Feedback about the 3rd International Conference on Faecal Sludge Management - Vietnam 19-21 January 2015

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Feedback about the 3rd International Conference on Faecal Sludge Management - Vietnam 19-21 January 2015

(Edit on 13 March 2015: All presentations from this conference, including from the workshops, are available here: )

It would be nice if those who attended the FSM3 conference in person could provide a bit of feedback to those who didn't attend, therefore getting more value for money out of those CO2 emissions spent on flying there .

So let me start, hoping that others will follow suit. I actually plan to put some of the things that I learnt into the respective topic threads, as it could be an overload if it was all in this post.

The good news is, as mentioned before, that the presentations were filmed and will be made available on the SuSanA Youtube channel or the FSM3 website or both. Trevor also got hold of the majority of the presentations which he is busy uploading to the SuSanA website as we speak (a mammoth task!). Hopefully those presentations that he didn't obtain yet can still be provided by the respective presenters (whom I have also encouraged to post their presentations in the topic areas where it fits on the forum).

For me this conference was good, I enjoyed meeting many people whom I only knew via the forum or by e-mail before.
A lot of conversations started with "Hello, I know you from the SuSanA Forum!". Having had those previous conversation on the forum meant that we could dive into our conversation much faster and more effectively. E.g. I met for the first time Giacomo from IRC, Aasim from CEPT India, Dave Robbins now with Oxfam USA, Marcos and Chuck from the Earth-Auger toilet, Sudhir from WRC, Sharada from Uni Berkeley and of course Sasha from SOIL, and many more! (Please also give us your feedback on the forum about this conference.)

You can find quite a bit of feedback about the conference on Twitter, just look for the hashtag #fsm3.

Other thoughts in no particular order:
  1. Having a SuSanA booth was great, but in general I felt that the visibility of SuSanA could have been a bit higher - somehow. Perhaps we were lacking some more high profile people who mention SuSanA in sessions - then again, the topic of capacity building, sharing, dissemination of results did not come up often. Although this perception could be wrong, as one participant pointed out to me that SuSanA is now mainstream at a conference like this and does not “need” to have its own side events.
  2. The conference attracted quite a high number of people (750), which was also aided by the activities from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation who added some grantees' meetings to the back of the conference thus increasing the reasons for going to this conference. ADB (Asian Development Bank) also sent many people.
  3. Personally, I still think that the title "faecal sludge management" is not perfect for this type of conference. Isn't it more "On-site sanitation" or "Sanitation without sewers"? I just don’t like this focus on “sludge” which makes me think of septic tanks and pour flush latrines mainly (dry toilets were accepted in the program but this is not reflected in the title of FSM).
  4. It seemed to me that there very few real entrepreneurs (I can mainly only remember one who presented about vermi-composting in New Zealand in the resources recovery workshop). Everyone else is still more or less grant-funded, like NGOs (like SOIL or Water for People and Oxfam).
  5. I was also missing more participation from local government, the only local government that stood out once again was eThekwini municipality from Durban in South Africa (I really admire what they do!), connected to the Uni Kwa Zulu Natal and some South African consulting firms. They were telling us about a new program that they are rolling out which involves emptying of UDDTs every two years and planned treatment with black soldier fly (I hope Nick will open a new thread on this topic soon so that we can discuss it in more depth).
  6. I also heard about scheduled septic tank emptying in a few presentations, which I found interesting. It is more cost-effective to empty all the septic tanks of a street in one go whether they need it or not. I will also start a separate thread on this.
  7. I heard a bit about resource recovery at this conference but not so much, apart from the workshop that I attended on the last day of the conference which had resource recovery as a topic. Only one of the four presenters of the morning session was able to present a case where a profit was able to be generated (vermi-composting in New Zealand). The others were not (yet?) producing a profit. The others were: SOIL Haiti, ACF in Mongolia (their project is now coming to an end) and Sanergy in Kenya. I hope the presenters will make their presentations available here on the forum as they were very interesting.
  8. The presentations that I heard that talked about faecal sludge treatment, usually only spoke about thickening and drying but most of them said nothing about pathogen kill. The reuse as fertiliser was often mentioned but rarely rigorously assessed (an exception being the work by SOIL and the work by IWMI see also here ).
  9. More and more I get the feeling that we are applying double standards: when it comes to treatment of faecal sludge, nobody bothers much about destroying helminth eggs but still advocates use of the wet or dried faecal sludge as a fertiliser. But when it comes to UDDTs, we expect them to destroy helminths eggs with a success rate of 100%....
  10. In general the conference was quite focussed on technology and science, which is alright, but could have perhaps been balance with a bit more on policy, governance, capacity development, marketing, behaviour change and health aspects. E.g. the issue of solid waste being dumped in pit latrines often came up but noboday really knew anything about how to avoid it with proper solid waste management practices and so forth.
OK, that's it from me.
I really do invite you to check out the tweets from the conference, by looking in Twitter for #fsm3. You will find many "musings" and conversations on take home messages there, too.

