Filmed presentations from seminar on Learning from WASH Systems Failures: Resilient Risk Reduction now available


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  • tmsinnovation
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  • I manage the Decentralized Wastewater Management for Adaptation to Climate Change in Jordan (ACC Project) and previously coordinated the Climate-friendly sanitation services in peri-urban areas of Lusaka project in Zambia. My background is in Management, Economics and Information Systems.
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Learning from failure

I came across this talk by David Damberger where he discusses "Learning From Failure" at TEDxYYC 2011. Quick background to who he is:

David is the founder of Engineers Without Borders Calgary (EWB). After building the organization in Calgary and working with them in India, David spent four years building EWB's overseas programs as the Director of Southern African Programs. In this role, David consulted for dozens of African based companies, non-profits and governments in the fields of agriculture; food processing; water and sanitation; and mobile applications for development.

Having followed the discussion on "Dubbletten/Wostman Re: NoMix toilets of Roediger Vacuum" and Dena Fam's remarks on valuing failure

Our own project was set up as a learning experiment, we were funded to learn across multiple part of the system, technology being one important area. So there was an organisational culture within the project team that valued 'failure' as a learning experience (that included the water authority and council).

I find it good that the talk highlights that the area of failure is O&M usually and that development organisations need to know this, and structure their programmes with local partners so as to avoid taxpayer money being used in an unsustainable manner. As the key is to have local people involved in the programmes as well as local partners that are not going to leave as soon as the programme period is over. This line of thought ties in with what is also mentioned in the factsheet on Sanitation as a business.

Please take the time to watch the video, also look at the heated discussion below the video on youtube, and post your remarks and comments here please!
Trevor Surridge
Decentralized Wastewater Management for Adaptation to Climate Change in Jordan (ACC Project)
Project Manager

Deutsche Gesellschaft für
Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH
Ministry of Water and Irrigation, Shmeisani,
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  • Dena Fam
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Re: Learning from failure

Hi Trevor,

Thank you for the link to David's talk, great stuff!

I dont work in the development sector but have been involved in planning and trialing the installation of UD systems in a couple of places in Australia. And I think one of the things that has surprised me in looking internationally for guidance and experience is the lack of published material on the failure of UD systems. I understand that its difficult to get funding to write up and publish the failures that we experience in projects but very necessary if we are going to contribute to the diffusion of sustainable systems of service provision. Its also about being honest and transparent in the work we do.

An interesting point that David brought up in his talk was the need for more attention to the 'software', his definition of this being maintenance of definition of software would the be the socio-cultural side of the system, eg. the users and the engagement of users in actually contributing to designing a system that suits their socio-cultural needs

Thanks again for the link, it was really insightful
Dr Dena Fam
Senior Research Consultant
Chancellor's Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Institute for Sustainable Futures
University of Technology Sydney
Phone: (+61)2 9514 4950
Fax: (+61)2 9514 4941
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  • christoph
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  • Sanitary engineer with base in Brazil and Peru, doing consultancy in other countries of LA
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Re: Learning from failure in sanitation

Dear all,
thanks to sanitation updates I came across this blog about failure . A very, very interesting topic and very difficult to discuss. Most of the arguments are very nicely expressed. It is very easy to say it’s necessary to talk openly about failure when on the other hand projects are related to money for the next project. I really would be interested hearing more about this issue. Does anyone have more information?

Yours Christoph
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  • sjoerdnienhuys
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  • Technical advisor on low-cost sanitation, worked for Aga Khan in the Himalayas, PUM in Asia,/Afica and Latin America, SNV in Nepal, DGIS in Latin America UNhabitat in Africa, and Waste /Gouda in India on ECO sanitation and biogas
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Re: failure

I often felt that from failure you learn more than from best practices, but as explained in the: BPD Blog – Learning from failure in sanitation, Posted on December 27, 2012 by WASHplus, NGOs fear publishing failures, even not as a learning proces because they are afraid to lose donors.
Yet many NGOs are in the frontline of new developments and changing behaviour and things tend to go wrong all the time. Studying why, and than doing it better is essential.

"In an early UDDT project I worked in, we worked out the dry composting technology and installed some at primary schools. A few years later we came across one school where the UDDT was blocked and used as a dumpstore, while the children defecated behind the building. When asked how this situation could develop the answer was three fold: 1) the small children do not know how to use it; 2) we, the teachers, do not want to clean the toilets; and, 3) there is no wash water provided.
A small permanent water channel was behind the school and used by all for filling the jar for anal cleaning, making the point 3 not true. What remained was mainly point 1.
At home most of these children only had a pit latrine, and only very few a pour-flush.
After the first year in use, there had been no training on the use of the UDDT for the new (very small) school children, hence they soiled the place.
The lesson learned was that the project not only needed to train all involved with the installation of the UDDT, but also provide a system to assure that every year a refreshing training for teachers and new school children is realised. In fact, the parents of all the school children should have been trained/educated also.
Sjoerd from The Netherlands.
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  • arno
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Re: Filmed presentations from seminar on Learning from WASH Systems Failures: Resilient Risk Reduction now available

NOW PLAYING: 2013 World Water Week seminar on "Learning from WASH Systems Failures: Resilient Risk Reduction"

The 11 filmed presentations from the 2013 World Water Week seminar “Learning from WASH Systems Failures: Resilient Risk Reduction” are now available for viewing thanks to the good services provided by MSB (Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency).

Please go to which is the MSB channel on YouTube. Each talk can be listened to individually.

The link to the agenda and presentation files is
(to get to the presentation files, click on the button called "resources" on that page)

A seminar at World Water Week 2013 organised by SEI and MSB

Water and sanitation projects are characterized by relatively large infrastructure investments, but finding out what they cost and how they are working and are maintained is not easy, even for the experts. It is not until WASH systems fail that consumers begin learning about these systems.

Global statistics estimate that 2.5 to 4 billion people live with inadequate sanitation services. In cases of disasters such as flooding and earthquakes, the water and sanitation systems are particularly vulnerable, which may severely impact on the communities. The seminar explored how to solve some of the technical and management challenges but it also revealed the needs for stakeholder dialogues and social learning in order to build resilience.


The Baseline Situation

Why is WASH and Sanitation in Particular a Failing Chapter in Human Development?
Dr. Arno Rosemarin, SEI

Status Quo on Health Risks Relating to Dysfunctional Sanitation
Prof. Thor Axel Stenström, DUT, South Africa and SEI, Sweden

Future Perspectives and Threats Including Transmission of Antibiotic Resistance
Dr. Jan Semenza, ECDC, Sweden

WASH cases from South Asia
Mr. Prakash Kumar, WASH Institute, India

WASH cases from Sub-Saharan Africa
Dr. Peter Morgan, Aquamor, Zimbabwe

What Have We Learned about the Vulnerability of WASH Systems?

Failing Badly and Failing Well
Dr. Simone Klawitter, UNICEF, Pakistan

Conscious Knowledge Management for Informed Decision Making
Dr. Patrick Fox, Red Cross, Sweden

Can NGOs be a Vehicle for Sustainable Sanitation? Case Study from Haiti
Dr. Sasha Kramer, SOIL-Haiti

Vulnerability and the Need for Learning Organisations
Mr. Erik Rottier, ResilientWASH, Netherlands

Resilient Risk Reduction Solutions at Hand

The Wash and Rescue Model
Ms. Åse Johannessen, SEI, Sweden

Learning from Natural Disasters in the Insurance Industry
Gregor Vulturius, SEI, Sweden


Best wishes
--Arno Rosemarin/SEI
Arno Rosemarin PhD
Stockholm Environment Institute
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