Thursday 28 February 2008

eThekwini Declaration

The eThekwini Declaration has now been published, as have the Action Plan for sanitation in Africa (a much better version than that handed out in Durban) and the Statement by the African Civil Society Network on Water and Sanitation.

Tuesday 26 February 2008

Sanitation declarations

I've put together a webpage with the Declarations of all the Regional Sanitation Conferences held since 2003. Still waiting for the eThekwini (AfricaSan2008) Declaration to be posted!

Thursday 21 February 2008

AfricaSan2008, Durban, South Africa

Sunday, 17 February
Arrived in Durban, South Africa, for the big African Sanitation Conference – AfricaSan2008, attended by around 500 delegates mainly from Africa. It took well over an hour to register as this was done under the supervision of the South African National Intelligence Agency − with as many as 35 ministers from different African countries attending, security was extraordinarily tight. At the ‘Meet and Greet’ party in the evening I met many colleagues from various parts of the world, some of whom I’d not seen for many years (in a couple of cases for over 20 years).

Monday, 18 February
9 am and it’s the Opening Ceremony, which started with a bang: a dozen or so traditional Zulu drummers beating the hell out of their drums for a good 15 minutes! Then the opening speeches, firstly from Minister Hendricks, Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, South Africa. She gave an interesting speech which included the fact that in the next few weeks South Africa will have totally eliminated all its bucket latrines. Of course, there was a lot of “motherhood and apple pie” in her speech and also in that of Minister Itoua from the Congo – only to be expected but, even so, good to hear in these early days of IYS2008. There was also a video message from HRH the Prince of Orange, who’s President of the UN Secretary General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation (read the transcript here). The other highlight of the morning was Clarissa Brocklehurst’s presentation “A Snapshot of Sanitation in Africa” – an African preview of the next JMP report due out in May or so (Clarissa is the head of water, environment and sanitation at UNICEF). The figures she presented on sanitation in Africa in 2006 were alarming but fortunately also encouraging: (i) in urban Africa 52% had improved sanitation, 28% used shared facilities, 12% had unimproved sanitation, and 7% practised open defecation; (ii) in rural Africa 28% had improved sanitation, 10% used shared facilities, 26% had unimproved sanitation, and 36% practised open defecation; and (iii) only the North African countries were on track to meet the MDG sanitation target. Alarming figures indeed, but encouraging because, although only ‘improved’ sanitation counts towards the MDG sanitation target, when you add in those using shared and unimproved facilities, you get the percentages of people using some sort of sanitation and this is actually very encouraging as it shows that the demand is there, albeit not yet fully satisfied; and, importantly, open defecation is on the decrease in all parts of Africa – all regions and both urban and rural; “flying toilets” may soon be a thing of the past! So the sanitation situation in Africa, while far from good, is also far from very bad.

In the afternoon the two highlights for me were the presentation by Neil Macleod, the head of eThekwini Water [Durban is in the municipality of eThekwini], about eThekwini Water’s excellent latrine programme – the urine-diverting alternating twin-vault ventilated improved vault latrines (UD-VIVs – see the blog of 16 January), and the presentation by Professor Edward Kairu, of the NGO Maji na Ufanisi (‘Water and Development’) in Kenya, on community- managed sanitation blocks in Kibera, Nairobi (see the blog of 28 January). The day rounded off with a Reception hosted by the Mayor of Durban.

Tuesday 19 February
Day 2 and we were in four parallel sessions – I gave the lead presentation in the morning session on technical solutions for the urban poor, and this was followed by round tables on condominial sewerage, pit emptying (led by Dr Graham Alabaster of UN-Habitat and a Leeds PhD), and urban sludge management. Four more parallel sessions in the afternoon – the one I went to was on financing to meet the MDG sanitation target – interesting but nothing special. The early evening saw the slightly chaotic launch of ASKNet – the African Sanitation Knowledge Network, aimed at the acquisition and sharing of sanitation knowledge amongst African academics, students and practitioners. If it works, it will be a really fitting achievement both for Africa and for IYS2008, and also a good model for other parts of the developing world. It really needs to succeed.

