The Rio+20 process is sustainability, and water and sanitation are among the key issues on the agenda.
So what does sustainability mean for water and sanitation? It could mean all kinds of things – and often it’s rightly interpreted as being about how we can take care of, and preserve our scarce water resources.
But as was pointed out by one of the participant’s at today’s Parliamentary meeting on WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene), a huge issue in water and sanitation is maintenance and repairs. It’s something Practical Action has been aware of for a long time, and is a key part of what makes any kind of technology or infrastructure ‘appropriate’. Examples of what we’ve been doing include:
- Work in Zimbabwe to repair rural water points where we found that 60% of those already installed were broken down, and that repairing them was far cheaper than building a new one. We’ve also addressed some of the reasons they lay unrepaired for so long by training village pump minders and pump mechanics, and linking them with the district water officers who can help where there are issues the village level mechanic cannot fix.
- Work on sanitation in urban areas where a toilet can no sooner be built than it fills up, or becomes so filthy it is a health hazard in itself. Without adequate thought to how it will be cleaned and emptied, or what will be done with the contents, you might as well not bother! The right designs, clarity about the arrangements for how it will be kept clean and safe, can all make sure these vital services are actually useful for years to come.
Let’s hope the leaders involved in Rio+20 debates pay sufficient attention to these somewhat less glamorous, but ultimately vital aspects of what it will take to truly achieve Sanitation and Water for All.