What did others think about this conference?


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Dr. Elisabeth von Muench
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  • wasifbashir15
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Re: 3rd International Conference on Faecal Sludge Management - Vietnam 19-21 January 2015 - now with feedback

Dear Elisabeth Greetings From PAKISTAN
Hope you will be fine and doing all well.
It was really very nice to meet you at Hanoi during 3rd FSM conference.
Nice to hear about your feedback and will soon i will also share my output as well.
Stay Blessed
Muhammad Wasif Bashir Babar-Pakistan
Speaker at 3rd FSM Conference Hanoi

i am a student of Sustainable Water,Sanitation,Health and Development at Comsat Institute of Info& Technology Abbottabad KPK Pakistan.
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  • christoph
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Re: 3rd International Conference on Faecal Sludge Management - Vietnam 19-21 January 2015 - now with feedback

Dear colleagues,
I would really like to ask those who have ahd the chance to attend his important conference to give us their personal (not necessarily scientific) feed back. This might enable us ( not attenders) to get an impression a feeling what was on, what are tendencies, is there something "main stream" is heading to, is there something new which came up, is there an new aspect which has not been seen up to now.

Up to now the things Trever announced is pretty much "yet to come" still - so not that much input.
So please colleagues - do the others a favor, we do appreciate it. Even bits and pieces. Does not have to be extensive as Elisabeths – but that was very nice – thank you Elisabeth.

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  • ggalli
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Re: 3rd International Conference on Faecal Sludge Management - Vietnam 19-21 January 2015 - now with feedback

Indeed Elisabeth, it was great to meet you and many other which I only knew by name.
My colleague Ingeborg Krukkert and I have written a blog on the IRC page reflecting back on the conference. Another one dealing with the workshop we co-organised with GIZ and EAWAG/SANDEC will follow shortly.

As of point of reflection, I think you covered most issues Elisabeth. I agree that the name isn't perfect, but please let's not get stuck in semantics. The issue of local governance and overall change and vision is crucial, I've written more about it elsewhere on this forum .

Giacomo Galli
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  • dietvorst
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Re: 3rd International Conference on Faecal Sludge Management - Vietnam 19-21 January 2015 - now with feedback

Here is some feedback on FSM3 from my IRC colleagues Ingeborg Krukkert and Giacomo Galli. The full blog post with photos & links was published on:

Faecal sludge management is booming but not yet at scale

700 FSM fans can't be wrong. Faecal sludgment management is hot but we need to collaborate more to see the big picture. Forget pilots, think at scale!


This past week (19-23 January 2015), IRC was present at the 3rd International Faecal Sludge Management (FSM3) conference in Hanoi, Vietnam. With over 700 participants from all five continents (more than 50 we were told!), the conference was a great success. IRC was present to co-present a workshop on city planning for faecal sludge management (FSM), but also to learn from other organisations, governments, businesses and universities working on this topic. To have such a large number of participants discuss for five days the safe containment, collection, transport, treatment, and reuse or disposal of faecal matter from onsite sanitation technologies is quite an achievement in itself and it shows that this topic is finally receiving its much-deserved attention.

Faecal sludge damages our health & environment

To all in the sanitation world it is clear that the current practices to manage the sludge accumulating in pit latrines, septic tanks or other facilities which are not connected to a sewer, are leading to disease outbreaks and environmental damage. However, many are still grappling with how to deal with the multi-dimensional challenges FSM, and especially on how to do this at the scale needed to actually make a difference. The conference therefore saw a large attendance from various sectors such as government officials, international finance institutions, donors, practitioners and researchers all trying to learn from various technologies, business and governance models of FSM to address the enormous challenges in this field.

