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!!