Saturday 26 April 2008


I’ve just been reading (on a train journey to London) a hard copy of the January 2008 issue of the ‘new look’ Waterlines (summaries on-line here, index here), now described as “an international journal of water, sanitation and waste”. First reaction? Well, it’s more like an academic journal, rather than a WatSan magazine. Being an academic, I’m not best placed to judge, but I wonder what the wider non-academic readership makes of this revamp − do they like the new look?

The title of the January 2008 issue is Where are we with sanitation? Clearly a very good question for the first month of IYS2008. There are a couple of papers on sanitation coverage − are the JMP figures reliable? [Probably not, but there’s not much else!]. There’s also an excellent paper by Maggie Black (author of The Last Taboo − see blog of 4 April) on the ‘first sanitary revolution’ in the 19th century, and she asks if there are lessons for “today’s global sanitation crisis”. She notes a similarity between the Great Stink from the River Thames in London in 1858 and today’s Great Stink in Delhi from the Yamuna river (Sewage Canal: How to Treat the Yamuna, CSE, 2007). [Unfortunately the Indian Parliament Buildings are not located near the Yamuna, whereas the UK Houses of Parliament are right on the River Thames.]

Then there’s the very interesting paper by Kevin Tayler: “Urban sanitation: Lessons from experience” in Asia, especially Pakistan and India. As Kevin is highly experienced in urban sanitation in Asia, this is well worth reading. The first heading in the paper is “Sewerage: An appropriate sanitation choice?” and he gives three case studies, The Orangi Pilot Project (OPP) in Karachi and two others.

The OPP is very well known and much has been written about it (one example, from WaterAid, here; others here). On its website OPP says its approach is:

to encourage and strengthen community initiatives (with social, technical guidance and credit for micro enterprise) and evolve partnerships with the government for development based on local resources.

OPP describes its low-cost sanitation programme as follows:

Low Cost Sanitation Program enables low income families to finance, manage and maintain sanitary latrines in their homes, underground sewerage lines in the lanes and secondary sewers (this constitutes internal development). Government is responsible to provide main sewers and treatment plants (i.e. external development). OPP-RTI provides social and technical guidance to both community and government facilitating partnerships. The model that has evolved from the program is the component-sharing concept of development with people and government as partners. The program has extended to all of Orangi and to 338 settlements of Karachi and 18 cities, also in 47 villages (spread over the Sindh and Punjab Province), covering a population of more than 2 million.

Interestingly in both these excerpts there’s mention of “technical guidance”. So it wouldn’t be too unfair to assume that this guidance would include guidance on sewer design, but apparently not. I only know this because, when some years ago I gave a talk on simplified sewerage at a WaterAid conference in London, a young member of the OPP staff came up to me after the talk and tried to persuade me to visit OPP to teach them the hydraulic design of sewers as they didn’t know anything about it! Just as well then that the ground slopes in Orangi are greater than the necessary minimum sewer gradients! [There may be some info. on sewer design in an OPP publication, but it’s difficult to know as none of the many OPP publications listed on its website is hyperlinked to an electronic version.]

Actually I know a little more about Orangi as I went there in about 1982, at the request of UN-Habitat, to advise the BCCI Foundation on sanitation solutions for Orangi (BCCI, the now defunct Bank of Credit and Commerce International). I recommended simplified sewerage and suggested that one of my research students, Gehan Sinnatamby, who was just about to finish his PhD on the topic (he had done all his fieldwork in northeast Brazil with CAERN − see blog of 16 January), be engaged to do this. Gehan worked with a very poor minority (Christian) community in Orangi and successfully installed strict Brazilian-style simplified sewerage. Water consumption was only 27 litres per person per day, all obtained from public standpipes. I remember Gehan telling me that some people from the then quite new OPP came to see what he was doing but, other than that, they kept their distance. More detail on Gehan’s work is given in his 1986 UN-Habitat publication The Design of Shallow Sewer Systems and in our 1986 paper in World Water Sewerage: Shallow systems offer hope to slums [simplified sewerage was originally called shallow sewerage].

Friday 18 April 2008

Connection charges

ADB has a really good note on its website: The How’s and Why’s of Water Connection Charges. As it says:

“High and upfront water connection charges often act as a major barrier to connecting the poor. So why charge for a connection? Mobile companies provide free phones to attract subscribers. Supermarkets do not charge entrance fees to potential shoppers. Why can this not be applied to water services?”