So... how to face the faecal sludge time bomb?

We counted more than 50 presentations – not including the plenaries – on day 1 only! There were tools calculating costs for emptying, one in informal communities which showed that transportation costs for pit emptying were not covered by fuel revenues, by Rachel Sklar, Pivot and an economic model of the costs of emptying by Ruth Cottingham. Service models for FSM used in Maputo, Mozambique. There were sessions focusing on India mentioning the need for a change in mind-set: from centralised sewer approach to non-sewer sanitation chain approach. Vietnam was of course covered with a regular time schedule and a finance option for septic tank emptying by adding 10% to the existing wastewater tariff and the remaining costs come the city’s budget. Finance came up a couple of times. ´We have to rethink public finance for sanitation. It is not a technical problem, but governance failure’, said Hubert Jenny, Asian Development Bank. Many sessions on treatment and composting, such as the action research by our partner BRAC WASH in Bangladesh.

There were also presentations on technologies started under the reinventing the toilet initiative and a call to join the South African Sanitation technology Demonstration programme in which some of these technologies are going to be tested in the real world.

Despite the large attendance, the variety of represented sectors and countries and the overall positive vibe there are still crucial elements missing from this conference, which stand for some of the key challenges that the sector is currently facing.

Lack of inter-sectoral collaboration

Isolated research, tools and models

First and foremost, is the fact that there is a serious lack of collaboration between the different sector specialists. Too many scientists seemed to conduct isolated research, while think-tanks come with handy tools and others yet again with a business model. All these elements are certainly needed, but if carried out with no relation to each other, they become an end in itself and therefore useless. This aspect was clearly reflected by the three different types of presentations: institutional – holistic; research on FSM aspects and a more technical/business angle. These were taking place in parallel sessions, in separate rooms and attended by a public that was not tempted to mix.

Faecal sludge management and the bigger picture

A second related issue of importance is that much work and research going on in FSM is largely occurring without a larger vision in mind. It is our belief that to truly make a difference, national governments and municipalities need to create a long-term vision and place various tools, experiments and research activities under this banner. Habib Chowdhury from Dhaka Water and Sanitation Association (DWASA) in Bangladesh for example mentioned in his presentation that the roles of various agencies remain unclear and that there is no available model that can be scaled up.

Forget pilots, think at scale

"Pilot never fails, but also never scales"- EAWAG

This brings us to the third point of importance, being the issue of scale. Almud Weitz made that very clear: “Has the tide turned on faecal sludge management? Not yet.” She stressed that sustainability needs a focus on the whole chain; forget pilots, think city-wide and national scale! Despite being often mentioned as a key concern, very few presenting organisations were able to show how they plan and act by keeping scale in mind from the very start of their intervention.

These gaps are not necessarily a reason to be worried about the future. Many share these concerns, but as this sector is slowly emerging, readymade solutions are just not yet available. It take cities about ten years to develop FSM services, said Gates Foundation's Brian Arbogast in his concluding remarks.

If anything, the value of a conference is that one cannot avoid people from other sectors, and it is out of this forced interaction that interesting partnerships emerge. The enthusiasm of the participants makes us sincerely hopeful that these partnerships will be able to tackle one of the most important underlying factors leading to poor health and environmental problems around the world. The take-away-ask from Brian Arbogast: What role will you play to make it happen?

Cor Dietvorst
Information Specialist and News Editor
Programme Officer | IRC
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Skype cor.dietvorst | Twitter @dietvorst
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  • dorothee.spuhler
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Re: 3rd International Conference on Faecal Sludge Management - Vietnam 19-21 January 2015 - now with feedback

