Water, sanitation and waste | Blogs

  • Why Bangladesh needs a new framework to deal with faecal sludge management

    October 23rd, 2014
    Pilot sludge treatment plant in Faridpur

    Pilot sludge treatment plant in Faridpur

    Bangladesh is considered a success story with regard to its efforts towards universal access to adequate water and sanitation in accordance with Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 7. The Joint Monitoring Programme reports published by UNICEF and WHO states that Bangladesh progressed and achieved 97% open defecation free (ODF) and use of fixed place site sanitation facilities (pits and tanks).But the sustainability of this open defecation free (ODF) achievement  is at stake because of lack of facilities and services to deal the  management and safe disposal of sludge.

    The responsibility of the sanitation services in Bangladesh lies with a number of agencies, the Water Supply & Sewerage Authority (WASA) in 4 big cities, the Department of Public Health Engineering (DPHE) and municipalities/cities in urban centers and rural areas.

    All of these agencies face constraints to deal growing faecal sludge management  problem – emptying, transportation and disposal. Dhaka’s WASA only has the facilities to treat the waste of 20% of the population in Dhaka city and others depend on municipalities and informal pit emptiers for emptying. The final destination of this collected and uncollected sludge from 98% of the population is the open environment which brings adverse impacts to public health.

    Sustainable faecal sludge management services is needed to take care of standards for containment, health and safety, appropriate technologies for collection, transportation and recycling of sludge, public private partnership protecting the participation of informal groups, pro poor business modelling, national awareness and capacity building.

    To achieve this Bangladesh urgently needs a coherent national regulatory framework , guidelines and action plans and a coordinated and integrated approach for effective and efficient implementation of these plans.

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  • A day with Kanchan

    Swarnima Shrestha
    October 17th, 2014

    I was waiting for the traffic jam to end at Teku, Kathmandu. On the sidewalk near the road, I saw a girl in school uniform on her way to school while I patiently waited on my scooter. I could not figure out why she looked so familiar – where had I seen her earlier? This 13/14 year old dark complexioned girl, with neat but unironed school uniform – where could have I met her? While my thoughts were occupied with these questions the traffic in front of me started moving – I quickly started my scooter and moved forward. But the girl was still on my mind – just then I realised where I had met her.

    Her memory took be back to Christmas Day last year – 25 December 2013, which was exactly when I had met her. I remember everything vividly.

    The Flashback …

    Kanchan in front of her house

    The girl I saw on the road was Kanchan Kumari Poddar, now 15. I remember visiting her home – a two roomed structure with one door and no windows (yes, not even a single window). The house was dark even in the day time. The door – only ventilation and the source of light for the entire house opened to a small passage where there was a heap of waste plastics. On the left side was a small room which was almost entirely filled by a bed and a table with a small television set. Straight ahead was another room, half of which was a kitchen with an area to cook and do dishes, there was a bed on a corner.

    A total of nine people shared these two rooms.

    Kanchan with her six sisters

    Kanchan with her six sisters

    Kanchan is the eldest among the total of seven children of her parents – all of whom are girls. Being the eldest, Kanchan is burdened with lots of responsibilities. Her parents work as Informal Waste Workers (IWWs) who are mostly busy collecting waste at different parts of the city.

    That day, I had spent quite some time with Kanchan at her home and neighbourhood. I was there to click her pictures (as a part of my work) and observe how she spends her day. She was busy taking care of her sisters, doing household chores and then studying if she got free from all that.

    She was a fourth grader when I met her. Kanchan used to be a waste picker like her parents and had started going to school only a few years ago when a project called PRISM started supporting her education. The project was being implemented by Practical Action to improve the lives of informal waste workers in Kathmandu valley. She had shared that she finds it hard to keep up with other students as she barely gets any time to study at home. But she sure was glad that she was finally going to school, which seemed like a distant dream in the past.

    For Kanchan’s mother, keeping all of her daughters properly fed was a priority – education was a luxury.

