Friday, 18 April 2008

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.