From May, 2015, three university students joined Practical Action, Eastern Africa, as interns within the Urban WASH team to assist in conducting research for the “Technology and the Future of Work” project, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. The WASH intern team consists of Eric Mugaa and Charles Kwena, both in their fifth year at the University of Nairobi in the Civil Engineering programme, and Megan Douglas, a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh in the International Development programme. The project is examining the enabling and disabling impacts of technologies on work opportunities among informal workers in Nairobi’s informal settlements. Read about Megan’s reflections from her time in the field…..
By Megan Douglas
On a recent research trip to Kawangware, one of Nairobi’s informal settlements, our field guide contact treated me to a large slice of watermelon from a roadside vendor, packaged in plastic wrap to keep it fresh. After finishing my slice, the warm juice running in rivers down my arms and the wrapper growing sticky in my hand, I looked around for a bin to dispose of the waste. “There are no rubbish bins around here,” my contact laughed. “Just throw it on the ground!” I couldn’t bring myself to do such a thing; throwing waste on the ground just seemed wrong, despite the multitude of old watermelon rinds and plastic wrappers strewn across the road in front of me. After carrying the rubbish for several minutes, the flies began to come. Begrudgingly, I bent down and gingerly laid the rind in a ditch, where it floated away to join the garbage dam choking Nairobi River. The plastic wrapper I ‘nobly’ stuck in my purse pocket, where it later formed a large sugary stain.
Is it about having ‘principles’ or having options?
Being from a relatively clean city in Canada, littering feels foreign to me. It is not only illegal in Canada, punishable by hefty fines, but is also considered by many to be immoral in a sense. I had never seen anything like the sheer enormity of human waste competing for space with homes in Kawangware.
It isn’t that residents of Kawangware produce more waste; it is that there are few viable options for rubbish disposal. Nor are informal residents apathetic. Many of those interviewed make ‘tsk tsk’s with their tongue against their teeth when surveying the carpet of garbage across the streets. “It’s a shame,” expressed one woman, in response to my question about her opinion of the waste situation, then, immediately following, tossed a black plastic bag she had been eating a samosa out of into a ditch. While it was amusing, I didn’t consider her a hypocrite; her littering doesn’t necessarily discredit the genuineness of her displeasure with the amount of waste on the ground. At times, pragmatism must trump ‘moral’ sentiments in the informal settlements. Either she tossed the oily plastic bag, or carried it in her purse (most likely indefinitely, unless she ventured to the outskirts of the district, costing her time and money, all for the sake of not littering).
Do I not litter in Canada because I am against littering? Or is it because I don’t have to? Most likely, a combination of both, but the two are likely mutually reinforcing. Some sort of innate concern for environmental conservation isn’t likely the principal reason I grew up with such an adversity to littering. When you have accessible, affordable and sustainable methods of human waste disposal, one never has to be reminded of the volume of non-biodegradable waste you produce every day; garbage is simply thrown in the trash bin, which is collected once a week, never to be seen again. Canada isn’t without waste. It is one of the world’s largest producers of it. But the difference is that garbage is just shipped off to dumps far away from urban centers, or sent across the ocean to fill another country’s dumpsite, allowing citizens the comfort of never having to be visually reminded of the size of their carbon footprint.
The poorest of the poor in Nairobi, however, must constantly live with their waste and that of others, piled high in mountains and overflowing into rivers, a visual reminder of the spatial and socio-economic and political marginalization of informal residents. The combination of a high concentration of people (60 percent of Nairobi’s population live on only 5% of the total land mass), the increase in non-biodegradable waste, and the lack of a public waste-collection service within informal settlements, culminates in a shockingly large amount of garbage on the ground, leading to a myriad of environmental and health issues.1 Comment » | Add your comment
Last week, African Ministers spent the week at the AfricaSan4 conference discussing the urgent need for better progress on Sanitation and Hygiene on the continent. They signed up to a new vision (the Ngor Declaration) in line with the likely UN ‘Sustainable Development Goal’ due out later this year, to achieve universal access to adequate and sustainable sanitation and hygiene services and eliminate open defecation by 2030.
It is great to see an update of the commitments made at a similar meeting back in 2008. Clearly, a ‘focus on the poorest, most marginalised and unserved’, must include the needs of poor people living in urban slums alongside their rural counterparts. However, there is precious little experience in ‘eliminating open defecation’ in urban slums. This will be a huge challenge that should not be under-estimated.
