New publication: Towards Systemic Change in Urban Sanitation (by IRC)

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  • dietvorst
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New publication: Towards Systemic Change in Urban Sanitation (by IRC)

On World Toilet Day, IRC presents its ideas how to ‘systemically change sanitation in cities’. A new working paper marks one of the first steps in finding answers on how to reform a sanitation sector, which is failing a large part of the urban population.

While more people in cities have access to toilets than in villages, both wastewater and solid waste remains largely untreated. Take Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh: 99 percent of the population use toilets but according to Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) a staggering 98 percent of their waste is dumped untreated in the enviroment [1].

On World Toilet Day, IRC presents its ideas how to tackle sanitation in cities. A new working paper “ Towards Systemic Change in Urban Sanitation “ [2], marks one of the first steps in finding answers on how to reform a sanitation sector, which is failing a large part of the urban population. The problems in urban sanitation range from lack of facilities to lack of public funding and messy politics in urban governance.The root causes are systemic and technology alone is not the solution.

In the paper IRC argues that sanitation is a public good and is therefore a public responsibility. This does not exempt households from their responsibilities, or exclude private businesses. However, there is a strong need for governmental agencies to lead a reform in urban sanitation. At the same time, IRC proposes a process of change leading to a sector that is self-reliant, trusted by citizens and private parties, and able to respond to current and upcoming challenges.

You can join the discussion on urban sanitation with Giacomo Galli, the author of the working paper, on his blog post.

World Toilet Day is a global campaigning day where many organisations in the water, sanitation and hygiene sector collectively call to take action. Jointly they raise awareness on the 2.5 billion people who lack access to sanitation, the 1 billion people who have to defecate in the open and the women and girls who are particularly at risk because of this situation.

[1] Blackett, I., Hawkins, P., and Heymans, C., 2014. The missing link in sanitation service delivery : a review of fecal sludge management in 12 cities . (Research brief / WSP). Washington, DC, USA, Water and Sanitation Program (WSP)

[2] Galli, G., 2014. Towards systemic change in urban sanitation . (IRC working paper). The Hague, The Netherlands, IRC
Cor Dietvorst
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  • F H Mughal
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Re: World Toilet Day: cities can't wait

Dear Cor,

Just a quick response to your Dhaka figures, if I take secondary treatment of wastewater as a yardstick (effluent BOD and SS, say, 40 mg/l), then the percentage of wastewater treated in megacity of Karachi is zero!!

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F H Mughal
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  • Elisabeth
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Re: World Toilet Day: cities can't wait

A month ago IRC published a paper called “Towards Systemic Change in Urban Sanitation“. I noticed that there was a short discussion about it on the IRC blog and thought perhaps it is useful to copy that discussion here as well (so that it can be found with keyword searches in future).

Here is the link to the blog where I have copied it from ( www.ircwash.org/blog/cities-cant-wait-sanitation ) (I hope it is allowed to do so)

Dennis @ The Poverty Pit • a month ago
Hello Giacomo,

Congrats on the new blog and your new challenge.

As an "off grid" thinker, I like innovations that don't rely on expensive, hard to maintain, prone-to-failure systems, whether in power (infra: centralised grids, power stations; negative impacts: high costs, high maintenance, transmission loss and blackouts - instead think energy efficiency, local power generation through renewables, etc) or in sanitation (sewered systems, waste treatment plants, loss of nutrients etc).

In rural, low density population areas, I see how a change of thinking, and more understanding, by communities and authorities can lead to installation of technology options such as UDDT's on a widespread basis.
In rural and low density settings, the transport of the nutrients (ie urine) can be used in direct benefit to the local community through agri land application, and the faeces can be safely managed through pathogen kill drying and storage.

But - I have to admit to struggling with solutions in urban and particularly peri-urban settings (particularly as the % of the overall population in cities grows).

My question to you, Giacomo, as you research this subject is, how can we systemise the nutrient separation and re-use in these city settings as a city wide alternative? It will require effective separation technologies that cater for all sorts of dwellings (highrise, commercial, landed properties, squatter homes, etc) and even more effective collection, processing, management and distribution systems (not even counting the government and public awareness and acceptance of such re-use).

Just a few thoughts to leave you with....


Galli-IRC Mod Dennis @ The Poverty Pit • a month ago
Dear Dennis,

Thank you for your comment. Interesting thoughts indeed. I must say that I am also a proponent of nutrient separation and re-use. However, I see even among my own friends how many city dwellers (unfortunately not all) even snub the idea of solid waste separation.
I think that innovation in separation technologies that cater for all sort of dwellings is important, but this innovation (at scale!) will come only when there is a sufficient institutional 'space' and funding available. This is why I focus so much in turning the attention towards reform of the public sanitation sector.
So in my view it is more fruitful to turn your question around: how do we ensure government and public awareness and acceptance of such re-use of nutrients?


Dennis @ The Poverty Pit Galli-IRC • a month ago
Nice re-framing!:)

Maybe can turn into an economic argument and discussion "How many $$ did you flush down the toilet this year?" style approach?

If there is a claimed economic value (as there is), then it can be quantified and maybe a consumer incentivisation scheme can be created (whether financial or social), just like local government - and even private providers - incentivise recycling and waste management in some countries

let me think further.....

dietvorst • a month ago
Giacomo, thanks for taking up the task of analysing the systemic change needed to provide sanitation for all in cities. In the annex you list several tools that could help bring about this change. Which of the new ones do you think holds most promise?

Galli-IRC Mod dietvorst • a month ago
Cor, thanks for your comment. I think all planning approaches have their strong points, it really depends on what the emphasis a municipality or service provider chooses to give. I do think that planning approaches alone are not enough. As shown in the diagram above, planning is only part of the first phase. There is really a need to also experiment, test and scale up initiatives that work in an iterative way while investing in the human capital of a service authority and service provider.


P.S. Mughal, I didn't get what you were trying to say in your post above on 23 November?

if I take secondary treatment of wastewater as a yardstick (effluent BOD and SS, say, 40 mg/l), then the percentage of wastewater treated in megacity of Karachi is zero!!

I guess yes, the level of secondary treatment of wastewater in Karachi would then be zero. Is that surprising?
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