Theme 4: Safe versus basic sanitation (Thematic Discussion on SDGs)

  • JKMakowka
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Re: Theme IV: Safe versus basic sanitation (Thematic Discussion on Sustainable Development Goals)

Sometimes aiming for safe sanitation might also make it less safe in the short to medium term. For example sewers without treatment yet, or septic tanks with no emptying service etc.

Sometimes it can also lead to situations where part of the population is better off, while others suffer as dumpsites for insufficiently treated waste.

Of course that isn't supposed to happen with safe sanitation, but in the "real world" many places get stuck somewhere along the way at least for some time.

Microbiologist & emergency WASH specialist
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  • joeturner
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Re: Theme IV: Safe versus basic sanitation (Thematic Discussion on Sustainable Development Goals)

It seems to me that "safe" is largely down to perception within different organisations who are promoting WASH. Is ecosan safe? Does CLTS lead to the production of systems which are objectively safe? Will either of these be considered to have fulfilled the Right to Safe Water and Sanitation?

Will, in fact, a lot of systems which were considered to be "improved" under the MDGs fail to meet the standard of safety demanded by the HRWS and the SDGs - and therefore mean the sector will actually move backwards with regard to the statistics showing how many people have access to sanitation?
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  • eddyperez
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Re: Theme IV: Safe versus basic sanitation (Thematic Discussion on Sustainable Development Goals)

Greetings Colleagues. My apologies for missing the deadline for kicking off this important discussion. I have just returned from the Stockholm World Water Week conference where there was a lot of excitement about the new WASH SDGs that are about to be approved in a few weeks by the UN General Assembly. As a starting point for this discussion ( recognizing that some have already started to opine, attached is the latest JMP document listing the WASH goals and targets for 6.1 and 6.2. This document provides a definition for each of the targets and indicators including what it means to be "safe" versus "basic" in the proposed sanitation ladder.

From my perspective, the core principle of "safe" sanitation is that it is a higher level of sanitation service that reduces the public health risks associated with human contact with feces. The main reason that "safe" was included in the SDGs was a recognition by the global community that in particular in poor urban areas, households may have access to "basic" sanitation at the household level - but that the related poorly functioning sanitation value chain of containment, pit emptying, transport, treatment/disposal creates a health hazard for households and communities and hence would be considered " unsafe". Many of us have seen and discussed the Shit Flow Diagrams ( SFDs) which highlight graphically that although household may have on-site sanitation access, their neighborhoods are fecaly contaminated. This has sometimes be presented as analogous to open defecation in rural areas and the impact that has on health, nutrition, etc. On a related note, "safe" sanitation also implies "safe behaviors". In rural areas, having access to basic sanitation facilities is ultimately not safe is all members of the households do not USE the facilities all of the time. We are now learning more about household, community and private sector behaviors that also contribute to sanitation not being safe ( see Sanipath tool discuss in other parts of SuSanA

In conclusion, I would note that the discussion should not be about "basic" versus "safe" sanitation as ultimately, we need both. The WASH SDG goals calls for 100% stopping of open defecation and access to "basic" sanitation for all. Moving up the ladder to safe sanitation during the next 15 years will be important but is not the main priority at this point.

Looking forward to the discussion.

Eddy Perez

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  • joeturner
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Re: Theme IV: Safe versus basic sanitation (Thematic Discussion on Sustainable Development Goals)

Hi Eddy,

The JMP doc you've attached says a few things:

1. No target met unless met for all
2. Target 6.2 is to "achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all"
3. Where the concept of "adequate" includes the "safe reuse/treatment of excreta
in situ, or safe transport and treatment off-site"

It seems to me that the SDG is saying everyone should have access to safe treatment of excreta (on or off-site) but it is not specifying the standard to which that treatment should be held. How safe should it be?

It seems to me that this target is asking for far more than a focus on getting everyone to have access to "basic" sanitation.