Over the last three years, Practical Action and Umande Trust have been working in two big informal settlements in Nakuru, Kenya, on an ambitious project to transform the sanitation situation. The aim was to declare two thirds of the 13 ‘villages’ within two big low-income settlements (population approximately 190,000) as Open Defecation Free. In these areas, the majority of residents are tenants, living on plots with 10-20 rooms (sometimes up to 50). While almost all of these plots had some form of toilet, their quality was so poor, and their numbers woefully inadequate to count as ‘adequate’ sanitation.
At the end of the project, we worked with the CLTS Foundation reflect on how we had adapted the usual CLTS process for the challenges of an urban context. The report highlights the greater scope of action required in urban contexts because of the importance of better-quality toilets, and the need for safe faecal sludge management. It explores the whole range of stakeholders who need to be involved from tenants and landlords, to pit emptiers, builders, banks and micro-credit, different levels of government, the local water and sewerage utility company, and many more.
Here are the 11 key differences we found between rural CLTS, and this urban context.
|1.||Low toilet coverage and strong preference for or habit of OD||High toilet coverage but they are highly unsanitary. OD is out of necessity rather than preference or habit.|
|2.||Majority of households own land on which they can build their toilets||Most households are tenants and have to rely on landlords to provide sanitary toilets. However, it is tenants’ role to maintain them well.|
|3.||A single triggering aims to reach whole population||Two types of triggering exercises are needed: one for landlords and one for tenants|
|4.||The triggering methodology is principally based on eliciting feelings of shame and disgust to motivate behaviour change.||The triggering methodology with landlords is based more around obligation and threat of legislation. Eliciting disgust is still a motivating factor in triggering with tenants.|
|5.||The key challenge is triggering behaviour change to break the long held habit of open defecation.||The key challenge is ensuring adequate provision and maintenance of facilities. Open defecation is no longer a habit but an outcome of poor facilities.|
|6||Once a toilet is full, there is usually space to build more within the household compound.||Space is limited and density of population is high resulting in the need to dispose of faecal sludge outside the plot once toilets fill up.|
|7||Households can build very basic low cost toilets, starting and the lowest rung of the sanitation ladder if they choose.||There are often regulations about the standard of toilets substructure and the superstructure. Negotiation with authorities can be an important aspect of intervention.|
|8||Households can usually finance low cost toilet building without external finance.||Landlords often require external finance in order to be able to adequately upgrade sanitation facilities. This may require negotiating a loan facility, whether through banks or a community fund.|
|9||There are few stakeholders external to the community who have an influence on sanitation provision.||There are several stakeholders involved, such as tenants, landlords, planning department, public health officials, water and sewerage companies.|
|10||As there are few stakeholders involved, the intervention process can be relatively fast.||Due to the regulatory environment and the number of stakeholders involved the intervention process, even before any triggering takes place, can take quite long.|
|11||Natural leaders and community consultants are key players in driving and scaling up CLTS||In this particular urban context natural leaders and community consultants were not developed as Community Health Volunteers already existed.|
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The 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit Nepal on April 25 and the major aftershock of 7.3 on May 12 did a lot of harm in Nepal. The loss of lives, homes and heritages; and the constant fear of losing what is left; has put the whole nation in despair. People are in the state of trauma, with many in serious state of fear and stress. The busy streets of Kathmandu are deserted, small and large businesses all closed down. And it is already almost a month of the first quake.
The whole disaster has caused a serious damage to the already struggling economy of the country. And the ones who are hit the worst are (always) the most marginalised; the poorest of the poor people. The people who earn their living on a daily wage basis, the ones who already had very little, now are left with nothing.
The (informal) waste workers in Kathmandu valley are among the most marginalised people. They lived in the most vulnerable parts of the city; in the river banks, renting the oldest of the houses. Thus, they have suffered more loss than the rest of the population. Most of the waste workers from the neighbouring country India, have gone back to their own country. The Nepali waste pickers are mostly from the districts like Sindhupalchowk, Dolakha and Kavre which has been hit more badly than Kathmandu, leaving them no option to go back to their hometowns.
“My house at Kavre is totally damaged by the earthquake and so is my rented room here in Kathmandu”, says Thuli Maya Tamang (35), a waste segregator who has been living in a makeshift tent made of tarpaulin.
