Where is the local government involvement in faecal sludge management and sanitation for the urban poor?


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  • ggalli
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Re: Where is the local government involvement in faecal sludge management and sanitation for the urban poor?

Great topic Elisabeth, thank you for this!!!
For me this issue is of crucial importance. Many organisations, start-ups and development agencies are currently trying to show that sanitation services can be provided through a business model. However, to make it work as fast as possible, local government is often by-passed. Even if it is involved, the initial process was far too reliable on external inputs (expertise, subsidies etc.), making it impossible to replicate and scale up.

In fact, this issue was at the core of what I felt was missing at the latest FSM3 conference. Everybody is presenting a tool, technology etc., but few are linking it to an overall vision or a process of change. When talking to some of the seasoned engineers running large -scale projects, their frustrations are not about lack of technologies but lack of political commitment and local capacities (both at the operating level as within the municipalities).

I agree with Elisabeth when she says we shouldn't put the cart before the horse. But I also think that we can't be naive and expect problems to resolve themselves. I think that sanitation can be an interesting 'window' to change some structural problems, but then we must approach it as much more than a techno-managerial fix. NGOs, academics, the press, etc. all can play a role in mobilising attention for this cause. And indeed, this may be 'political nuisance' at times, it will be important to know how to play this in a diplomatic and effective way.

At the same time we must also accept that sanitation is (often) not the main concern of the local population. This makes it very difficult to demand local governments to take responsibility in this field. The sanitation sector should therefore start opening up and link up with broader themes, for example environmental or health movements. As of now we are far too internally occupied with our little discussions.
Giacomo Galli
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  • Kiku
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Re: Where is the local government involvement in faecal sludge management and sanitation for the urban poor?

Interesting thoughts. Decentralized governments with limited local revenue are accountable to central governments (where transfers come from), and not locals - poor or non-poor. The average mayor usually has their eye on the next election, and toilets seldom get folks re-elected. The "do-nothing" scenario is what many local leaders settle for.

Ugandan local governments are charged with excreta management, but few if any urban areas have the minimal infrastructure in place, say disposal facilities. Much as there is sufficient knowledge on say, co-composting, hardly any mayors look beyond solid waste management, let alone do basics such as enforce sanitation by-laws. (To a large extent - fear of disenfranchising the 'voters'.) The public good is ultimately sacrificed at the altar of winning the next election.

It is also true that vocal civic organizations would ultimately be accused of inciting the masses, and licenses withdrawn forthwith.

Fredrick Tumusiime, MSc

Skype: tufre80
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  • KaiMikkel
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Re: Where is the local government involvement in faecal sludge management and sanitation for the urban poor?

Ah, but Elisabeth, there's no money in it for local officials to provide the services as you suggest, at least comparable to a) continuing to do nothing or b) selling the soul of your community or country to the IMF or World Bank in order to gain access to the vast amounts available for big expensive centralized systems.

Doesn't it all really boil down to impoverished people disenfranchised from the seats of power having to either accept the crumbs they are given or rise up to demand better? In other words, until the people in the communities that you are describing demand more from the people that are supposed look out for their interests, all there will be are scattered small, privately funded projects and programs like those you have cited (at least until the local people repair their society).

That said, governments need to be held accountable but the ones to do that are the local people, not well intentioned outsiders. However, working together can and does result in remarkable successes. But isn't it rare (or even prohibited by most funding sources?) for an NGO or not-for-profit organization to focus on creating the conditions wherein regular people can demand better conditions? It seems like most outside groups are focused on fixing a problem but not necessarily the root of the problem. But wouldn't it be great if that could change, as I think you are suggesting?