Will there not, therefore, be arguments about whether individual interventions should count towards the target 6.2 rather than being considered to just be a "basic" sanitation system?
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  • eddyperez
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Re: Theme IV: Safe versus basic sanitation (Thematic Discussion on Sustainable Development Goals)

Joe:

Thanks for pointing out some of the inconsistencies of the document that JMP prepared. Attached is another JMP document that goes more into the details of the indicators. This note provides a more distinct definition for each rung of the sanitation ladder. Please keep in mind that some of the wording in these documents come from the political process of the member states and as such, some of the finer technical points have gotten a bit blurry in the documents. The top level documents talk about adequate sanitation but that terminology is not being used in the more technical definitions of the wrung on the ladder. Please also note that at the end of the day, each country will adapt these goals, targets to what they think is best.

But the core principle remains the same: basic sanitation for all as the priority - and safe sanitation for as many as possible. This implies that the sector should avoid investing in safe sanitation for some at the cost of basic sanitation for all and a progressive reduction of the equality gap between the rich and poor in access to basic sanitation.

Eddy

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  • LucyStevens
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Re: Theme IV: Safe versus basic sanitation (Thematic Discussion on Sustainable Development Goals)

I think the overall principle of what is being proposed is excellent - as Eddy said:
basic sanitation for all as the priority - and safe sanitation for as many as possible. This implies that the sector should avoid investing in safe sanitation for some at the cost of basic sanitation for all and a progressive reduction of the equality gap between the rich and poor in access to basic sanitation.

But will the indicators as currently phrased provide the necessary incentives for that? Or should we be recommending revised indicators to capture this nuance?

Also, where are we at in terms of SHARED sanitation. My understanding was that it did not count, but in some crowded urban contexts it is the only option. Where it is, for example, managed by a small group of households, or for tenants all living on the same plot, it can be OK. There is quite a difference between this and public shared toilets (the pay as you go sort), or those which are located at markets / other community spaces.

Thanks, Lucy
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  • joeturner
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Re: Theme IV: Safe versus basic sanitation (Thematic Discussion on Sustainable Development Goals)

Lucy, the first pdf Eddy linked to above says:

The proposed new core indicator of ‘percentage of population using safely managed sanitation services’ comprises three main elements:

  • a basic sanitation facility (MDG ‘improved’ indicator)
  • which is not shared, and
  • where excreta are safely disposed in situ or transported and treated off-site.

So it appears that shared sanitation systems have been ruled out from the proposed indicators.

We've had a discussion about some of these points on the forum before: forum.susana.org/forum/categories/182-su...and-mdg-implications
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  • JKMakowka
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Re: Theme IV: Safe versus basic sanitation (Thematic Discussion on Sustainable Development Goals)

Well, almost every toilet is shared between family members and there are some quite big (extended) families. The real question is what are the access conditions and how many people use it regularly.

It might be that those multiple-HH ones described by Lucy do not fall under the SDG definition of "shared" as those are commonly not open to the general public.

Microbiologist & emergency WASH specialist
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  • Tim
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Re: Theme IV: Safe versus basic sanitation (Thematic Discussion on Sustainable Development Goals)

Hi everyone, my apologies for some technical issues delaying my joining, I'm glad to see the debate is already well underway! Thanks to Eddy for sharing those JMP documents.

Here is an updated document reflecting the current state of the SDG indicator proposals…

www.wssinfo.org/fileadmin/user_upload/re...st-2015-Brochure.pdf

In very quick summary:
basic = improved
safe = improved with FSM

So people can see where I’m coming from, this is WaterAid’s proposed changes to the current indicators framework…

bit.ly/1Ups8LF

My comment:

The JMP proposals were based on an extensive period of consultation and discussion, which WaterAid was involved in, and which arguably produced some of the most considered indicator proposals across the SDG framework. However, the subsequent political process finalising the SDGs has pushed and compressed those proposals, and the challenge is to preserve as much of the original thinking as possible.

