Topic 1: FSM beyond awareness and tools


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  • Decentral
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  • Independent consultant with special interest in decentralized wastewater systems
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Re: Topic 1: FSM beyond awareness and tools

Dear Colleagues,

As an expert in the practice of environmental engineering and similar cases in Africa, I find the discussion interesting and challenging. All comments are competent and are pointing to different aspects and problems in the sanitation practice of underdeveloped urban or rural environments. I would like to add the following:
1. It is necessary to separate and differentiate the tasks and responsibilities of the authorities at national, regional and local level, as well as the owners. Therefore one manual or guidelines for the whole country will not be applicable. From this perspective, may be a geographic zoning at national level of the areas where any infiltration technologies are not adequate for application should be defined, and in this areas other more suitable solutions should be applied.
2. The link between sanitation and urban planning is usually underestimated. As it has been mentioned, in very densely populated areas is not practically possible to apply the instructions from the manuals. Also, if there are not defined streets, the access of the cisterns for cleaning the pit latrines/ septic tanks might not be possible. I am afraid that a proper solution of the sanitation problem might not be found, if it is not linked to more acceptable urban/rural planning and regulating.
3. Because the problems might not be solved in a near future, as a temporary solution for slums, might be the building of ablution blocks with sanitary and washing facilities, which serve a small area and can be built in a contemporary manner with a proper access for cleaning and water supply.
4. Also, pilot studies of different solutions in different environments might be very useful and could provide important information to help preventing mistakes at large scale.
5. In order to provide justification for the application of best sanitation practices with corresponding finances, it is important to promote and disseminate at all levels the public health hazard/child mortality, etc. But also, aesthetic values.
6. Integrated solutions - in this aspect I mean integration in different directions: technical/engineering solutions - what technology, what to do with the sludge, etc; urban planning and water/sanitation; managerial - financing, management (tasks, responsibility,institutions).

Best regards,
Roumiana Hranova
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  • Antoinette
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Re: Topic 1: FSM beyond awareness and tools

Dear Pawan,

Apologies. You are right that I forgot to attach the summary of the Dgroup discussion. Please find it here.

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Antoinette Kome
Global Sector Coordinator WASH

SNV Netherlands Development Organisation

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  • Vishwanath
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Re: Topic 1: FSM beyond awareness and tools

Since one has been tracking sanitation and especially Faecal Sludge Management for several years here are a couple of quick comments that I would like to offer
1. Sweeping generalizations need to be avoided . For example that groundwater will be contaminated with pit toilets or that faecal sludge is being dumped indiscriminately everywhere.
2. In India , each state has a different response to sanitation. Within the states , urban and rural sanitation are seen differently. FSM should be taken up at State level and even within the state urban and rural sanitation will have to be managed according to the institutional responsibilty so defined.
3. The value chain of FSM actually starts with the manufacture of the Honeysuckers . In my state it is done both by the formal and the informal manufacturing sector. Building cheap , affordable and reliable Honeysuckers is crucial to the FSM and even more crucial is the maintenance of these trucks .
4. Rather than the standards approach , the barrie approach suggested by the Sanitation Safety Plan provides an excellent tool to manage Faecal Sludge.
5. In many small towns in Karnataka, solid waste,bio-medical waste, faecal sludge and storm water tend to mix up in drains and fields . Drawing up plans to manage each individually was impractical given the staff strength in towns . A good approach was to get the town officials to plan and implement ideas to manage solid waste and faecal sludge together.
6. In many small towns farmers are taking the faecal sludge and using it as manure/fertilizer in their fields. Working with farmers as allies, helping them better manage composting process on field and using the nutrients so provided by the faecal sludge especially for small and marginal farmers provides a livelihood oft missed in FSM
7. All solutions must be within the affordable and management capacity of local town and village panchayats. Costly and unsustainable FSTP's driven by large grant assistance ( essentially unaccountable and distortionary to the market ) must be avoided
8. The idea of the ideal should be given up to an incremetal but foundationally solid solutions involving the government at all levels of design, implementation and management.
9 In India , shit is not a mere biological or physical construct. It is a socio-cultural construct hence the dignity of the workers working and using FSM must be foremost in the design of any solution.
10. At least in my limited experience, the negative externality ( both health and environmental) of FS has been exaggerated . We must look at the relative impacts not the absolute impact and measure our solution response accordingly.
11. Thanks to a public interest litigation and directions from the High Court each and every town in Karnataka- 213 of them - have been given at least 1 Honeysucker. For the villages each and every Taluk Panchayath - 164 of them- have been given at least 1 Honeysucker.
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  • shaji
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Re: Topic 1: FSM beyond awareness and tools

The mindset of the people needs to be changed.
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  • martadomini
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Re: Topic 1: FSM beyond awareness and tools

Dear all, thanks for this interesting discussion and I am sorry arriving late!
I am pHd student in Italy working on sanitation issues in particular in Africa.
During my research I studied and tested different sanitation planning tools (Sanitation Safety Planning between them) and I agree with sujaya that many tools exist, and valid ones, but sometimes there are overlaps and gaps.
An integrated use of available tools could be helpful for adapting them to specific contest, but at the same time it requires expertise and knowledge of these tools.
I think FSM could be a good occasion for mapping them and try to go towards a smaller set of tools but more robust, flexible and known by practitioners.
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  • sunetralala
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Re: Topic 1: FSM beyond awareness and tools

Dear All,

One area of concern I have found regarding FSM is the lack of appreciation of the scale of the problem. This is a social, health and environmental question in India. Social because of the people who usually work at this. Health because of the implications of handling faecal sludge with live pathogens. Environmental because the sludge is disposed in drains or open areas and can contaminate both soil and water. To place FSM in the wider development agenda, these three aspects need to be considered.

