Monday 29 March 2010

Sick Water?

UNEP and UN-Habitat have just produced Sick Water? The Central Role of Wastewater Management in Sustainable Development which is a remarkable little book, extremely well presented – basically it is (well, it seems to me to be) an advocacy document, but nonetheless very well worth reading. (It’s actually much better than I thought it would be: when, a few weeks ago, I was sent a Word version to comment on, I thought it was a bit “tatty” and short on design recommendations, but it’s turned out very well.)

Monday 22 March 2010

UK aid for toilets in Mumbai?

The BBC News website had an interesting piece last week: Should the UK fund toilets in Mumbai slums? You would hopefully say Yes, but after reading the article you might not be so sure, you might have a doubt or two. Why? Well, the article makes two points: (1) India has a USD 1 billion space programme; and (2), quoting Prasad Shetty, a local urban planning consultant, “ The Mumbai government does not require British taxpayers’ money. It has money. The government institutions are loaded with money.”

The article also quotes Gareth Thomas, the UK Government’s Minister of State for International Development as saying: “ Look behind the glitter because there are very different Indias with many poor people living in the slums in Mumbai. We believe that some of our aid should be used to help build up institutions and try and get more effective state more able to protect its citizens, and more able to invest in its own basic services as well. I also think it’s in Britain’s interest that we help developing countries improve the situation for their poorest people because that in turn helps in range of other ways that makes a difference in the UK.”

I’d agree with the Minister – we definitely should do our bit to help poor Indians living in urban slums to gain access to good sanitation, but we shouldn’t forget (and I’m sure DFID isn’t forgetting) about the rural areas where a staggering 69% of the population has to defecate in the open, as opposed to “just” 18% in urban areas [figures on open defecation in India are in the 2010 JMP report].

Friday 19 March 2010

World Water Day: Give for Free!

To celebrate World Water Day (22 March) the ITT Corporation will donate US$1 to safe water solutions for every new fan of the ITT Watermark Facebook fan page who signs up during 22−26 March. The money raised will be distributed by ITT Watermark, the company’s corporate citizenship programme, to Water For People and Mercy Corps, two non-profit organizations (based in the US) dedicated to providing clean drinking water and sanitation to people in need.

Sign up!

Rural Bulgaria and Romania

Women in Europe for a Common Future – a truly excellent organization − invited me to a 1-day roundtable discussion in Sofia on how to reach sustainable and cost-effective sanitation and wastewater collection and treatment in rural areas in Bulgaria and Romania – especially in small towns of up to 10,000 p.e. Both Bulgaria and Romania (and the other new EU Member States) have to meet their obligations under the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive during the next few years.

Rural sanitation is poor in many parts of Eastern Europe, a heritage of decades of communist neglect. So it’s good that there are organizations like WECF working with local NGOs to do something sensible in this important area. What did I talk about? Simplified sewerage and wastewater treatment in waste stabilization ponds, of course. To produce an effluent that complies with the UWWTD (≤25 mg filtered BOD/l and ≤150 mg suspended solids/l – see the footnote to Table 1 on page 12 of the Directive), all you need is a single, correctly designed, facultative pond.

Getting “new” solutions adopted in these countries can be bureaucratically complicated. There were several senior civil servants from various ministries in Bulgaria and Romania present at the roundtable discussion, but I got the impression that they were just ‘stonewalling’. Clearly they need a big shove from their political masters. What’s required to get the ball rolling is a really good, and preferably charismatic, elected politician to act as a sanitation champion − if the civil servants are left to their own devices, there won’t be much progress in the immediate future.

PS (26 March): there's a report on the Sofia meeting here.

Tuesday 16 March 2010

Africa’s infrastructure

Do you want a shockingly good read? Try Africa’s Infrastructure: A Time for Transformation (Agence Française de Développement and World Bank, 2010). There’s a chapter on sanitation Moving People Up the Ladder, and the chapter summary is:

A third of Africans continue to practice open defecation, and half rely on unimproved latrines, the health effects of which are largely unknown. Despite this sobering picture, progress has been made in recent years by individual households eager to protect their health and improve their quality of life. The immediate sanitation challenge differs depending on prevailing practice. Where open defecation prevails, the policy focus should be on hygiene education. Where there is already widespread adoption of latrines, the challenge is how facilitate upgrading to improved models. Where improved sanitation is already prevalent, the key question is how to develop low-cost sewerage in the most densely populated areas [emphasis added].

Quite. Get simplified sewerage into high-density low-income areas of African cities and towns and start doing so now.

Latest JMP report

The 2010 WHO/UNICEF JMP report Progress on Sanitation and Drinking-water 2010 Update was published yesterday. No real surprises, nor indeed much progress, if any: 2.6 billion are without improved sanitation, 1.1 billion of whom still have to practise open defecation. The report's Fast Facts give the basics. As for drinking water, the good news is that the world's on track to meet, even exceed, the MDG target.

[You can find all the JMP reports since 2000 here.]