JMP are proposing to monitor most of the parameters agreed through the consultation, and as Eddy correctly highlights, the ‘service ladder’ approach means that for monitoring we don’t need to say ‘basic v. safely managed’, we need to monitor both. Furthermore, recognising the importance of FSM and safety beyond the toilet facility itself, for communities and water quality, is a big improvement on the MDG indicators. However, when it comes to the SDG indicators, and the definition of success, the question of safe v. basic does come up.

The proposals that we’re putting forward (and would appreciate support if you agree!) are attempting to ensure that the SDG indicators monitor progress on basic services, as well as safely managed, to ensure that those with no service are brought improvements as a priority, rather than just upgrading existing services for the relatively wealthy.

The definition of success for the WASH SDGs is rightly universal access to safely managed services, but, and this point I think echoes Eddy's final point, the definition of good progress should be progressive realisation of universal access to safely managed services, which should be defined as disproportionate improvements in the level of service for the poorest - so increasing the number of poor people with ODF / basic services / shared safely managed is recognised as a priority.

The difference between safe and basic, in this sense, is that safe is the goal, basic is a step on the way, but if we incentivise only the goal, we may inadvertently encourage inequitable and inefficient means to get there.
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  • KumiAbeysuriya
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Re: Theme IV: Safe versus basic sanitation (Thematic Discussion on Sustainable Development Goals)

Eddy, Tim and all,

Your point about ‘progressive realisation’ of safe sanitation really resonates for me. We need to remember that the SDGs themselves are a sort of milepost in the journey towards achieving sustainable sanitation for all, rather than the destination or end point.

One lesson from the MDGs, for me, is that unless we keep an eye on that longer term goal, we risk making investments that take us in the wrong direction. For example, there are many anecdotes of ‘improved sanitation’ where dwellings have been constructed above septic tanks so they cannot be accessed for emptying. Upgrading for more stages of the sanitation service chain then becomes complicated and costly. If ‘improved sanitation’ had been implemented with an eye on the progressive transition towards ‘safe sanitation’, there might have been allowances left for access etc. at the design stage.

Likewise I think safe sanitation with FSM is fine as long as we leave allowance to progressively upgrade for sustainable sanitation. Sustainable sanitation, for me, will (1) keep people apart from excreta pathogens, (2) safeguard water resources and the environment, and (3) enable resource reuse. I find our focus on FSM a little worrying, as it largely ignores the liquid fraction from septic tanks, that often overflow into drains or leach into the ground and contaminate surface and ground water (unless properly maintained leach fields are included in the design). The ‘bible’ on health aspects of wastewater management by Feachem et al. (cited in major WHO guidelines etc) highlights that septic tanks are very poor at pathogen removal. Focus on FSM can give a false sense of security that we are addressing the sanitation service chain when we are only addressing one part of the waste stream. For urban contexts in particular, we need to be addressing the effluent stream as well.

The key challenge is how to share this longer-term vision for sanitation and holding this in mind while adopting the SDGs for 2030!

Kumi

Dr. Kumi Abeysuriya
Senior Research Consultant
Institute for Sustainable Futures
University of Technology Sydney, Australia.
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  • Katrin
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Re: Theme IV: Safe versus basic sanitation (Thematic Discussion on Sustainable Development Goals)

Dear all,

Thank you for sharing your ideas and thoughts on the topic of SDG indicators. For those of you who have joined the discussion late, I would like to provide a brief summary of the issues addressed so far and point to some of the questions that have been raised:

(1) What is understood by “safe” sanitation
-> the core principle of "safe" sanitation is that it is a higher level of sanitation service that reduces the public health risks associated with human contact with feces
-> "safe" sanitation also implies "safe behaviors"

(2) Instead of “safe v. basic”, “safe AND basic”
-> the discussion should not be about "basic" versus "safe" sanitation as ultimately, we need both. Moving up the ladder to safe sanitation during the next 15 years will be important but is not the main priority at this point.
-> basic sanitation for all remains the priority - and safe sanitation for as many as possible. This implies that the sector should avoid investing in safe sanitation for some at the cost of basic sanitation for all to achieve a progressive reduction of the equality gap between the rich and poor in access to basic sanitation.

