Urban Sanitation, what else?


  • dorothee.spuhler
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  • Developing methods and tools to support strategic planning for sustainable sanitation. Particular interested in novel technologies contributing to more inclusive and circular sanitation. Co-Lead of WG1
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Urban Sanitation, what else?

Have you ever heard about “espresso publications”?
Well, it is not entirely the same than a “espresso presentation”. And THIS one took us just 1.5 years, two world water days, and a pandemic (including all the personal challenges) to be published!

Maybe you can’t see it at the first glance, but it is the first draft of the new SuSanA publication about urban sanitation !
The picture here is from a brainstorm workshop we had on 16th Sept.2019 at EAWAG together with the team from GIZ based on a story that was told to us by Roland Schertenleib. I was just about starting the final stage of my PhD and really did not have much time for any side projects.
But hey: after I had spent years of digging into literature, to find out,that actually, already 40 years ago, it was realized that we need “inclusive, multi-disciplinary, multi-criteria, and multi-technological approaches” to address the challenge of urban sanitation, it was a great relief to see, that I was not the only one asking the question about how this discourse - after all - has influenced practice on the ground !?!

I don’t know, where the idea for this publication came from; maybe it came from Arne; maybe from Christoph; maybe from Roland; or maybe from a whistle-blower. That’s the cool thing about ideas: they just have their own lives! And one thing is sure: I am thankful for this publication which allowed me to capitalize some research I was doing for my PhD, match it with the knowledge others have and the experiences others made, and make it available to practice in and outside the sanitation sector!
And actually today, the picture would more look like this:

What I am talking about? Well, thanks for reading until here! I am talking about this new publication:

Roland Schertenleib, Christoph Lüthi, Arne Panesar, Mintje Büürma, Depinder Kapur, Abishek Sankara Narayan, Alexandra Pres, Prit
Salian, Dorothee Spuhler and Annkathrin Tempel (2021) “A Sanitation Journey – Principles, Approaches & Tools for Urban Sanitation.“ – 80
pages. SuSanA@ Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH & Eawag – Bonn, Germany & Dübendorf,

(available here )

The publication "A Sanitation Journey - Principles, Approaches and Tools for Urban Sanitation" provides an orientation to the sector’s current status and future directions, aimed at both sanitation professionals and those outside the sector. It has two parts :

Part A gives an overview of how the situation of Urban Sanitation in the Global South has developed over the past decades and how the Urban Sanitation discourse in the context of Development Cooperation has evolved. It leads the reader on a sanitation journey from the 1960s to the present-day, delineates past and present thinking and outlines how approaches and tools evolved and are built on each other. It is complemented by perspectives on Urban Sanitation from the Global South and how the Urban Sanitation journey played out in South Asia and how important issues related to Urban Sanitation are perceived in Sub-Saharan Africa. The main reasons and challenges concerning the limited uptake of existing planning approaches and tools at the local level are also discussed. Part A concludes with a reflection on current trends and emerging developments in an outlook on Urban Sanitation.

Part B
compiles factsheets of selected approaches and tools for Urban Sanitation. It provides a short description of each approach and tool, including their rationale and purpose, corresponding practical experience and lessons learnt.
I really hope that this publication will provide an entry point for sanitation professionals and those outside to be prepared for the challenges ahead drawing from past experiences. We have come along Sewerage Master Planning, Appropriate Technologies, Strategic Sanitation Planning, over City Sanitation Planning, towards City-wide Inclusive Sanitation. Let us try to put these approaches into practice and start looking ahead towards City-centred Approaches to consider inter-linkages of the SDGs and cross-sectoral synergies and to advance urban sanitation in a more comprehensive manner. This will hopefully result in more integrated urban sanitation planning approaches that are capable of combining material and energy flow master planning with communicative bottom-up planning taking into account the different environmental and socio-demographic conditions within each city and match these with available technical and institutional solutions !
This sounds ambitious. Yes it is, but I strongly believe it is possible !

So last but not least, another point I would like to make: this publication is also a perfect example of three other buzzwords of our time:
  1. Collaboration: this publication was enabled by SuSanA acting as a working and collaboration platform: thank you!
  2. Co-creation and inclusive: A large number of people effectively contributed to this publication exactly in the way that corresponded to their level of experience, knowledge, capabilities, and capacities. But  the efforts and inputs time wise and content wise were equally distributed,  so is also the ownership. This makes me extremely satisfied about this product that shows how effective collaboration together with curiosity, respect, and ambitious goals can help to make a whole that is more than the sum of its parts.
Sure, the publication is not totally perfect. But come on: life is going on and we will be doing even better next time. Having said this: please use this publication and let us know what you think about it and how we could do better next time!
Have a great day!
WG1 Co-lead
Developing methods and tools to support strategic planning for sustainable sanitation. Particular interested in novel technologies contributing to more inclusive and circular sanitation. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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  • abisheknarayan
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  • Doctoral Researcher at Eawag-Sandec. Interests in Sanitation Planning, Urban WASH, CWIS. Co-Lead for WG-6 on Cities. Follow me on Twitter @abishek_water
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Re: Urban Sanitation, what else?

This is a great summary Dorothee!
Thank you for being a part of this, and contributing your learnings from your PhD and elsewhere! Every co-author and reviewer made such important additions to this publication, and this 1.5 -2 years was a quick one. Lockdown well spent. 

One thing I wanted to particularly highlight is the struggle we faced in choosing the tools and approaches. How to decide whether one tool was more prominent/useful than the other? It is still a question that we find hard to answer... And the more we keep digging, the more we learn about so many earlier efforts made, which were often forgotten, and someone from somewhere else rediscovers the wheel, again. That is why, we hope through this publication we have documented the journey all of us, and importantly Roland Schertenleib, as such a senior sector professional witnessed through his career. I would probably not have understood those stories and political-economy links between these developments without this book. 

Finally, to answer the question on how this idea came up - It was at a GIZ workshop in Freiburg, where different approaches were discussed, and we thought - "why not document all of this!".  Then at Eawag again, I remember drawing, what was originally an hour-glass to describe this publication, but Arne or  you, Dorothee, then converted it into an espresso machine, (quite ironically before the coffee break!). 

That's just a little bit of the fun story behind this work! Hope this stands as a publication that documented the urban sanitation journey from the pre-corona world!

Based on the feedback, hopefully in it's v2.0, we can have more tools and approaches, and update the journey to vision 2030. 

Best wishes, 
Abishek S Narayan
Co-lead for SuSanA WG-6: Cities
Doctoral Researcher, Eawag-Sandec
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Twitter: @abishek_water
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