a companion in-the-making to the Bonn Charter on Drinking Water. More work needs to be done, but let’s hope it turns out to be a really pertinent document.

Tuesday 9 September
The morning started with UN-Habitat’s Dialogue on Urban Sanitation organized by Dr Graham Alabaster, a good event in the ‘Development Corner’. Afterwards Graham and I discussed how best to publish the data UN-Habitat has collected on WatSan access not only in 17 towns around Lake Victoria, but also in ~100 cities in the developing world. It’ll take some time to write it all up properly and get it published. It should be ready for Stockholm next year, and it’ll be well worth the wait – it’s explosive stuff, so it has to be done very carefully!

In the afternoon there was a workshop organized by the IWA specialist group on Environmental Engineering Education. The question posed was “Water, engineering and education: are our educational institutions meeting today’s imperatives?” So it should have been good – but it wasn’t, as the presentations were somewhat ‘off beam’, so the question couldn’t be answered! It was also very disappointing that there was nothing on environmental engineering curricula in developing country universities, far too few of which address the real problems these countries face. And, of course, education is not only about today’s imperatives but also, and more importantly, about tomorrow’s.

Wednesday 10 September
I went to the session on waste stabilization ponds – no choice as I was a co-author of a presentation (already published in Water Science and Technology – see here) given by Professor Andy Shilton of Massey University, New Zealand. I then participated with Andy and Professor Marcos von Sperling (Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil) in an informal meeting to plan the next IWA waste stabilization pond conference to be held next April in Belo Horizonte, for which Marcos is the main organizer.

Thursday 11 September
Last day of the congress proper (field visits tomorrow) and a session on urban sanitation and drainage which was jointly organized by IWA and SIWI. However, so few people turned up that the organizers decided to discuss the working relationship between IWA and SIWI and in particular how to coordinate better the Stockholm World Water Week, the current IWA biennial World Water Congresses and its new biennial Development Congresses (the first of which will be held in Mexico City in September next year).

Later in the morning I attended a demonstration on the use of solar cookers to disinfect water and a very simple kit to check the bacteriological quality of the water given by Professor Robert Metcalf of California State University Sacramento. Really excellent! More details here.

All in all, an excellent week!

Saturday 6 September 2008

Health & the Environment, Africa

African ministers responsible for health and the environment met in Libreville, Gabon, during 26−29 August 2008 for the WHO/UNEP-sponsored First Inter-ministerial Conference on Health and Environment in Africa − Health Security through Healthy Environments. The executive summary of the conference background technical paper Traditional and Current Environmental Risks to Human Health starts off really well:

Unsafe water bodies, poor access to safe drinking water, indoor and outdoor air pollution, unhygienic or unsafe food, poor sanitation, inadequate waste disposal, absent or unsafe vector control, and exposure to chemicals and injuries have been identified as key environmental risks to human health in most countries in Africa. The underlining reasons for this situation include inadequate or flawed policies, weak institutional capacities, shortage of resources, and low general awareness of environment–health linkages among policy makers and in the community. It is suggested that governments re-orient their national policies to foster a greater contribution of environmental management towards public health.

In the Libreville Declaration the ministers reaffirmed their “commitment to implement all conventions and declarations that bear on health and environment linkages” − including the eThekwini Declaration on hygiene and sanitation. However, they recognised that there were “constraints on accelerated implementation of the necessary integrated strategies to protect populations against risks resulting from environmental degradation, including risks related to unsafe water supply, sanitation, air quality, vector-borne diseases, chemicals, waste management, new toxic substances, desertification, industrial and domestic risks, and natural disasters”, but they nonetheless declared that “we African countries commit ourselves to … ensuring integration of agreed objectives in the areas of health and environment in national poverty reduction strategies by implementing priority intersectoral programmes at all levels, aimed at accelerating achievement of the Millennium Development Goals”.

All a bit wishy-washy! And WatSan wasn’t even mentioned in the set of Libreville Recommendations! No wonder Sub-Saharan Africa has problems!!

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.

Sunday 27 July 2008


1. Women in Europe for a Common Future has now published the report of the meeting held in Brussels on 29 January (see blog of 30 January): European Sanitation Policies and Practises in the International Year of Sanitation 2008: Finding solutions for more than 20 million citizens who lack safe and affordable sanitation.

2. All the PowerPoint presentations made at the international conference ‘Sanitation Challenge' (see blog of 21 May) are now available here.

3. Governance: The Global Water Forum has just published Water Financing and Governance − quote: “The financial needs [of the water sector] will not be met without major reforms in water governance. By improving water governance the enabling environment for investment will improve as risks, commercial and political, will be better understood and addressed.”