More than hundred other waste workers like Thuli Maya who lived around Teku area of Kathmandu are now living under tarpaulins in the premises of Waste Transfer Station at Teku, Kathmandu. They are living just by the side of heaps of waste; with no option to move to a better open space. They do not have access to better open spaces, as the people from other (better-off) communities are unwilling to share the space with them.
As most of the waste workers worked in daily wage basis or were dependent on the waste they collected every day, their earning has suffered a lot due to this disaster. They were not able to work for many days due fear and now they cannot work even if they want to because the ‘Kabaads’ (Scrap house) where they used to work are closed.
“It is difficult to keep the family fed, as we cannot find any work. And I am so scared that I don’t think that I can work for few more days,” says Thuli Maya.
They have not received any aid or support from any organisation apart from the support of tarpaulins from PRISM project staff on a personal basis. “We have heard that the earthquake victims are getting relief materials but we haven’t received any yet,” says Thuli Maya.
Gautam Lama (50) is worried about finding a proper space to live after the aftershock gets reduced. “My house at Kavre is totally damaged. The rented room here has many cracks and is not in a liveable condition. I don’t know how I will be able to find a new place to live, as people were already sceptic about renting rooms to us poor people even before the earthquake,” Gautam shares his woes. Finding a space in Kathmandu will definitely be a challenge to these people as a huge number of houses are damaged and renting spaces are already difficult to find.
Gautam’s daughter Samjhana’s (25) rented rooms at Balkhu, Kathmandu crumbled down into pieces due to the first quake. She feels lucky just to get outside of it in time with her 11 month old baby. “I could not take out anything from the house. Don’t even have clothes for the baby,” says Samjhana who used to be a waste segregator and is currently living with her parents at the transfer station at Teku.
Maya Tamang, who works at the co-operatives run by the waste workers, shared that children are suffering a lot due to living outdoors. “Children have started to get sick with cough and cold, as it gets cold in the night time. Rain creates more difficulty, so does mosquitoes, other insects and also snakes,” says Maya.
Maya opines that the only thing that has helped them survive during the past few weeks is the ‘Sanyuta Safai Jagaran’ co-operative which started operation with the support of the PRISM project and is being run by the efforts of the waste workers themselves. “Thankfully, we had been saving regularly in the co-operative. Most of the waste workers are using the saved amount to run their lives in this time of crisis. We would have been left hungry, if not for the co-operative,” Maya adds. “But it is still difficult for most of the families. I have no idea how we all will be able to find a proper shelter and for how long will we have to live under the open sky.”
Disasters like earthquake harm everyone; but it certainly affects the poor more severely.
As the world starts to forget about this disaster in Nepal and its coverage slowly starts to fade from the world media, there are thousands of people like Thuli Maya, Gautam and Samjhana who still need help and assistance to build back their lives.
It was 3.34 in the morning on 27 January 2010, when the earth starting shaking with the magnitude of 8.8 Richter Scale while I was sleeping safe and sound in the Valdivian City of Southern Chile. Together with my colleagues from the Philippines and Bangladesh, we suddenly moved out of the house. There were several aftershocks, no internet, no telephone, no water, no shopping malls open for food, etc. at least for four days. It has been five years and I have not yet forgotten a single moment I underwent during this disaster in Chile; and this repeated a week ago on 25th April 2015 in Nepal.
I was busy preparing for the celebration of my daughter’s birthday, which is actually on 20th April; for some cultural reason, we postponed it to 25th April. I started feeling the movement of my house – which became stronger just in few seconds. From the third floor, I saw a collapsing five-storey house just a few blocks from mine burying 16 people inside. More than ten thousand have died and many more are seriously injured across the country, our cultural properties are gone and the nature has pulled us back so many years of development. What makes me cry over anything else are the children who have lost their parents and loved ones. Nearly a million children are already affected from the earthquake. Many more will be affected due to waterborne and infectious diseases and respiratory infections as they are forced to live under the cold open sky.
Hundreds of women have suffered miscarriages due to earthquake, thousands of new moms are suffering with their infants with a hope that things will change, and many have died while trying to protect their kids during the earthquake. While women and children are closely associated, they are most vulnerable. The latest figures from Nepal show that 53% of the affected population from the earthquake are female. This ratio is expected to increase in the coming days due to increased death of women and children if proper water and sanitation services are not provided in time. There are risks that women will suffer from urinary tract infections due to lack of proper sanitation and the taboo attached to menstruation in remote parts of Nepal.