Why not indeed … and this is just as important, mutatis mutandis, for connection charges for (simplified) sewerage − so, all you WatSew companies out there “doing your best to serve the poor”, take note!

EcoSan @ ADB

The Asian Development Bank has some excellent WatSan publications on its website, and it issues a monthly e-newsletter called ‘Water For All News’. The current (April 2008) issue of Water for All News has EcoSan as its theme:

Ecological Sanitation
Earth- and People-Friendly Toilets for a Cleaner, Healthier Asia
Conventional sanitation solutions are expensive— one reason why close to 2 billion people in the Asia and Pacific region still defecate in the open or make do with crude sanitation facilities. Fortunately, a cheaper and environmentally-friendly alternative exists. Ecological sanitation, or ecosan, is an approach that protects human health, conserves water, prevents water pollution, and returns to the soil valuable nutrients that would otherwise have been discarded, helping to ensure food security along the way. This issue focuses on the gains of countries and communities as they embrace the ecosan way of life.

[Note the recurring fallacy: ‘if EcoSan’s cheaper than conventional sewerage, then it’s the sanitation solution of choice’ − however, a sensible sanitation planner would only adopt EcoSan if it were cheaper than all other feasible low-cost sanitation systems.]

There’s a good description of the Erdos Eco-Town project in China (see blog of 20 January), Rising Eco-Town Boasts “No-Flush Toilets”:

“The Erdos Eco-Town Project (EETP)— a collaborative enterprise of the Dongsheng District of the Erdos Municipal government, Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), and a private real estate developer (Daxing Co. Ltd.)— is the world’s first major attempt to build an entire town with onsite ecological sanitation (ecosan).
Conceived in 2003, the project constructed 825 apartments in 4 and 5 floor multi-storey buildings each equipped with no-flush, urine-diversion toilets and urinals developed in Sweden and the PRC and manufactured within the country.
The EETP boasts of an eco-station composed of a greywater treatment plant and thermal composting unit, a solid waste center, a storage pond for treated greywater, agricultural experiment plots, and sanitation research testing facilities. All waste in the 50-hectare eco-town is designed to be treated onsite and recycled for agriculture. Household organics are collected and composted, while urine, feces, and greywater are treated separately.
The entire ecosan operation and management, including communicating with individual households, is carried out by a local ecosan team comprising technical and social workers.”

And a little, just a little, on costs:

“An economic study shows that the water savings of 30−40 percent compared to conventional housing provide major economic savings. The world market price for phosphate has risen during the past 14 months by about 6-fold, so the value of the nutrients from such sanitation systems is also one of the advantages.”

Yes, but is it a cheap solution? Judging by the photo sequence it doesn’t look all that cheap. (Could you, even in your wildest dreams, ever think that ‘Teflon-coated turning bowls’ might possibly be part of the MDG sanitation target solution? I don't think so!) So why aren’t we told the actual per household costs? I think you might be able to guess why!

Of course, this EcoSan demonstration/experimentation can be considered perfectly OK from a purely R&D perspective (after removing all the EcoSan hype), but as a solution, even partial solution, to the MDG sanitation target? I doubt it − but I’m willing to be convinced otherwise, so let’s have the real costs. SIDA is one of the sponsors of this project (I suspect the main sponsor), so it's time for this leading bilateral aid agency to get those involved in this project to publish the real costs.

Thursday 17 April 2008

India Stinking

India Stinking is the title of a truly horrific book by Gita Ramaswamy (published by Navayana Publishing, Pondicherry, 2005). The subtitle explains all: "Manual scavengers in Andhra Pradesh and their work". All truly dreadful. India has many, many good things - but this ain't one of them. Shame on all you Indian politicians and so-called higher-caste people who allow this ghastly and illegal occupation to continue as if it were not ghastly and illegal - get a grip, break the habit of a lifetime, and do something noble!

Fossas migratórias

Further to my blog of 6 April, I’ve found the slides I took in July 1980 of the experimental/demonstration fossas migratórias (‘migratory pit latrines’) at the Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia in Manaus in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil. Here’s a couple − the first shows a general view of one of these fossas and the second shows it on the move (and you can see it’s a bit like a sedan chair). In the shallow soils of rainforests these latrines need to be moved every three months or so in order to induce the tree to grow strong lateral roots, but elsewhere it’s obviously better (and simpler) to have Peter Morgan’s Arborloos − why, in poor dispersed rural areas (and most dispersed rural areas are poor/very poor), would we want to promote anything else? Now there’s a question for EcoSanologists!