Dear all

We got quite a bit of feedback already, however here some few points from my side.
  • I was surprised to see such a high number of participants and was happy to meet up with many people and personalities that I knew only from the forum/mail. I could also met up with various partners and had extremely productive and helpful working meetings. I am glad that BMGF and ADB made so much effort to bring a good crowd to this conferences also through the scholarships they provided for a big deal of participants which else could not have attended.
  • The event was also a good contrast to the reinvent the toilet fair (which attracted a similar crowd) that here we had some presentations of work which is focussing in depth on the solution on key (technical) challenges related to collection and transformation of faecal material.
  • However, planning was represented but to my opinion its important to move fro pilot to scale was not reflected enough. I hope to see more contributions on these aspects next time.
  • Fortunately the issue of availabillity of data and evidence for situation analysis and performance assessment, a prerequisite for strategic planning, was covered throughout different presentations and workshop: e.g. SaniPath Rapid Assessment Tool ( ), Shit flow or Faecal waste flow diagrams (see Diagnostics and Guidelines for Fecal Sludge Management in Poor Urban Areas: Isabel Blackett, ) Performance Assment Framework, , Proof of Concept of platform for investment planning ( )). In relation to my previous point, I am looking forward to see also some results and data on the improvement that technical achievement could potentially lead to at scale at the next conference (and I personally look forward contributing to this element with my PhD work I started at Eawag...).
  • And last but not least: I also met many new people with which I had a lot to share. This is good because to mainstream sustainable sanitation we have to remain open as a community in order to be aware of what is going on outside and to exchange with others.
All in all - it was an enriching conference and almost worth the long travel by airplane ;)
Thanks to the programming and organising committee - Keep it up :)
Cheers, Dorothee

Dorothee Spuhler
WG1 Co-lead
Working with Sustainable Sanitation and Water Management (SSWM) based at seecon, Switzerland /
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  • Moritz
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Re: 3rd International Conference on Faecal Sludge Management - Vietnam 19-21 January 2015 - now with feedback

Dear all,

Thanks Elisabeth for starting this summary. Thanks to IRC for the blog post. I think it was a great conference. Many people I was talking to were overwhelmed by the amount of information and exchange provided during the week. My personal thoughts.

- @Elisabeth: I think the title "faecal sludge management" represents well the topic of the conference. Faecal sludge (FS) is the raw or partially digested, semisolid or slurry resulting from collection, storage or treatment of combinations of excreta and blackwater, with or without greywater in onsite sanitation technologies (Strande, 2014). Any type of sludge from onsite sanitation technologies such as sludge from dry toilets is included by this definition. There are already enough conferences around toilets and as we know provision of toilets is only part of the solution. I think the conference targets specifically collection, transport, treatment, and disposal or resource recovery of faecal sludge (both technical and non-technical). What an important link is how onsite sanitation technologies can be designed to facilitate faecal sludge collection and stabilization. This was also covered by some presentations but could be more in the future.

- It was very exciting to hear about the implementation of black soldier flies for faecal sludge treatment and of the vison from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to field test the developed resource recovery technologies soon. This is really innovative and can also have implications how we think in Western Countries about waste management.

-Talk more about the solution than the problem: I was bit disappointed that most presentations started out with three slides about the sanitation situation in their local context. I think it is great to emphasize differences to other context such as different faecal sludge types, e.g., faecal sludge with low solids content from septic tanks in urban South-East Asia versus UDDT sludge in South Africa. However, I would appreciate presentations who spend most of their time talking about the results and solution based on sound evidence.

- I really enjoyed the presentation by Ian Ross* and Margaret Morales** as they were around no engineering topics and given by non-engineers (i.e. economics and behavior change). I agree with the posts above it would be great to attract much more urban planners, economics, business experts and social scientists for the next conference. I feel they open up total new views and approaches to some of the problems we face.
See you latest at FSM4 :) .




Note by moderator:

The mentioned two presentations are available here on the SuSanA website or here (videos yet to come):

* Political economy analysis (PEA) of FSM services: Ian Ross, Oxford Policy Management, Oxford, United Kingdom

** Sanitizing on-site urban sanitation solutions through the ‘technicalization’ of FSM: Margaret Morales, Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability, University of British Columbia, Durham, Canada

Moritz Gold
PhD student ETH Zurich & Eawag/Sandec
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  • secretariat
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Re: 3rd International Conference on Faecal Sludge Management - Vietnam 19-21 January 2015 - now with feedback

Dear forum members,

there are now links for the video recordings of nearly all of the presentations held during the FSM3 conference available on the SuSanA homepage.
Click here and then on "video" of one of the presentations for a link to YouTube.

Lasse (on behalf of the SuSanA secretariat)

Posted by a member of the SuSanA secretariat held by the GIZ Sustainable sanitation sector program
Located at Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, Eschborn, Germany
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