4. The Assembly of the African Union (see blog of 14 June) has just posted the Sharm El-Sheikh Commitments for Accelerating the Achievement of Water and Sanitation Goals in Africa − see pages 30−32 of this file. “Motherhood and apple pie”, of course. Actions speak louder than Words, so we’ll wait and see what Africa actually does to help itself to achieve its MDG WatSan targets.
Update 30 July: The International Institute for Sustainable Development has just published a Briefing Note on the Outcomes of the Eleventh African Union Summit, including details of the Sharm El-Sheikh commitments on achieving the WatSan targets.

Thursday 24 July 2008

More on Governance

Further to my blog of 15 June on Sanitation Governance, there are a few more very useful websites: (1) the UNDP Water Governance Facility − “Governance systems determine who gets what water, when, and how, and decide who has the right to water and related services”, (2) the Water Integrity Network, (3) UNICORN − see its water page, and (4) EMPOWERS, the Euro-Med Participatory Water Resources Scenarios (active in Egypt, Jordan, and Palestine).

A very interesting paper was published in Water Policy last year: The role of governance in countering corruption: an African case study.

There’s also Tracing Power and Influence in Networks: Net-Map as a Tool for Research and Strategic Network Planning published last month by the International Food Policy Research Institute − all about multistakeholder water governance. There’s a Net-Map toolbox blog as well.

Latest JMP report

The WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme has just published its latest report Progress on Drinking-water and Sanitation: Special Focus on Sanitation. It's a "must read" and hugely more informative than earlier JMP reports. Dr Margaret Chan, the Director-General of WHO, says: "We have today a full menu of low-cost technical options for the provision of sanitation in most settings. More and more governments are determined to improve health by bringing water and sanitation to their poorest populations. If we want to break the stranglehold of poverty, and reap the multiple benefits for health, we must address water and sanitation." Quite so.

Corruption in the Water Sector

Cambridge University Press has just published the Global Corruption Report 2008: Corruption in the Water Sector, compiled by Transparency International. Here’s what Transparency International says about it (here):

More than 1 billion people live with inadequate access to safe drinking water, with dramatic consequences for lives, livelihoods and development. Transparency International’s Global Corruption Report 2008 demonstrates in its thematic section that corruption is a cause and catalyst for this water crisis, which is likely to be further exacerbated by climate change. Corruption affects all aspects of the water sector, from water resources management to drinking water services, irrigation and hydropower. In this timely report, scholars and professionals document the impact of corruption in the sector, with case studies from all around the world offering practical suggestions for reform.

The second part of the Global Corruption Report 2008 provides a snapshot of corruption-related developments in thirty-five countries from all world regions. The third part presents summaries of corruption-related research, highlighting innovative methodologies and new empirical findings that help our understanding of the dynamics of corruption and in devising more effective anti-corruption strategies.

My reaction: What a read, what a sickening read! [And you can download the whole report here.]

Friday 27 June 2008

Safer Water, Better Health

The World Health Organization has just published Safer Water, Better Health: Costs, Benefits and Sustainability of Interventions to Protect and Promote Health by Annette Prüss-Üstün, Robert Bos, Fiona Gore and Jamie Bartram. It’s a good read – but also disturbing as “Almost one tenth of the global disease burden could be prevented by improving water supply, sanitation, hygiene and management of water resources”.

Table 1 on page 12 (pdf page 16) in Safer Water, Better Health gives a summary of the situation in 2002 (country-by-country information is given in Annex I). In developing countries there were 2.4 million deaths in that year due to inadequate domestic water supplies, sanitation and hygiene (5.5% of total deaths). This is in huge contrast to the number in industrialized countries where there were only 24,000 deaths due to inadequate domestic WSH (0.2% of total deaths).

Globally children under 15 suffer most, with just over 2.2 million deaths in 2002 due to inadequate domestic WSH (nearly 19% of all U15 deaths). This really means that governments that don’t invest in WSH for all their citizens are effectively killing nearly one in five of their children under the age of 15 – every year. I think bald statements like this are becoming necessary to kick-start some governments into action − you always have to talk louder to those who are deaf or choose not to hear.

Sunday 15 June 2008

Sanitation governance

First of all, what is ‘governance’? This seems to be a valid question, especially if you read the new World Bank blog on the subject − one of the first postings was essentially an answer to this question: What we talk about when we talk about governance. The World Bank also has a helpful Knowledge in Development Note on Governance (2007) and a very informative Governance and Anticorruption website.

