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!