Focus on water and sanitation
One of the major focuses of Practical Action during this relief period is water and sanitation. Our belief and actions on promoting appropriate technologies will be realised through the provision of potable water supplies, toilets, awareness on sanitation and hygiene, and management of waste in the temporary camps in Gorkha and Dhading Districts of Nepal. Destruction from disaster can not be undone, but we are confident in reducing the post-disaster deaths mainly of women and children through improved sanitation and hygiene.No Comments » | Add your comment
One of my colleagues here at Practical Action was recently prodded to talk about the work he does on WASH (short for water, sanitation, and hygiene), and he began to talk about the importance of urban resilience. Instead of letting this discussion float in my inbox, I thought I might add it here.
Just over half the world’s population (3.6 billion people) live in urban centres, and by 2030 numbers are expected to rise to 5 billion. “Virtually all of the expected growth in the world population will be concentrated in the urban areas of the less developed regions” (UN DESA 2012:3-4). Most of the world’s children of the world will be born into low-income urban contexts in the 21st century
Rapid urbanisation means that ensuring a equitable start for the future generations is becoming predominantly a challenge of eliminating the “urban penalty” brought about by this urbanisation. Furthermore, as climate change continues to grow, these communities will need to be prepared for its impacts, including longer periods without rainfall – and thus water scarcity, while at the same time also potentially dealing with heavier, more sudden, unexpected rains – and thus flash floods.
Practical Action focuses our technical expertise on issues of Urban WASH both for poor women and men, their organisations and their partners in the public and private sector environmental sanitation. Water, sanitation, hygiene and waste management all combine to become a leading contributor to ill-health and stunting of under-fives leading to a life-long disadvantage.
The urban penalty is a predominant, generational challenge. We realise that eradicating this penalty requires systems change and Practical Action’s efforts are focused on:
Totality: If some people have toilets, water, and good hygiene practices, but people next door don’t, then health issues aren’t resolved. We need to work on total coverage.
End-to-end (From access to safe disposal): Even if people are not defecating in the open, when waste is not safely disposed this is the equivalent of “institutional open defecation”. This requires a focus on the whole value chain, from toilets, to the conveyance of waste, to treatment, until the final, safe disposal.
City Scale: the political, institutional, and economic factors that determine whether a system is sustainable depends on city-level processes (public agencies and private companies work citywide), so sustainable WASH in slums almost always need to be part of a city-wide approach
Integrated: we can’t deal just with water, sanitation, or solid waste to get health benefits. They all need to be addressed in an integrated manner.
Multiple, diverse actors: Household sanitation is seen as a private good, and people are willing to pay for this on their plot, and get the waste off their plot. But after that it’s seen as a public good, and the responsibility of the public sector. There are some ways of making money, so the private sector can play a role, but there’s typically not enough money from what people are willing to pay to get waste off their plot, and from value you can get from recycling and reuse, to make a fully free market of private actors to maintain a fully effective, scaled system. So the city government will need to take a lead and budget for it
This focus prepares communities for shocks that come from growing climate change, addresses health issues that lead to child stunting, and establishes sustainable networks that can be run on a city wide level, and scaled if necessary.No Comments » | Add your comment
I love my toilet and on days when I have a bad tummy I love it even more!
You live in a slum in Dhaka, Bangladesh and you pay someone to empty your latrine – where do you think the faecal sludge matter (shit) goes? I’ve just read a survey that says
- 2% is dumped ‘here and there’
- 44% is dumped in an open drain
- 31% dumped in a particular place (undesignated)
- 8% is put in a mud hole and covered with mud
- 15% is dumped in open water
That is not good!
Worldwide, according to the UN, diarrhoea largely caused by contaminated water kills more than a 1,000 children under 5 every day.
So living in your Dhaka home with few resources and many demands on your money do you care? Well yes! The same survey shows that most people living in the slums are concerned about where human waste goes and the problems caused by it being directly dumped in a water course or seeping back, for example, through drains that empty into rivers. They don’t have much money but they are prepared to pay more for latrine emptying that is safe and takes the waste away and treats it properly. They recognise the problem and want to be part of the solution – but in Dhaka there is only one sewage treatment facility and it doesn’t service the slums (its also the only sewage plant in the country – population 156 million)
It can also be a great resource:
Treated correctly faecal sludge can be a source of energy – biogas – and compost. Practical Action in Bangladesh has an award winning project on faecal sludge management – latrine pit emptying, faecal sludge treatment and the promotion of safe compost made from human waste. We also have a huge amount of work on ecosan loos, bio digesters and biogas for cooking.