The UK Department for International Development (DFID) in its 2006 White Paper Eliminating World Poverty: Making Governance Work for the Poor is a little more specific (page 22):

So what is good governance? Good governance is not just about government. It is also about political parties, parliament, the judiciary, the media, and civil society. It is about how citizens, leaders and public institutions relate to each other in order to make change happen. Elections and democracy are an important part of the equation, but equally important is the way government goes about the business of governing. Good governance requires three things:
• State capability – the extent to which leaders and governments are able to get things done.
• Responsiveness – whether public policies and institutions respond to the needs of citizens and uphold their rights.
• Accountability – the ability of citizens, civil society and the private sector to scrutinise public institutions and governments and hold them to account. This includes, ultimately, the opportunity to change leaders by democratic means.

So how does all this relate to sanitation? Democracy is good for your health (see 2004 article in the British Medical Journal here), but we know that even in good democracies (Tanzania, for instance) there’s not 100% sanitation coverage. Has anyone done any work on sanitation coverage in democracies and non-democracies in Sub-Saharan Africa, for example? Now we have the JMP report A Snapshot of Sanitation in Africa, this shouldn’t be too difficult. I’ll try to find time to have a go over the next few weeks.

The DFID White Paper also has this to say (page 21):

Effective states and better governance are essential to combat poverty. States which respect civil liberties and are accountable to their citizens are more stable, which in turn means they are more likely to attract investment and generate long term economic growth. They can also cope better with calamities. Famines, for example, are less likely where there is a free media, because the press creates pressure on governments to provide relief. Unless governance improves, poor people will continue to suffer from a lack of security, public services and economic opportunities.

So could a free press and free radio/television improve sanitation coverage by shaming the government into action? Well, if it was a really sustained attack on the lack of sanitation coverage, it might, just might. But this would take a committed journalist to champion the cause and a supportive editor. I wonder what success rates vigorous environmental organizations, like the Centre for Science and Environment in India, have had in influencing and changing government policies.

The Water Research Group at the University of Bradford, UK, works on water governance in developing countries (see, for example, Water Governance and Poverty: What Works for the Poor?), but there’s not a lot on sanitation on their website. Maybe what’s good for water governance is also good for sanitation governance?

And what can be done in the ‘bottom billion’ countries? [See The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It (by Professor Paul Collier of the University of Oxford, OUP, 2007) – one of the best books you’ll ever read.]

ASKNet − The African Sanitation Knowledge Network

This should be a really good idea as the goal of ASKNet is “To enhance the ability of academics and professionals across the disciplines to contribute to the mainstreaming and up-scaling of sustainable sanitation in Sub-Saharan Africa, to the benefit of livelihoods, health, and the environment.” Although ASKNet was launched at AfricaSan2008 in February (see blog of 21 February), the ASKNet website is virtually empty. I don’t know why this is – but you might get an inkling of the reason(s) if you read the rather complex ASKNet by-laws (and you’ll see you have to pay to join). Then, if you read the small print, you’ll notice that the website is maintained by EcoSanRes and the by-laws emanate from WASTE – both EcoSan-oriented organizations. A cynic might wonder if ASKNet is just meant to be another way of promoting EcoSan in Africa ...

Well, I reckon a better way of getting knowledge on low-cost sanitation alternatives to ‘academics and professionals’ is through free websites like mine! Of course, there’s the ‘digital divide’ to consider and I admit I haven’t solved this yet. Maybe via the eGranary Digital Library (School of Library and Information Science at the University of Iowa). I’ll have to look into this.

Saturday 14 June 2008

The African Union and WatSan targets

The ‘Eleventh Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union’ is going to take place in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, on 30 June and 1 July and its theme is ‘Meeting the Millennium Development Goals on Water and Sanitation’. The draft Assembly Agenda for this includes (a) introductory remarks by the Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture (it doesn’t say who this is and the AU website doesn’t tell you either); (b) remarks by the Chair of the United Nations Secretary General’s Advisory Board on Water and sanitation (again it doesn’t say who this is, but we all know it’s HRH the Prince of Orange); (iii) presentation of the Theme by H.E. President Mubarak of Egypt (let’s hope he’s properly briefed!); and (iv) a presentation by an unidentified representative of Civil Society – all followed by a debate. So, all in all, a very good agenda item. Will it bring results? Let’s hope it does as Africa definitely needs results, especially sanitation results. Watch this space for the outcome of this AU meeting.

