Sunday, 12 September 2010

World Water Week

Last week (5−10 September) was World Water Week in Stockholm – an annual event ably organized by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) and with now a good emphasis on sanitation. There were many parallel sessions and side events, so impossible to attend everything. Here are just some of the events I found interesting…


Wastewater use in agriculture this afternoon and early evening. The afternoon session was
on “Reducing the Risks of Wastewater Irrigation: Strategies and Incentives” based, more or less, on the following three recent publications:

1. Improving Wastewater Use in Agriculture: An Emerging Priority (World Bank, 2010)
2. The Wealth of Waste: The Economics of Wastewater Use in Agriculture (FAO, 2010)
3. Wastewater Irrigation & Health: Assessing and Mitigating Risk in Low-income Countries (Earthscan/IDRC, 2010)

The early evening session was the launch of the Second Information Kit on the 2006 WHO Wastewater Use Guidelines – not yet online (but my part is here). My presentation was on choosing a sensible value for the maximum tolerable additional burden of disease – i.e., the maximum DALY loss per person per year (pppy). The default value used for this in the 2006 WHO Guidelines is 10−6 pppy for this, but this is very ‘extravagant’ and I recommended a value of 10−4 DALY loss pppy as it reflects epidemiological reality in developing countries and some industrialized countries (e.g., Australia and the USA) much more closely. [Actually this also applies to Drinking-water Quality Guidelines, but that’s a real can of worms – for WHO, US EPA and the EU, amongst others − waiting to be opened…]


I attended the lunchtime side event on “What knowledge do we need to do better on Sanitation?” This was basically how the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and its partners see how their ‘Sanitation and Hygiene Applied Research for Equity’ (SHARE) research consortium, funded by DFID, will progress. Check out the SHARE website when it gets going by the end of the month (in the meantime there are some details here).

Then I went to the afternoon seminar on “Water quality issues and new approaches in Latin America”. Interesting couple of papers – one on water and wastewater problems in Mexico City by Dr Blanca Jiménez (UNAM). The other was by Professor Eduardo Jordão (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro) on the use in Brazil of UASBs + some form of secondary treatment serving populations of 20,000−1,500,000 – but little mention of costs or cost-effectiveness, and no mention of high-rate anaerobic ponds.

As I was rushing from the lunchtime session to the afternoon session my colleague Dr Jan-Olof Drangert (University of Linköping, Sweden) shoved a leaflet into my hand – all about his new website Sustainable Sanitation for the 21st Century, which comprises a free e-book and a set of PowerPoint presentations for training professionals in the sanitation and water sector. There’s a certain EcoSan emphasis, but it’s certainly very well worth taking a look. You can download the PowerPoints as ppt files, so you can use them as they are or select which slides you want to use in your own presentations. Excellent idea!


I went to the workshop on “Improved water use efficiency through recycling and reuse” and gave a presentation on Natural wastewater treatment and carbon capture. Professor Emeritus Takashi Asano (UC Davis), in a keynote presentation, told us all about water demand and wastewater recycling and reuse in California – a complex system necessitated by building a megacity (Los Angeles) in a desert and by California being the nation’s major table-food (vegetables, fruits) producer. Then Dr Ashley Murray (UC Berkeley) gave a really interesting paper on wastewater-fed aquaculture: set up a local business to grow fish in maturation ponds and the business returns half its net profit to the wastewater treatment works (waste stabilization ponds) to help pay for O&M – a very neat concept which she developed in Ghana.


Interesting morning session on the “Five-Year countdown to the water and sanitation MDG targets: status, trends and challenges”. The main findings of the 2010 JMP Report and the 2010 GLAAS Report were presented, and there was considerable discussion on how WatSan monitoring should progress. Good data are, of course, essential but, while I think they can tell us what to do in some areas, they don’t/can’t in other areas. For example:

(1) While they tell us that there are still far too many open defecators and so helping communities to become OD-free (i.e., to move to fixed-place defecation) is really important, it’s equally important that the fixed defecation place they move to is at least improved sanitation, but so often it’s not.

(2) They can’t tell us a lot about the future, but we know from the World Urbanization Prospects: The 2009 Revision that almost all population growth in the next few decades will be in urban areas of developing countries (see blog of 28 August for the figure showing this). This means that, while we can’t forget about rural sanitation, we’re going to have to concentrate on sanitation in high-density low-income slum and non-slum urban areas. Is the world remotely prepared for this? No, it is not.

►One statistic that came out this morning was that, as we’re unlikely to meet the MDG sanitation target, there’ll be around 2.7 billion people at the start of 2016 who’ll need ‘improved’ sanitation. Now that’s a hideously sobering thought: in purely numeric terms we’ll be back where we started in 2000…

Not a brilliant note to finsh World Water Week on. Just, depressingly, more of the same. Clearly we’re going to need, and sooner rather than later, an annual World Water & Sanitation Week. Sanitation really does need to be mainstreamed more, not just mostly left to side-event organizers. Anyone in SIWI listening?

PS: check out the World Water Week videoclips on the WaterCube!