Friday 28 August 2009


The Second World Congress of Agroforestry, which has been taking place in Nairobi, ended today and, as far as I can tell from the Programme, not a mention of Arborloos (see blog of 6 April 2008) − another wasted opportunity?

Thursday 27 August 2009

WaterAid interview

Watch this video in which Barbara Frost, Chief Executive of WaterAid, interviews Douglas Alexander, MP, the UK Secretary of State for International Development − DFID is “the part of the UK Government that manages Britain's aid to poor countries”.

Wednesday 19 August 2009

Peepoo Bags

Watch this video on YouTube to see what a Peepoo bag is and have a look at the Peepoople website. There’s also a paper by the inventors of the Peepoo bag which was published earlier this year in Water Science and Technology: Peepoo bag: self-sanitising single use biodegradable toilet [this link takes you to the paper’s abstract − well worth a read].

Now, would you recommend the widespread use of Peepoo bags in urban slums? Before you answer, read this excerpt from the executive summary of Impact Assessment Report on the Peepoo Bag, Silanga Village, Kibera, Nairobi − Kenya by Thomas H. M. Ondieki and Maurice Mbegera of Jean Africa Consultants in Nairobi (this study was partially funded by GTZ):

At least 90% of the users of the Peepoo bag strongly recommended it as the absolute sanitation solution within Kibera and the same percentage also felt that the Peepoo bag is safe and clean to handle. More than 80% of the respondents were of the opinion that the Peepoo bag be sold for less than KES 5 (USD 0.0625) to make it affordable to the majority of the slum dwellers.
There was a significant need for Peepoo bag usage in Silanga Village because more than 50% of the respondents admitted that they throw their waste using the flying toilet approach. On the distribution of the Peepoo bag, the majority of the respondents were of the opinion that group leaders, community based organizers, church leaders, youth and village elders be used in coordinating the distribution process.
The size of the Peepoo bag elicited concern among the respondents. Over 60% suggested a bigger bag to fit both urine and faeces at the same time. The use of the Peepoo bag would save valued time that is otherwise spent queuing to access toilet facilities. It was noted that the fertilizer benefit seemed most valuable for the majority of respondents because of the implied financial benefits that such a venture would bring to the community.

All good stuff − well, good business: there are about a million people in Kibera slum, and if they all used one Peepoo bag a day at a cost of USD 0.0625,* that’s USD 62,500 per day or close to USD 23 million per year!

How many SPARC-style community-managed sanitation blocks (see blog of 28 January 2008), I wonder, could be built in Kibera for this? Well, a two-storey sanitation block costs KES 1.7m−2m (USD 23,000−27,000) and a single-storey one KES 1.2m−1.4m (USD 16,000−19,000) − information kindly provided by Josiah Omotto of the Umande Trust (based in Kibera) by email yesterday. You can do the math yourself and so figure out which solution you’d choose.

*Actually Peepoo bags cost EUR 0.04 (info. by email from Ms Camilla Wirseen, the project manager @, on 15 August). At current exchange rates this is equivalent to USD 0.057 or KES 4.51 − so we’re talking about USD 20.8m (EUR 14.6m), not the USD 23m above. Even so, a lot of money in any currency!

PS: Some people get a bit mystified by currency abbreviations. Every currency has a unique 3-letter code (KES = Kenyan shilling) − details at

Monday 17 August 2009


Out today on the IPS News site: Nergui Manalsuren interviews Duncan Mara − “Q&A: Knowledge Barriers Key Factor in Sanitation Crisis”.

IPS is the Inter Press Service − this is what it says it is on its homepage:

Tuesday 4 August 2009

WatSan in Pakistan

A really good, insightful paper has just been published in Water Policy: Institutional challenges in water supply and sanitation in Pakistan: revealing the gap between national policy and local experience, by Bahadar Nawab and Ingrid L. P. Nyborg. Here’s a bit of what they say:

“... making policies, setting goals and objectives, passing legislation and restructuring administration are relatively easy tasks. The larger problem in developing countries lies in the implementation of policy, mainly due to the lack of capabilities, intention and commitment of the governments and scarcity of financial and skilled human resources. Developing countries, including Pakistan, have until now focused more on policy formulation and legislation. But these policies usually lack capable administration, and efficient and legitimate regulatory instruments which are pre-requisites for effective implementation of policy. Local people usually question and even resist the experts’ formulated policies and rules, as they often clash with their daily practices, socio-cultural values systems and economic considerations. In developing countries, therefore, policies are made, funds are allocated and projects are undertaken but most of those countries are still not on track to meet the UN goal on water supply, especially on sanitation.”

It all sounds depressingly familiar. They conclude:

“The government, therefore, needs to focus on innovative and alternative approaches for handling water supply and sanitation issues and must consider local and traditional institutions and involve all actors. A much better outcome can be achieved through cognitive and normative instruments and adopting a dialogue and negotiation approach with local people. In the study villages, local people otherwise showing a blind eye to their poor sanitation situation got motivated through discussions within the framework of their traditional norms, values and institutions. Organized debates on the sanitation issue where almost every household could participate and put forward ideas could craft innovative water supply and sanitation option contrary to the government traditional supply driven and service provider approach. Local people could be easily convinced and willing to change their water and sanitation practices by practically demonstrating to them scientific findings of the links between practice and possible negative health outcomes. Therefore it is important to bring scientific words into local dictum and making it everyone’s language.

The current move of water and sanitation reforms in developing countries is encouraging. However, to make realistic water and sanitation policies, we need to understand water and sanitation problem in a holistic way and then build on local men and women’s practices, norms, values, and institutions and try to make their existing practices safer rather than imposing on them new regulations and foreign solutions. The respective governments and departments need to create an enabling environment and find legitimate instruments for the implementation of water and sanitation policies.”

Really good for rural sanitation, especially Community-led Total Sanitation. The approach might need a bit of tweaking in periurban areas, but that shouldn’t prove too difficult.


The August issue of the Bulletin of the World Health Organization has a really pertinent paper: A social explanation for the rise and fall of global health issues by Dr Jeremy Shiffman of the Campbell Public Affairs Institute, Maxwell School of Syracuse University in New York state. The abstract is:

This paper proposes an explanation concerning why some global health issues such as HIV/AIDS attract significant attention from international and national leaders, while other issues that also represent a high mortality and morbidity burden, such as pneumonia and malnutrition,[*] remain neglected. The rise, persistence and decline of a global health issue may best be explained by the way in which its policy community – the network of individuals and organizations concerned with the problem – comes to understand and portray the issue and establishes institutions that can sustain this portrayal. This explanation emphasizes the power of ideas and challenges interpretations of issue ascendance and decline that place primary emphasis on material, objective factors such as mortality and morbidity levels and the existence of cost-effective interventions. This explanation has implications for our understanding of strategic public health communication. If ideas in the form of issue portrayals are central, strategic communication is far from a secondary public health activity: it is at the heart of what global health policy communities do.

*and sanitation!

So, as I’ve said before, good sanitation advocacy is needed, and needed now. Time to get our thinking hats on!

PS: There’s another good paper in the August issue of Bull. WHO: Shame or subsidy revisited: social mobilization for sanitation in Orissa, India − well worth reading!