Thursday 26 March 2009


Trachoma is a serious water-washed eye infection and the world’s leading cause of preventable blindness. There’s a lot of useful information on the International Trachoma Initiative website, and the Disease Control Priorities Project has posted the good news: The End of Blinding Trachoma among the World's Poor is in Sight.

Have a look at the BBC’s Survival series on tropical diseases − 8 full-length (~45-minute) programmes available to watch online here. Episode 1 deals with trachoma, schistosomiasis, and lymphatic filariasis in Niger, West Africa.

Wednesday 25 March 2009

Stockholm Water Prize

The SIWI headline is “Indian Sanitation Innovator and Social Reformer Awarded 2009 Stockholm Water Prize”. The laureate is Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of the Sulabh Sanitation Movement in India − and the first ‘sanitation person’ to receive the award (all previous laureates have been water/wastewater people, with the exception of WaterAid which won the prize in 1995) − so, many congratulations to him (and also to SIWI for making the award for sanitation − why on earth didn’t they do so last year, the International Year of Sanitation? But better late than never). I personally prefer the SPARC approach to communal sanitation (see here), but there’s no doubt that Sulabh has done tremendously good work.

Friday 20 March 2009

Toilet “theology”

According to the report “Amish man jailed over toilet theology”, in The Independent (a UK national daily newspaper) on 18 March a western Pennsylvania Amish farmer has been sentenced to 90 days in jail and fined $1000 after refusing to bring a pair of outhouses into compliance with state sewage laws. The farmer cited his conservative religious beliefs in refusing to abide by an earlier court order to make the privies used by schoolchildren compliant and pay a $500 fine. “Quite frankly, this is not a religious issue,” said the judge.

I agree with the judge, but maybe a compromise solution should have been sought by the local county “sewage enforcement agency” − a solution that would protect both the health of the schoolchildren and the environment in a way that didn’t offend Amish beliefs, yet was acceptable to everyone else; and if this required modification of local sewage disposal regulations, then so be it. Did anyone say to the Amish “Look, your current sanitary solution is absolutely no good, so how would you improve it in a way that’s acceptable to both you and us?” − that sort of thing. I’d bet good money that this wasn’t even considered!

A couple of fine excuses!

WaterAid, in the Spring/Summer 2009 issue of Oasis, has this: ‘Some West African men refuse to wash their hands because “the cleaner your hands are the more likely you are to drop your money. They think it’s better to have sticky hands”.’

And, even more amazingly, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has this in relation to why women in the largest slum in Karachi won’t use water purification tablets (here): ‘The major excuse that these women have is that they fear these tablets will render [their men] impotent.’

Hygiene education ain’t always as easy as you might think!

Friday 6 March 2009

Think Globally Radio

Think Globally Radio, based in Sweden, has some interesting podcasts which are well worth a listen:
1. Water, Power, Poverty – How clean water and sanitation will cut poverty in half by 2015 [2007-01-28]
2. Hurry Up! 2.6 Billion People Want to Use the Toilet!! [2008-01-13
3. Water and Sanitation: Do We Mind the Gap? [2008-09-07]
To access/listen/download go to the Think Globally Radio homepage, click on Episode Archive at the top, and then scroll down to the podcast you want to listen to (they're listed in reverse date order).

Thursday 5 March 2009

John Kalbermatten – 3

I should have mentioned in the earlier postings on John that there’s a very good review of his work at the World Bank on pages 21–23 in Science and Technology at the World Bank, 1968–83 by Charles Weiss (of the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in Washington DC), published in History and Technology 22 (1), 81–104 (March 2006; abstract here). Well worth reading!

Monday 2 March 2009

John Kalbermatten – 2

I don’t have many photos of John Kalbermatten − here’s a slide I took in March 1980 showing John (arrowed) leading the team through a slum in Calcutta.

John Kalbermatten, 1931−2009

Low-cost Sanitation has lost its greatest Champion: John Kalbermatten, who died last Thursday in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and who is being buried today. In the 1970s and early 80s John was the Senior Water & Wastes Advisor at the World Bank. He realised that the Bank’s investments in sewerage were not reaching the poor and he persuaded the Bank to fund the 1976−78 low-cost sanitation research project. This produced some truly ground-breaking publications − for example, the three books on Appropriate Sanitation Alternatives: A Technical and Economic Appraisal and A Planning and Design Manual (published in 1982 by Johns Hopkins University Press), and Sanitation and Disease: Health Aspects of Excreta and Wastewater Management (John Wiley & Sons, 1983) − some people, including some sector 'specialists', are even now "reinventing" quite a bit of what's in the first two, simply because they haven't read them (and probably don't know about them).

John then obtained funds from UNDP in 1978 for project GLO/78/006 for the Technology Advisory Group (TAG), which he established, to start putting the lessons of the research project into practice. TAG’s successor today is the Water and Sanitation Program. Maggie Black’s 1999 publication 1978−1998: Learning What Works − A 20 Year Retrospective View on International Water and Sanitation Cooperation details the work of TAG.

John was a true visionary and I, for one, will miss him greatly. Requiescat in pace.