Of course, there are all kinds of impediments to this taking place, not the least of which are that outsiders are typically in a country at the pleasure of the respective government. Make too much noise and your visa or tourist card is revoked and out you go, never to return. Isn't this the "development Catch-22": educate and organize the masses properly and risk ending up deported, or worse, disappeared? Its this dilemma (but more so the power that exists in subverting it) that makes me far more inspired by groups or individuals that take great pains to recognize and develop the capacity of local people (rather than flying in "experts") because its in this work that future success can be assured.
Kai Mikkel Førlie

Founding Member of Water-Wise Vermont (formerly Vermonters Against Toxic Sludge)
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  • christoph
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Re: Where is the local government involvement in faecal sludge management and sanitation for the urban poor?

Hi Elisabeth,
I agree with you that the involvement of the local utility is most crucial for roll out.

local government has taken this task on

That is what we worked on in Peru with GIZ. We proved that the service is possible to an affordable price ( see here ) in the video in 15:13 the model is explained and 15:40 shows the calculated numbers. The mentioned 8 soles /month and family are 2,7 U$/month,family as a recollection fee - far cheaper than the regular wastewater fee. The utility (was/is) going to implement, we have to see how are things changed after election now in December - that is always a problem especially as the project ended. Beforehand we proved with examples all over the country that in general it is an applicable model of sanitation.
I do not agree with your view

this includes sewer systems that are usually cross-financed via water supply sales

That is not my experience. My experience is, that sewers are financed in developing countries or by the state or by donors - never with tariffs and even less cross financing to water tariff. Often, at least in Peru, the wastewater tariff is used to cross finance water expenditures.

My logic would be - use the same amount you would use for sewer and WWTP implementation to finance the infrastructure at the users home - but I know that is a severe problem for public money.

Best regards


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  • Elisabeth
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Where is the local government involvement in faecal sludge management and sanitation for the urban poor?

I wanted to share with you something that I felt was missing at the recent FSM3 conference and indeed from the whole discourse on faecal sludge management.

And that's the local government involvement, particularly when it comes to the people living in informal settlements. OK, one could argue this doesn't just apply to sanitation but is a wider problem regarding insecure tenure issues, corruption, neglect, violence etc. Are we therefore putting the cart before the horse if we are trying to sort out sanitation before sorting out local government issues? Should we work much more closely with organisations working on improving governance, decentralisation etc.?

I had a little twitter conversation with Sasha from SOIL Haiti on this which I found interesting, see below. The screenshot doesn't come out so clearly but this is what Sasha wrote:

SOIL ‏@SOILHaiti 22. Jan.
" @SOILHaiti and @Sanergy both work closely with local governments, though they aren't yet financially or operationally involved."

Elisabeth von Muench ‏@EvMuench 22. Jan.
"I didn't really get this from the presentations. Perhaps LG accept what you do, but that is not active involvement?"

"what sort of involvement would you envision?"

Elisabeth von Muench ‏@EvMuench 22. Jan.
"They should gear up to provide the sanitation service themselves, isn't it their job & responsibility? "

Elisabeth von Muench ‏@EvMuench 22. Jan.
"Or they should at least consider a subsidy scheme for sanitation in low-income urban areas..."

SOIL ‏@SOILHaiti 22. Jan.
"in a perfect world yrs, but unreliable tax base and political instability = sustainability risk."

I do agree with organisations like SOIL and Sanergy (the hyperlinks take you to existing threads about their work on the forum) that we cannot wait for local government to provide sanitation solutions and leave the people languish in their own waste.

However, what I am wondering: now that SOIL and Sanergy have proven that it is possible to provide sustainable sanitation to these people at low cost (with a small subsidy), would now be a good time to try and convince local government to step in? Not necessarily to provide the service themselves (this would probably not work very well) but to regulate it in some form and to provide a subsidy for it? I think it will be next to impossible to provide sanitation to anyone without a subsidy (this includes sewer systems that are usually cross-financed via water supply sales), therefore why would anyone expect that sanitation for low-income informal settlements should be an exception from this rule? It is an investment into a public good, public health.

Does anyone have any examples where local government has taken this task on, perhaps after NGOs have proven it to be possible?

Dr. Elisabeth von Muench
Freelance consultant on environmental and climate projects
Located in Ulm, Germany
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