Friday 11 April 2008


Rotavirus disease kills around nearly half a million children under 5 every year, and almost all these deaths are in developing countries (details here). So the paper in The Lancet (11 April 2008) “Efficacy and safety of an oral live attenuated human rotavirus vaccine against rotavirus gastroenteritis during the first 2 years of life in Latin American infants: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled phase III study” is very good news. The authors “aimed to assess the 2-year efficacy and safety of an oral live attenuated human rotavirus vaccine for prevention of severe gastroenteritis in infants” and their conclusions are as follows:

Results confirm the occurrence of rotavirus disease early in life and the continued high burden of gastroenteritis during the second year of life in Latin America. Two oral doses of RIX4414 given in early infancy showed good safety profile, were well tolerated, and provided sustained high protection against severe rotavirus gastroenteritis caused by a change in circulating rotavirus strains during the first 2 years of life when disease burden is highest. The importance of these results should not be underestimated because this study was done in developing countries from Latin America with challenging socioeconomic circumstances. Inclusion of this vaccine in routine paediatric immunisation schedules can be expected to greatly reduce the burden of rotavirus disease worldwide.”

Very good news indeed! Good water, sanitation and hygiene are, of course, excellent anti-gastroenteritis preventive measures but, with the painfully slow pace of sanitation provision in many developing countries, routine rotavirus vaccination is likely to save many lives in the short-to-medium term, so let’s hope it gets into widespread use very quickly.

Thursday 10 April 2008

"Urine passes test"

Here’s a story that should gladden the hearts of all EcoSanologists. On page 23 of Developments issue 41, just published but not yet on the web (check here), there’s a report of the work by students at the School of Architecture, University of Sheffield, England, for Architects for Aid, on using urine to make mud bricks − and they outperformed those made with water. The rationale for this development was that, in refugee camps or following natural disasters water is in short supply and mostly needed for drinking, with none or very little left to make mud bricks for new shelter. So it's people → urine → mud bricks. Good solution! More details here and here, and report here.

Urine contains urea which is a good binder for the mud. Pig urine is good too − see pdf page 5 of The Brick Master of Kerala; also horse urine (see here).

Monday 7 April 2008

AfricaSan2008 – presentations

All the presentations made at AfricaSan2008 are available here. Files are quite large, but many (not all!) are well worth the wait. [It’s difficult to tell what’s what on this webpage – you’d have thought they’d have taken the time to type in, and hyperlink to, the full title of each presentation. Very slack!]

Sunday 6 April 2008

More on Trees and a Little on Fish

Further to the today’s earlier blog on trees, there’s another good read on the IFAD website: Cameroon: tree domestication boosts family income. This describes a joint IFAD-World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) project – ICRAF is one of the research centres of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and it describes agroforestry as focusing “on the wide range of working trees grown on farms and in rural landscapes. Among these are fertilizer trees for land regeneration, soil health and food security; fruit trees for nutrition; fodder trees that improve smallholder livestock production; timber and fuelwood trees for shelter and energy; medicinal trees to combat disease; and trees that produce gums, resins or latex products. Many of these trees are multipurpose, providing a range of benefits.” But not a mention on the ICRAF website of using human excreta to fertilize these trees! They need to know about Arborloos!

Another CGIAR centre is The WorldFish Center – but there’s no mention on this site of excreta- or wastewater-fertilized fishponds. However, this is a common practice and one for which the World Health Organization published in 2006 its Guidelines for the Safe Use of Wastewater, Excreta and Greywater − volume 3: Wastewater and Excreta use in Aquaculture.

Time to integrate the use of human wastes more effectively into the production of fish and useful trees by poor rural farmers! Definitely something very worthwhile to start doing in IYS2008.

Sanitation and trees: a way out of rural poverty

I’ve been looking at IFAD’s website – IFAD is the International Fund for Agricultural Development, a specialized agency of the United Nations established in 1977 as a major outcome of the 1974 World Food Conference organized in response to the food crises of the early 1970s that especially affected countries in the Sahel. “IFAD is dedicated to eradicating rural poverty in developing countries. Seventy-five per cent of the world's poorest people − 800 million women, children and men − live in rural areas and depend on agriculture and related activities for their livelihoods.”

One page seemed particularly relevant to IYS2008: Tree domestication programme in Africa helps families out of poverty. Why? Well, because it complements very well Peter Morgan’s Arborloo (see Toilets that Make Compost). Rural families with an Arborloo can (and should be encouraged to) grow profitable trees – indigenous fruit and medicinal trees, as in this IFAD project, which IFAD says “has changed the lives of tens of thousands of poor people in rural Africa. Women are feeding their families, sending their children to school and improving their status at home”.