The definition of good progress should be progressive realisation of universal access to safely managed services, which should be defined as disproportionate improvements in the level of service for the poorest - so increasing the number of poor people with ODF / basic services / shared safely managed services is recognised as a priority.

The difference between safe and basic, in this sense, is that safe is the goal, basic is a step on the way, but if we only incentivise the goal, we may inadvertently encourage inequitable and inefficient means to get there.

(3) safe = safety beyond the toilet facility
basic = improved
safe = improved with FSM

Recognizing the importance of FSM and safety beyond the toilet facility itself, for communities and water quality, is a big improvement which attempts to ensure that the SDG indicators monitor progress on basic services, as well as safely managed services, to ensure that those with no service are brought improvements as a priority, rather than just upgrading existing services for the relatively wealthy.

(4) Looking beyond the SDGs/2030
Making improvements has to be done with an eye on the longer-term goal (i.e. basic sanitation with an eye for safe sanitation, FSM with an eye for sustainable sanitation)
-> Exclusive focus on FSM carries the risk of ignoring the effluent stream, which results in (further) contamination of surface and ground water.

(5) Further Issues / Questions:
- As Krischan points out, sometimes aiming for safe sanitation might also make it less safe in the short to medium term (how can such a development be prevented? )

- Will the indicators as currently phrased provide the necessary incentives for the progressive realization of universal access as outlined above? Or should we be recommending revised indicators to capture this nuance?

- What falls under shared sanitation, which is not considered a safely managed sanitation system according to JMP?

I look forward to your thoughts and opinions on the matter!

Best,
Katrin

Dr. Katrin Dauenhauer
SuSanA Thematic Discussion Series Coordinator
Bonn, Germany
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  • joeturner
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Re: Theme 4: Safe versus basic sanitation (Thematic Discussion on Sustainable Development Goals)

I am sorry to continue with this thought, but I do not feel we have a satisfactory answer from the JMP.

Imagine a country which has done well by the standards of the MDGs and has been able to get 70% of people to the "improved" standard (let's just assume the other 30% have not met that standard).

The indicators suggested above and the HRWS both say that the objective is to get universal access to safe water and safe sanitation.

We have heard above that no matter the actual language of the indicators, the first objective is to get everyone to the "basic" standard, which is the "improved" MDG standard - even though I don't see that the goals, the indicators or the HRWS are going to be giving any credit for reaching that (although I suppose measuring the extent of OD will be showing to some degree those who have not met the MDG "improved" standard").

Weighed against that is the fact that there are 16 other goals, many of which depend on the delivery of safe sanitation in Goal 6.

So the imaginary country above has some money and decides that sanitation is a priority because it has so many knock-on benefits - in terms of reaching the other goals.

Are we seriously suggesting that country is going to target the 30%, who might include many expensive to reach and/or dispersed groups, to pull them up to the "improved" standard before tackling the other 70%?

Surely the way that these things are worded means that the countries are always going to be looking for the least expensive ways to make progress on the SDGs - so that in 10 or 15 years they can say "look, 70% of people now have met the SDG and HRWS standard for safe sanitation. we're not there yet, but we are making good progress," which they've only done by working with those who already have some form of improved sanitation and avoiding those most difficult to reach.

In fact, the only thing I can find in the SDG document which suggests that those with least access should be the priority is the declaration in the preamble that countries are promising to "leave nobody behind".

Add to this whether there will be any national political ambition to consider the rights and development needs of the poorest (which, if those with some access to sanitation are in the majority, is going to be a hard thing to sell) - and this concept seems impossible to deliver.
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