Wednesday 20 February
Day 3 and the Closing Ceremony: first a statement by the Africa Civil Society Network on Water and Sanitation, and then presentations of the slightly weird Plan of Action [for sanitation in Africa] and the main outcome of AfricaSan2008, the eThekwini Declaration (basically the Ministerial Statement on AfricaSan2008 and the way ahead for sanitation implementation in Africa – more “motherhood and apple pie” of course, but nonetheless a pretty good document), followed by the formal launch of IYS2008 in Africa: all the Ministers present released balloons − some yellow but the others not the other EcoSan colours! All in all, a very good 2½ days – but there’s a vast amount of work to be done before 31 December 2015. Let’s hope Africa is really up for it. [The eThekwini Declaration was originally due on the AfricaSan2008 site at 3 pm on 20 February, but now it's due "as soon as possible". I'll post a blog when it does come available.]

Wednesday 13 February 2008

EU sanitation policies and practices − 2

Just a note (further to the blog on 30 January) to say that WECF has now put on-line here all the presentations made at its meeting in Brussels on 29 January, including its excellent video on the shocking state of sanitation in some Member States in the eastern part of the Union.

Friday 1 February 2008

No substitute for knowledge!

I’m an engineer and, despite this apparent ‘handicap’, I do know you can’t do a successful sanitation project if you don’t take into account the so-called ‘software’ aspects of sanitation (basically engaging with the intended beneficiaries), and I also know that some people think this is ‘so’ important that they don’t like to talk about ‘sanitation technologies’ but rather ‘sanitation systems’ or ‘sanitation arrangements’ − but (and it’s a big BUT) my viewpoint, as an engineer (and a civil engineer to boot), is that, if you get the technology wrong, then all your ‘software’ won’t count for much at all at the end of the day: you have to recommend sanitation technologies (‘hardware’) that people want, can afford and are able to maintain. It ain’t rocket science! And, as most people, especially those that pontificate a lot, don’t know what sanitation ‘technologies’ are out there, how do they presume that they can give ‘good’ advice? Ignorance is bliss, of course − but actually that’s not good enough in and for IYS2008. There’s no substitute for knowledge! And the real IYS2008 challenge is how to get this knowledge to those that really matter, and this includes those at the ‘coalface’ − local engineers and planners. How on earth are we going to achieve this? I don’t see anything remotely convincing on the websites of “globally important” organizations − so when are they going to wake up? That’s a really important question for IYS2008.

Affordability and Microfinance

If a sanitation system costs x unc (units of national currency), where x is fairly large, equivalent to something like USD 200−400, then it’s unlikely poor/very poor households in either rural or urban areas will have this amount of cash to hand. So how do they proceed? Well, the sanitation programme or project that's “selling” them this sanitation system should really have thought about this and arranged some sort of microfinancing − small low-interest loans for poor households. There’s a lot of info. on microfinance, sometimes called microcredit (see here, for example). One of the earliest small loan schemes for urban sanitation was in Lesotho (details here, pdf pages 23−26): urban residents could apply to a commercial bank for a loan to construct a VIP latrine, but they had to pay an upfront deposit of 30−40% − quite a lot really given that the latrine cost around USD 400 (1993 $) (a cheaper version for about half this cost was also available). The loan was to be repaid over 24 months in 20 instalments (no payments to be made in December and January because of Christmas costs and paying school fees). Loan defaulters were “wealthier people who [thought] no-one [would] follow up on the debt” − in contrast poorer people repaid regularly. If we’re to give sanitation the push it needs in IYS2008, then we have to think seriously about affordability and microfinance − not to do so is, frankly, irresponsible.

Of course, simplified sewerage in urban areas has an important advantage: loans aren’t needed! The householders just pay for the service through a surcharge on their monthly water bill. Sewerage agencies (they’re commonly water and sewerage agencies) shouldn’t charge connection fees as these are too anti-poor. A pro-poor agency will understand this and in any case the fee can simply be recovered through the water and sewerage bill (e.g., by using a slightly higher surcharge rate).