Friday 13 June 2008

FAO & IFAD: Water for the Rural Poor

The joint FAO/IFAD report Water and the Rural Poor: Interventions for Improving Livelihoods in Sub-Saharan Africa has just been published. Sanitation is mentioned a few times and the report does say that “improvements in water supply alone are unlikely to have positive health impacts unless sanitation practices are also improved. Optimal intervention programmes include improvements in water volume, water quality, and sanitation practices” (page 57), but nowhere in the report is there mention of any specific sanitation system(s). I thought this was a bit odd, especially given the success of Arborloos in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa and IFAD’s enthusiasm for agroforestry (see blog 1 and blog 2 of 6 April), so at least a Box on Arborloos would have been helpful. Time, I think, for these good agencies to wake up to Arborloos!

Thursday 12 June 2008

Why WatSan projects fail

I’m in Cali, Colombia, for a few days before going to Bogotá next week to lecture. So I’m working with colleagues at the Instituto Cinara, Universidad del Valle, and this reminded me of a finding by Dr Ines Restrepo when she was doing her Leeds PhD (her thesis is here). She found that the two main reasons why WatSan projects fail were that (1) local government engineers simply don’t have sufficient technical knowledge about available WatSan options for the poor; and (2) that, because they’re not well paid, they commonly have a second job and as a result they don’t pay as much attention as they should to their local government job − the consequence of this is that they often don’t spend their budget allocation till late in the financial year, so they spend it badly. All sound familiar?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: how are we going to get the knowledge needed to those who need it? If we don’t, then there’s very little chance that the MDG sanitation target will be met. It’s time knowledge transfer was taken much more seriously – the theme of the April 2008 issue of Waterlines (also here) is ‘Knowledge Sharing’, so this is a good start, but much more needs to be done. When will the agencies with all the money finally wake up to this? (A cynic might reply ‘on 1 January 2016’.)

The Hesperian Foundation

Now here’s a sensible publisher: the Hesperian Foundation (based in Berkeley, California), “a non-profit publisher of books and newsletters for community-based health care”, publishes many of its books in pdf format for free download – visit its Online Library. Have a look at A Community Guide to Environmental Health (by Jeff Conant and Pam Fadem, 2008), especially Chapter 7: Building Toilets, and Sanitation and Cleanliness for a Healthy Environment (by Jeff Conant, 2005). Hesperian also has a good blog here.

Saturday 7 June 2008

Slum Networking in India

Slum Networking – Transcending Poverty with Innovative Water and Sanitation Paradigm’ was one of the three winning projects, all from India, announced last month by Slum networking is the brainchild of civil engineer Himanshu Parikh; it’s simply fantastic − basically simplified sewerage and more, much more. The cost per household in September 2006 was INR 16,000 (around USD 350) and this paid for individual household sewerage and water supply connections, stormwater drainage, a solid waste bin and landscaping. The sewerage component was INR 6000 − basically a bargain! Invest in the slums and the slums will repay you many times. Well done Himanshu, slum networker par excellence.

Wednesday 4 June 2008

Regional Conference on IYS2008, Trinidad

The Regional Conference on IYS2008, organised by the Trinidad & Tobago Water and Sewerage Authority and the Solid Waste Management Company took place in Port of Spain during 2−4 June. Nice conference logo:

Access to ‘improved’ sanitation in Trinidad and Tobago was 100% in both urban and rural areas in 2006, according to the JMP sanitation report for the country. However, in urban areas sewerage coverage is only 19%, with most of the rest on septic tanks and soakaways. Just under a third of the population is served by pit latrines and, while these may represent ‘improved’ sanitation access, it’s likely that many don’t represent ‘adequate’ access (see blog of 14 January). There are also substantial, but not insoluble, problems with wastewater, especially small treatment plants which malfunction either because they’re overloaded or because of inadequate operation and maintenance. So there’s work to be done – but a start has already been made: details here.

Monday 2 June
The opening ceremony dominated the morning. I was invited to give the “feature address” – on sanitation options for the urban and rural poor (a presentation similar to that given in Wageningen). [This was followed by a DVD on endangered animal species – somewhat curious you might think, and you’d be right (but good for jet lag recovery).] In the afternoon there were two presentations – one was an overview of wastewater management in Trinidad & Tobago, the other an economist’s approach to waste management.

Tuesday 3 June
Another opening presentation by me – this time on wastewater management (sewer connection charges, appropriate wastewater treatment, compliance with the Aruba Protocol, reuse). Another DVD – this time on climate change (certainly more relevant than the one shown yesterday). In the afternoon there was a very interesting presentation by Mr David Wilk of the Inter-American Development Bank on IDB’s Sustainable Energy and Climate Change Initiative (applicable to sanitary landfills but also to biogas toilets – see blog of 31 January).