Poor people as this survey shows know the value of managing human waste well – reduction in disease, a better environment etc. I am proud that Practical Action is helping people manage their waste safely. I’m also proud that we are looking beyond the simple appropriate management of shit and thinking about what can be done, how we can add value to what is a very basic human commodity.
Shit matters – we may not like to talk about it but we all need access to a decent toilet and the safe management of human waste.
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If you work in the development sector, the term may be familiar and you may well know the answer. But as an outsider, joining the Practical Action team in Kathmandu for three weeks in January, I had no idea.
Practical Action uses simple technologies to help improve the lives of poor people. For villagers in remote parts of the Himalayas, something as simple as a rope and pulley system to a neighbouring village across the valley, can mean the difference between isolation and access to market.
For the inhabitants of the Karnali basin, a flood early warning system further upstream warns them when the water level starts to rise. This means the difference between watching their belongings, their hut, their livestock and possibly their family members wash away and getting to higher ground, out of harm’s way in time.
For Sarab Maharjan, in Kritipur, in the suburbs of Kathmandu, a composting machine means that the organic waste he collects from 580 local households can be treated and resold as fertilizer. This machine means the difference between being marginalised and being a recognised, respected member in the community. Sarab is just one of the 4,000 waste workers that Practical Action worked with in Kathmandu.
Worldwide, 1.3 billion people do not have access to water and 1.2 billion have no access to electricity yet the bulk of global investment in technology research and development continues to cater to the advancement of the world’s wealthiest. Practical Action is trying to close that gap and bring justice in technology to those people whose lives depend on it. That is what Technology Justice is about.1 Comment » | Add your comment
It sounds simple to people who have access to basic sanitation facilities. But a technology as simple as a pit latrine is a subject of luxury for a lot of people. It is an alarming fact that even today, more than half of Nepal’s population defecate in open. The trends are changing gradually and the people living in urban areas have fancy bathrooms in their homes, but there still are a huge number of people who do not have access to this very basic facility.
Only six months ago, people from 197 households in Balapur in Gulariya Municipality-6, Bardiya District of Nepal defecated in open. In a community comprising of total 274 households, only 50 had biogas toilets. Kali Prasad Chaudhary, the Chair of Ward Citizen Forum, recalls the situation caused by regular floods sweeping away limited temporary toilets, lack of awareness and habit of open defecation.
There were a number of organisations implementing different projects in this community but sanitation was given the least priority. Chaudhary shares, “When a guest would arrive in the community, it used to be an embarrassing situation if they were not used to defecating in open. Various water borne diseases were common mainly among children and elderly people. Instead of getting to know the actual reason behind people would blame God if somebody died.”
But things have changed for better for this community. At this stage, five communities of Balapur have become Open Defecation Free (ODF) as 247 households have broken off from the traditional practice of defecating in the open after constructing toilets at their homes.
Indira Chaudhary (34) one of the community member says, “I learned about the negative effects of open defecation, and I did not want to be the one contributing to the pollution of environment and exposing other people to risks. I find it very convenient to use a toilet instead of going to the bush. This gives me privacy to do my business with dignity.” Her five member family is very happy to have a bio-gas toilet installed at their home.
This change became possible in the community after, Practical Action and Environment and Public Health Organization (ENPHO) launched SAFA & SWASTHA Gulariya project in August 2014 for two years in collaboration with Gulariya municipality including other INGOs with an objective to declare an Open Defecation Free Gulariya Municipality by 2015. The project operates with an innovative community mobilisation approaches through HCES (Household Centered Environmental Sanitation), CLTS (Community Led Total Sanitation) and SLTS (School Led Total Sanitation) for activating communities to progressively work towards stopping open defecation in the entire municipality.
According to Kali Prasad Chaudhary, “Among all these initiatives, the video documentary and street drama shows on WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) were found to be effective in touching the hearts of community people.”
Likewise, Ram Prasad Chaudhary from Gulariya Municipality opines, “In accordance with the national target on sanitation, Gulariya Municipality has committed to achieve ODF in the municipality by 2015. To make this mission a success, we have started provision of sanitation card.” He claimed that the success of ODF declaration in Balapur was due to the sanitation card.