Arorloos are the cheapest EcoSan system. They need to be much more actively promoted in rural areas by the various EcoSan agencies (such as SEI/Ecosanres, GTZ and TUHH/IWA Specialist Group). I simply fail to see why they don’t do this. After all, shouldn’t we be promoting in IYS2008 really low-cost sanitation systems, especially ones that are profitable, to the rural poor? Maybe we should just be promoting Arborloos in dispersed rural areas – excreta in, money out – and forget about VIPs and so on.

Quite a few years ago, it must have been in the early 1980s, I visited INPA, the Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia in Manaus, to look at some sanitation research being done there by an English tree researcher (whose name I just can’t remember). The idea behind his research was to plant a food tree (and he told me that some of the rainforest trees produce a tonne of food a year) and dig a shallow pit about 1.5 m away from the young tree. He had a portable wooden latrine superstructure (much like a sedan chair) which was placed over the pit. The latrine was used for about 3 months, when another pit was dug on the opposite side of the tree and this was then used for the next 3 months. Then a pit was dug at 90° to the first two and used for the next 3-month period; finally a fourth pit was dug opposite the third and used for the final 3-month period. The idea of all this was to enable the tree to develop strong lateral roots (rainforest soils are very shallow) and, of course, produce more food.

I remember telling Peter Morgan about this when I visited him in Zimbabwe (again in the early 1980s), and he remembered this when we met at AfricaSan2008 in February. This research at INPA led to Peter’s development of the Arborloo.

Friday 4 April 2008

Why’s it called ‘condominial’ sewerage?

Why do Brazilians call simplified sewerage ‘condominial’ sewerage? [They actually use both terms: redes de esgotos simplificadas and esgotamento condominialrede means network, esgotos means sewage and esgotamento sewerage.] The explanation given on page 55 of The Last Taboo (see today’s other blog), that it’s because “instead of laying a sewer in the road and connecting every house on an individual basis, the pipe runs from one house or dwelling to another as if they were in an apartment block”, is not quite correct (almost, but not quite). It was explained to me many years ago by Professor Cícero Onofre Neto of the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte as follows: see how on the outside of a condominium (used in the American sense of a block of privately owned apartments sharing the costs of common services) the main drainage pipe is vertical and each apartment is connected to this by an inclined pipe, so that it looks like a series of vertically joined Y’s; now rotate this pipework through 90° away from the condominium wall, and you have the horizontal version which is used in ‘backyard’ or in-block simplified sewerage (the original layout for simplified sewerage in northeast Brazil) with each house connected individually to the sewer. Just thought I’d set the record straight (especially for those who think simplified sewerage and condominial sewerage are different).

Good for CNN!

Congratulations to CNN for showing UNSGAB’s short public service announcement video on IYS 2008! I’ve seen it quite a few times on the TV this week in Colombia. What a really good way to get the IYS2008 headline message across to millions of viewers! Thank you, CNN.

‘The Last Taboo’ – the book for IYS2008!

I’ve been reading The Last Taboo: Opening the Door on the Global Sanitation Crisis by Maggie Black and Ben Fawcett (Earthscan, 2008). Overall it’s a very good read indeed and strongly recommended for all involved in IYS2008 – politicians, civil servants, aid bureaucrats, as well as sanitation professionals. The latter won’t find so much that is new (it’s nevertheless an excellent read, even though you may not agree with absolutely everything in it), but many in the first lot will and they need to read it.

Maggie Black is well known in the sanitation sector as the author of two important and highly readable WaterAid publications: Mega Slums: the Coming Sanitary Crisis (1994) and Thirsty Cities: Water, Sanitation and the Urban Poor (1996). The Last Taboo is even better!

It’s a pity that The Last Taboo is quite expensive (GBP 16.99 in the UK). I’ve no idea how much it costs in Africa, but I bet it’s too expensive for most of the people who need to read it − at the very least it should be in every British Council library. Years ago there was the English Language Book Society, a scheme funded by the UK government’s aid programme which enabled special paperback editions of British books, mostly textbooks, to be sold at very low prices in developing countries. For some reason, fathomable only by presumably a few long-since retired civil servants, this brilliant scheme was discontinued. Why on earth don’t DFID and the British Council reinstate it? The cost would be minimal but the benefits huge – remember, there’s no substitute for knowledge!