The social dynamics change the moment pit emptying is mechanised. That is, if suction machines are used to empty pits, their operator could be from any caste. Once it becomes a business, the caste hierarchies disappear. However, this does not detract from the fact that well over a million people still empty pits by getting inside and immersing themselves in extremely unhygienic conditions while bucketing the sludge out.

The impact on their health has been document by many studies. What is not so well documented is the impact on the health of those living near disposal sites assuming faecal sludge is dumped on these sites without treatment. There is anecdotal evidence farmers ‘prepare’ their fields with troughs to receive the sludge but none on if they line the troughs, how long they keep the sludge before using it as manure, containment of flies etc. Then, on what do they use the sludge – grains, vegetables or other crops, and at what stage? When do they stop using the sludge and is that long enough for the pathogens to die off before the crops reach the market?

On the environmental aspects, untreated sludge and sewage are the single biggest cause of water pollution in India. Its collection and recycling and reuse are blind spots in both rural and urban sanitation planning.

Therefore, faecal sludge has to form part of the sanitation cycle. Pit toilets and septic tanks will have to be emptied at intervals. This will have to be done either by hand in densely populated areas, or mechanically where possible. A government or other technical agency could consider developing a protocol for collection, transport, treatment (decontamination) and recycling or reuse of the sludge takes human and ecological health into consideration. There are some suggested and mandated standards in India. For faecal coliform, I believe 10,000 MPN has been recommended for disposal in fields but I haven’t found the basis of this recommendation. The pollution control authorities have suggested a BOD of 200 mg/l for sewage that is to be used for agriculture and 30 mg/l (in some cases it is now 20 mg/l) for disposing treated effluents in water bodies. Can standards be mandated for each type of pathogen in faecal sludge, a method of handling and types of treatment plants that suit different contexts (land, price, running costs), as they have been done for sewage treatment plant and sewerage systems. This would help integrated faecal sludge management into the large water-sanitation-sewage planning process and not be seen as a standalone fringe concern.

Sunetra Lala
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  • nityajacob
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  • Water Policy Analyst and Author; Moderator of the SuSanA India Chapter; WASH Lead at Swasti
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Re: Topic 1: FSM beyond awareness and tools

Dear friends,

This is a summary of the discussions around Topic 1: FSM, Beyond Awareness and Tools. I would like to thank you all for insights and examples on the three questions that Antoinette Kome raised:
  1. What should be done to place FSM in the wider local development agenda, without negating the importance of other issues?
  2. What’s a clever way to move forward on best practices, tools, development of rules of thumb?
  3. How do we mainstream FSM in urban development without losing expertise and focus?

On the first question, many people spoke about the potential of faecal sludge from pit toilets and septic tanks to pollute water. This was far greater in certain types of soils whose porosity is high and therefore let pathogens from pit toilets or poorly-made septic tanks travel great distances, and in densely populated towns and villages where toilets are made close to water points.

There is however lack of data to deal with this at the national level. Scant data exists at the local level and much of the information is extrapolated from anecdotal evidence. Save for the Census 2011 that mentioned 38% urban households are connected to a septic tank, there is little concrete data at the national level. National planning is hard to do in this situation.

Indeed, the suggestion was for state-level or even more localised planning for faecal sludge. While looking at the problem from many angles such as collection, transport, economics, health and environmental safety, local data and decisions would be a preferred option. Even though there are plenty of manuals by the Government of India, as you pointed out, they remain hard to use in the field as they do not take the ground situation - densely populated towns and villages, geographical distances from source to disposal points, the relatively high cost of capital and the general lack of awareness of what to do with faecal sludge.

In India shit is not an external construct but fraught with social and political dynamics. Handling faecal sludge comes with its social baggage and it is now illegal to do so manually. However the dynamics change once it becomes a business with mechanised evacuators being owned by caste Hindus to dispose the stuff in fields owned by other caste farmers. Once faecal sludge becomes a commodity, it trumps caste that is something else to be recognised in the peculiarly Indian context while broadening the approach to managing FSM.

Importantly, many pointed out faecal sludge management is not a problem distinct from holistic town planning. It needs to be completely integrated into the way urban sanitation and sewage systems are designed.

On the second question regarding tools, many of you said there is not shortage of tools and compilations of best practices. But the problem is how to you pull these together into a holistic approach? Some are meant for urban areas, others for rural areas. It also became clear most tools have been designed for urban areas. While the problem is acute in towns and cities, the rapid proliferation of pit toilets in rural India was cited as an emerging challenge that needs to be handled distinctly from the urban situation. Existing tools may not be applicable here given the very different social, geographic and technical characteristics. Crucially, these tools need to be tried in the field and validated or disposed off.

There were very different comments on the actual problem posed by pit toilets and how to handle sanitation in rural areas. On the one hand, a comment said pit toilets have a high chance of polluting water. On the other, there was a comment about a Government of India manual on technical options for rural sanitation that purports to provide ways of making toilets that do not endanger water or soil.

More coordination would help to work out better solutions and speed up the process of validating tools, many of you said. The Ministry of Urban Development has a specialised research agency. The Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation has promoted local learning units. I can take the liberty of adding, as moderator, these do not share information. There is an opportunity for cross-learning to solve a problem such as FSM that is common to both urban and rural sanitation.

This dichotomy is also reflected in an earlier discussion shared by Antoinette ( ) on the understanding of FSM. Some gave it a clear-cut definition while others felt sanitation practitioners saw it as a temporary problem that would go away once permanent infrastructure was in place.

Warm regards
Nitya Jacob
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