East Africa Sanitation Conference

The Second East Africa Sanitation Conference, organized by ANEW − the African Civil Society Network on Water and Sanitation, was held in Kampala during 2−4 March (the East African countries involved are Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan North and South, Tanzania and Uganda).

The final point of the conference Declaration is disturbing: the conference participants noted their “shared concern regarding the inadequate commitment of AMCOW to sanitation and hygiene”. So why isn’t AMCOW – the African Ministers’ Council on Water – doing its bit for sanitation and hygiene? Well, you could argue that it’s doing something – there’s a whole section on sanitation at least in the Roadmap for the Implementation of the Sharm El-Sheikh Commitment (dated 13 November 2009), but ANEW doesn’t seem to think this is enough. We should be told all the details − and soon, as AfricaSan3 is going to be held next year.

Tuesday 2 March 2010

Connection fees

In parts of the UK the Energy Saving Trust is being funded by the Department of Energy and Climate Change to pilot the Pay As You Save (PAYS) scheme which “is an innovative finance solution that will give households the opportunity to invest in energy efficiency (such as solid wall insulation) and microgeneration technologies (such as solar panels) in their homes with no upfront cost. Householders will make repayments spread over a long enough period so that repayments are lower than their predicted energy bill savings, meaning financial and carbon savings are made from day one [emphasis added].”

Why do I draw attention to this? Well, it’s actually a lesson for water and sewerage utilities in developing companies how not to charge massive upfront connection fees – especially for the poor. In a manner somewhat analogous to PAYS, customers can simply either repay a loan for their connection fee as a small monthly surcharge on their water and sewerage bill (simplified sewerage, of course) or pay a slightly higher tariff. Read what the Asian Development Bank has to say on connection charges here.

No excuses: improve health of the poor in high-density urban areas by piping water into their homes and taking the wastewater out!

Monday 1 March 2010

A $30 toilet?

Well, according to the news item In the market for proper sanitation in this month’s Bulletin of the World Health Organization, that’s what the World Toilet Organization, together with Rigel Technology (S) Pte Ltd, are hoping to develop. Here’s part of the item:

“Our idea is to manufacture bright, colourful toilets that are simple to use, easy to maintain and can be bought for less than US$ 100. The only way to supply toilets in a sustainable way is to create a market and a demand for them. When people invest their money in a toilet, they are more likely to accept it and use it.” Sim and others at the World Toilet Organization have been collaborating with Christopher Ng and Rigel Technology to develop an alternative to the “sticks and stones” self-built latrine. “The basic concept is to provide an economically sustainable and yet affordable toilet. Hence, with Rigel, we are trying to develop toilets for as little as US$ 30 each. The products will be ready around March to April this year” [emphasis added], says Ng, the managing director of the Rigel Technology Group, based in Kaki Bukit, Singapore. Rigel exhibited its latest toilet at the World Toilet Organization Summit in December 2009. It is attractive and ecologically sound, turning excrement into fertilizer. “It doesn’t need running water to flush it, although water is still needed for washing and hygiene,” says Sim. In Cambodia, toilets are being provided to villages, where families work together to pay by monthly installments. “This is arranged on rotation, with one family receiving a toilet each month. At the end of the year, all 12 families have toilets,” says Sim. He is promoting a franchise concept to encourage people to become distributors and suppliers in their area. “Then the market model becomes a no-brainer”, he says.

Ah well, it’s EcoSan – but at least someone’s paying attention to costs. Take note, you Swedes and Germans!

PS: if you look at Rigel's website you can see they're a real up-market company. So they deserve to be wholeheartedly congratulated for getting into low-cost sanitation (actually ultra-low-cost sanitation). Too many such companies ignore the sanitation needs of the poor.


NTDs are the “neglected tropical diseases”: the soil-transmitted helminth infections, lymphatic filariasis, onchocerciasis, schistosomiasis, dracunculiasis, zoonotic helminthiases, dengue/dengue haemorrhagic fever, rabies, yaws, leishmaniasis, human African trypanosomiasis, Chagas disease, and Buruli ulcer. They affect over a billion people − see the WHO webpage Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases. Four of them have been targeted for elimination in the South-East Asian region of WHO (Bangladesh, Bhutan, DPR Korea, India, Indonesia, Maldives ,Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor-Leste), according to the paper Elimination of neglected tropical diseases in the South-East Asia Region of the World Health Organization which appears in this month’s issue of the Bulletin of the World Health Organization. Here’s part of its conclusion:

Eliminating leprosy, lymphatic filariasis, kala-azar and yaws will greatly improve the lives of the poorest people and stimulate productivity and economic growth in remote, impoverished areas of the region. Ultimately, attempts at disease elimination will be most successful if accompanied by improved housing conditions, sanitation, nutrition and education, all of which affect vector control and access to preventive measures. If all these goals can be achieved together, the most damaging effects of poverty will be overcome [emphasis added].

So: improved housing, sanitation, nutrition and education. Not a philosophically difficult proposition, is it?