Wednesday 4 June
Two opening addresses: one by the representative of the Minister of Local Government mostly about improved solid waste management, and the other by the Hon. Mustapha Abdul- Hamid, the Minister of Public Utilities, who spoke about the importance of water and wastewater, noting that the government recognises the “great value in wastewater” and that the high-quality treated wastewater from Port of Spain was considered a “NEWater” (rather like in Singapore) which is to be used mostly by local industries but also to a more limited degree in agriculture. The Minister also talked about plans for universal water metering (which should lead to a better charging system for sewerage as well), the need to reduce unaccounted-for water from its current level of ~40% to a target of 25%, and the need to sort out problems with existing septic tank systems and latrines. Overall a really good speech!

Not so much in the late morning or afternoon – at least on sanitation. Conference dinner tonight and fieldvisits tomorrow.

Sunday 1 June 2008

U5 diarrhoeal disease deaths

Just published on-line in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization: Estimating child mortality due to diarrhoea in developing countries: a meta-analysis review. The main findings were “Global deaths from diarrhoea of children aged less than five were estimated at 1.87 million (95% confidence interval, CI: 1.56–2.19), approximately 19% of total child deaths. WHO African and South-East Asia regions combined contain 78% (1.46 million) of all diarrhoea deaths occurring among children in the developing world; 73% of these deaths are concentrated in just 15 developing countries.”

Thursday 22 May 2008

Sanitation coverage in Africa

The WHO/UNICEF JMP publication A Snapshot of Sanitation in Africa, launched at AfricaSan2008 (see blog of 21 February), is available in pdf format here. Well worth reading!

Wednesday 21 May 2008

Sanitation Challenge

The international conference ‘Sanitation Challenge: New Sanitation Concepts and Models of Governance’ took place in Wageningen, The Netherlands, during 19−21 May.

Monday 19 May
The opening plenary session included a presentation by Dr Ir Grietje Zeeman of Wageningen University on “New Sanitation: a challenge for developing and developed countries”. Rather alarming really, as it started off as follows:

New Sanitation, EcoSan, ROSa (Resource-oriented sanitation), DeSaR (Decentralized sanitation and reuse), all these terms are used to define the collection, transport and treatment of source-separated domestic waste(water) ...

Apparently, source separation is “unavoidable for a sustainable [sanitation] solution”. OK, so more EcoSan ‘gospel’, but is it really necessary to keep repeating this incomplete view of sanitation, especially sanitation for the 2.6 billion poor people in developing countries who currently lack access to ‘improved’ sanitation? Actually it gives such a distorted view of the sanitation possibilities for this huge number of poor people that, with luck, it’ll be self-defeating − well, one can but hope! At least Dr. Zeeman realised that vacuum sewerage might not be appropriate in developing countries, and she did recommend SPARC-style community-managed sanitation blocks in high-density slums, so perhaps not all is lost.

After the coffee break I went to Theme 4: Sanitation Concepts and Knowledge Gaps − no choice as this session included my presentation. The three other presentations in this session were so high-tech that none could make any contribution whatsoever to the achievement of the MDG sanitation target – rather strange really. This was true of many of the presentations in the afternoon too.

Tuesday 20 May
Prof-Dr Ralf Otterpohl of the Technische Universität Hamburg-Harburg (TUHH) gave one of the plenary presentations on “Pathways for future developments in sanitation”, all rather high-tech (and therefore presumably expensive) EcoSan – but he did say that EcoSan systems were “not ready for large scale” application at present, except in rural areas. This was a really important admission by one of Europe’s leading EcoSan researchers and advocates that urban/periurban EcoSan is not yet a feasible sanitation solution. So now we know!

In the afternoon there was a good paper by Rose Osinde of UN-Habitat on sanitation governance – a hugely important topic which hitherto hasn’t really received the attention it deserves, so it’ll be a subject this blog will return to. Later on in the afternoon there was a very interesting paper by Maggie Montgomery of Yale University on her doctoral research on rural sanitation in Tanzania. She proposed Three Pillars of Sustainability for rural sanitation: a demand-responsive approach, microfinance and cost recovery, and effective operation and maintenance. Throughout the conference there has been a good discussion on what we actually mean by ‘sustainable sanitation’ – we didn't come up with an agreed definition, but it’s clear that source separation is not the sine qua non for this.

There were a few papers on sanitation planning, really sanitation system selection, using tools such as ‘flow stream approach’, multidimensional gap analysis, multi-criteria analysis, and learning and decision methodology. Some of these are, or at least appear to be, quite complex, so it was good to hear that these researchers will collaborate to develop a more unified and hopefully simpler approach.

Wednesday 21 May
Field visits today to EcoSan projects in The Netherlands. Given what Ralf Otterpohl said yesterday, I’ve decided to give them a miss!