The understanding of Sabitra Gautam, President of W WASH CC (Ward WASH Coordination Committee) is different than that others. She claimed that bal hath and stri hath (recurring pressure from children and female respectively) played crucial role to success the mission. From her statement, it is clear that there was repeated effort of children and female to construct toilets.
“Now, we are living with pride and dignity due to improved sanitation facilities in the community,” said Kali Prasad Chaudhary. “It is not easy for poor families from indigenous groups to spare money required to build their individual toilets when it can be done for free in the fields. Balapur people thank Gulariya Municipality, Practical Action, UN Habitat, ENPHO, W WASH CC and all involved TLOs for their tireless effort to make this happen and succeeding in declaring entire Balapur community Open Defecation Free (ODF).”
It was not possible from a little effort to construct all the toilets (197) within a short period of time. The joint effort of community people, local institutions and district level stakeholders coming together, working towards ODF target made the mission possible and thus, the people from Balapur could have access to this basic sanitation facility. The importance of such thing a lot of times gets overlooked, but access to technologies like a simple toilet helps people to build a life pride and dignity.2 Comments » | Add your comment
A proper toilet, water supply and electricity – these are some basic necessities of our lives. What can be more inconvenient than not having a toilet around when you need it? Imagine waking up every day not knowing how you would manage to collect the water required for the day! It might be hard for us to even imagine, but it is a reality that too many people are living every day. While the technologies have advanced to the level where we have self-cleaning high-tech toilets; it is estimated that worldwide 2.6 billion have no access to sanitation and 1.3 billion to safe water. The world sure in an unjust place.
The people of Shreeramnagar, a slum settlement at Butwal – 4, Rupendehi district of Nepal are a part of that 1.3 Billion. Water crisis is a part of their lives. They have to go to the neighbouring localities to collect water, which is a time consuming and tiring work. The settlement is not recognised by the government which does not support any development of infrastructures in the community so the people have nowhere to turn to seek help. But the people of the community – had had enough of this injustice and took charge to solve their own problem.
“We didn’t know how to tackle this problem,” says Narayan Lal Ghimere, a local resident. “But now, we are able to come up with a solution after we got training from ‘Delivering Decentralisation’ project. After the training, we have formed a committee to address different kinds of problems existing in our community. With the involvement of community people, we decided that we need to construct a water tank with a huge storage capacity for the equal and uninterrupted water supply in our locality,” he further adds.
They have formed a committee for the construction of the water tank to carry forward the work effectively and make the whole process participatory. The initiation was led by the community themselves with little support from the project. Everything from the planning stage was discussed and decided by the community.
A member of the working committee, Sabitra Devi Panthi says, “We were able to learn a lot of things and got inspired to take the initiatives ourselves, after the training provided by the project. So, we made a collective decision to construct the water tank. We were motivated because we received 75 per cent of the construction cost from the project and the rest we collected amongst ourselves. Those who couldn’t pay the required amount, volunteered for the labour work to make up for it.”
Now, the construction is complete, and people of this community have for the first time in their lives, access to clean water. “We did a grand inauguration of the water tank and water supply lines. It was such a proud movement for the whole community. The regular water supply has made our lives so much easier and our locality is cleaner now. It more beneficial to housewives like us, who had to spend a lot of time fetching water, now we are able to use the saved time in other productive activities,” adds Sabitra.
She further says, “I did not know that having a water supply could change our lives so much. It has improved our health as well as economic activities. It feels like a privilege to have water supply in our own homes; construction of the water tank is such a huge achievement for us!”
It sure is a happy moment for the people of Shreeramnagar community; but having a water supply should not be a matter of privilege and so much of hard work – it should be available and accessible to all; irrespective of their location and economic background. But of course, it is not so. Hence, when we talk about these simple basic technologies, it never is as simple as it sounds. A simple thing as a water supply can change people’s lives in too many ways. It saves time for the women who can invest it in income generating activities or in taking proper care of their children. It helps to stay cleaner and healthier. It helps to make human life dignified. It helps to fill the gap of technology injustice and make this world a bit more just place.
So a water tank is not JUST a water tank but a step ahead towards a JUST world.
