Thursday, 19 November 2009

IWA Development Congress

I’m now in Mexico City at the 1st IWA Development Congress on “Water and sanitation services: what works for developing countries” (15−19 November). According to the homepage blurb it “will set the practice and research agenda for water and sanitation services in developing countries” and “it will have a strong focus on what works in a development setting and those projects that have potential for large-scale delivery” − well, that should exclude EcoSan!

The morning started off with the opening plenary addresses − all good stuff, of course, but I was glad to get some coffee when they were over!

Erdos Eco-Town: in the afternoon Dr Arno Rosemarin, of the EcoSanRes Programme at the Stockholm Environment Institute, gave a presentation on Striving for innovation: Dry and wet sanitation in multi-story apartment buildings with on-site compost and greywater treatment – the Erdos Eco-Town project − this was a good, honest (‘warts and all’) evaluation of the project, listing all the problems the project had had and why it’s now been replaced by settled sewerage. The paper’s well worth reading if only to make you happily realise that you’d never have considered doing anything like this yourself! [If you’d like a copy of the paper, it would be best to email Arno (] A little more detail on costs would have been nice − but the paper does say “Materials input for the ecosan system is higher than for the waterborne one [i.e., conventional sewerage] by about USD 920 for each household”, so it was always far from being a low-cost solution!

More opening plenaries! But later there were some good presentations, especially the one by Dr Juliet Waterkeyn (of Africa Ahead) on community health clubs in Uganda and Zimbabwe. Very interesting meeting in the late afternoon on sanitation in emergencies.

Yet more plenaries! The one by Dr Graham Alabaster was really good: the lessons learnt from some of UN-Habitat’s regional WatSan programmes and what they tell us about the best ways forward. In the afternoon Dr Elizabeth Kvarnström (EcoSanRes/SEI) gave a spirited presentation on the need to revamp the ‘sanitation ladder’ by using function-based (rather than the JMP technology-based) indicators, and Professor Christine Moe of Emory University gave an excellent account of her rural EcoSan work with indigenous communities in Mexico. The afternoon ended in splendid style with Professor Jamie Bartram (UNC) giving the final plenary of the Congress on What Works. Excellent gala dinner in the evening!

Only rather unexciting field visits today, so I’m flying back to Cali for meetings on the giant American bamboo!

Overall this was a very good conference indeed. IWA should be proud that it has started this series of biennial development congresses. Special thanks are due to Dr Darren Saywell (IWA Development Director) and Professor Blanca Jiménez (Chair of the Technical Programme Committee) − you both (and your countless helpers) did us all and IWA proud! Muchísimas gracias!

PS: Today − 19 November − is World Toilet Day.