Thursday, 2 October 2008

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!