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The members of the UK Water Network had an meeting with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently about coordination and policy messaging on urban sanitation. Very interesting, and maybe one for another time. In this blog, I thought I’d share some follow-up reflections from side conversations I had with some of the UK Water Network members on that day. We discussed the issue of disease outbreaks that emerge in urban areas, including refugee camps, during humanitarian emergencies as a result of water, sanitation and waste systems not surviving the stress they are put under.
The people around the coffee table where mostly from humanitarian organisations, organisations that focus on emergency response. That’s why the conversation was framed in terms of emergency response – how can agencies respond quickly and effectively in an emergency situations to ensure that people are still able to access clean water, toilets and hygiene products and that waste, including faecal waste (“WASH” for short), is managed safely, so to reduce the risk of disease outbreak?
The conversation was just as interesting for me, working at Practical Action, which is a development organisation rather than a humanitarian organisation, as it could be flipped on its head, and create the question: What can we do to promote urban WASH systems that are resilient to stress, and avoid health emergencies, such as a cholera outbreak?
This question brings together two of Practical Action’s priority themes: Urban WASH, and disaster risk reduction. It’s a nexus issue, the buzz word of the moment it seems. But what is not quite so obvious is that it is also squarely relevant to another strength in our work at Practical Action – market systems. Here’s how.
(The following is an extract from a draft concept note and capability statement that the Urban WASH team at Practical Action is using to create further discussion and partnership with other like-minded organisations on this issue. So it’s a draft, it’s not exhaustive by any means, and it’s intended to stimulate conversation. Get in touch with me if you’d like to discuss further, and hear more about our experience in this area).
Water access, sanitation and hygiene, and waste management (WASH) are effective and cost efficient health interventions. they contribute to reducing the incidence water and vector borne disease caused by contaminated water. In urban areas especially, special attention needs to be paid to faecal sludge management (FSM). That’s because, where space is limited, planned FSM is essential to achieve safe disposal of the most harmful waste away from water sources. Furthermore, in urban area its important that FSM is sustainable, and achieves total coverage of the urban environment if the health goals are to be attained, and maintained, over time.
Market system approaches focus on the access and service chains of water, sanitation and waste management, their enabling environment, and the supporting functions on which they depend, and take into account the economics of scaled and sustainable delivery (driven by public subsidy, service user payment and value recovery), and thus provide promising lens to analyse, design, and establish urban WASH systems fit for environmental health purposes. Such approaches should be:
- Systemic, in the sense that they seek to address the underlying causes of limitations in scaled and sustainable urban WASH and safe disposal coverage;
- Facilitative, in the sense that the role of the development agency is a temporary, enabling one, avoiding un-sustainably subsidising recurrent costs of functions in the delivery system;
- Participatory, in the sense that they seek to build on the capacity, processes and interests that exist among actors involved.
Urban WASH systems designed to ensure safe disposal of waste away from water sources are at great risk of natural hazards, especially those related to flooding, All the lengthy and costly efforts to improve health status by reducing or eliminate instances of water and vector borne disease can be undermined within hours by flooding, causing and exacerbating humanitarian emergencies. Resilience in urban WASH systems – robustness (resistance to shock), rapidity (response rate) redundancy (degree of slack in the system), resourcefulness (innovation in response) – is thus also a critical factor to consider as part of a long-term WASH-based health intervention.
Taking the example of flood risk, analysis involves answering the following questions and planning for flood scenarios:
- Where is the flood likely to take place, geo-spatially?
- What functions of water access and waste (especially faecal sludge) management are likely to be affected?
- Where are current disposal flows most likely to be disrupted and cause contamination?
- Which of these points are most likely to affect residents, especially most vulnerable groups?
Flood risk analysis should also be informed by the projected local impacts of climate change.
Building flood resilience in Urban WASH systems therefore involves:
Understanding Urban WASH systems and its core and supporting functions and enabling environment, where a market system lens is promising to take into account the economics of scalable and sustainable delivery;
Focusing on risk points in these systems where the flood’s likely geo-spatial coverage will affect WASH functions leading to disruption of safe disposal, contamination in areas used by residents, especially at vulnerable groups;
Making decisions about resilience building activities to build on the following dimensions of resilience at these risk points – robustness, rapidity, redundancy, and resourcefulness.
A final connection worth making, turning this issue back round to emergency response is the the Emergency Market Mapping and Analysis (EMMA) toolkit, where market systems are also at the centre of efforts to provide effect emergency response.No Comments » | Add your comment