    The Change in the scene …

    After my work was over, I went straight to a movie theatre from there, where I attended a charity movie show. After the movie was over, I and a bunch of my friends went to Thamel – which welcomed us with a massive traffic jam. It seemed like a lot of young people- especially teenagers had gathered around Thamel to celebrate Christmas. It was about 10 pm. I was so overwhelmed to see such a large number of people gathered there. We went to a restaurant where we had booked a table, but that had already been occupied. So we went hopping from one place to another – and quite amazingly each and every restaurant, pub, and eatery at Thamel was packed. We had to come quite far across to a place which was at the end of Thamel to finally find a place to accommodate ourselves.

    While I could see the youngsters – clad in branded clothes, drinking imported liquors, enjoying international food – I could not stop thinking about Kanchan. That evening, I somehow felt guilty being a part of that crowd. While the colourful lights from a Christmas tree in the restaurant was being flashed in my eyes – all I could think of was the darkness inside Kanchan’s house.

    Has the rich-poor gap gone too wide? Probably, the world is full of inequalities – something that we have to live with and probably it will take a while for this to change.

    At present …

    But I choose not to lose hope – and also I feel glad that my work lets me play a small role to lessen this inequality.

    It’s been almost a year now that I first met Kanchan. The PRISM project is now over which means the financial support for her education must have stopped – but she still is in school. Thus, I would like to believe that, Kanchan will have a brighter future and life will not be as hard for her as it was for her parents. With her education to support her, I just hope that Kanchan will have a life with opportunities – not just inequalities.


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  • “Innovation” on low cost faecal sludge collection and transportation

    Sofrul Islam
    October 17th, 2014

    Safe management of faecal sludge is a big challenge for Bangladesh. Only Dhaka City has sewerage facilities for about 22% of the city, which is insignificant compared to the whole country.

    To manage this sludge, people mainly depend on an unsafe manual process which is bad for the environment. Sweepers mainly use traditional equipment like a bucket and rope to collect the sludge from the pit and dump into the nearby open water body, drain, or on open land which is harmful for their health and for others.

    vacutag3Most cities and towns have no management system for sewerage due to a lack of capacity, awareness and willingness.  One type of modern pit emptying equipment available in the market is Vacutag which is very much costly not only for the municipality but also for the private entrepreneur and sweeper.

    The MAWTS Vacutag is very expensive and loan providing institutions both public and private are not interested enough to provide financial support to entrepreneurs for providing this service as a business. In this context, we have developed a low cost 1300 liter capacity mechanized covered van  through our metal development center at Faridpur for sludge transportation to the treatment site and a submersible pump for sludge collection. The cost is around 180,000 Bangladesh Taka (£1454) for the mechanized van and 55000 Bangladesh Taka  (£444) for the submersible pump.

    This is being tested in the field by Practical Action

    Collected from: Dipok Chandra Roy, Programme Manager, Urban Services Programme

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  • Education should be the right of everyone

    Susan Wheeler
    October 16th, 2014

    In England our children often start nursery at 3 years of age, legally they have to be at ‘proper’ school by the age they are 5. I remember my daughter’s first day at ‘proper school’ her pinafore dress nearly sweeping the pavement as she toddled along book bag in hand. I felt extremely proud but nervous too, questions whizzing around in my mind, what happens if she hates it? She might be bullied? My mind was put at ease though as the only thing we had to contend with was the odd tummy ache and a grazed knee.

    hand washing at school, NepalIn the UK we are lucky enough to have a choice of schools and still have the right to appeal if our children don’t receive a place in the school of our choice. We conveniently lived right over the road from the village school, we literally rolled out of bed in the morning and there we were. For some children around the world their journey to school can involve a trek of several miles in all extremes of weather, they also run the risk of being kidnapped, blown up, raped or shot.  The story of Malala Yousafzai and her campaign for girl’s education that we are so familiar with really brings this reality home to us.

    My daughter’s school was bright and welcoming, with cosy classrooms equipped with books and electronic whiteboards. However, in remote areas around the globe lessons can be held virtually in the dark if the school has no form of power. It can be extremely difficult hiring teachers at schools with no electricity; understandably they prefer better equipped schools in the cities.

    To make matters worse  the school may have no toilet facilities, so children have to go to the toilet out in the open.  This is not only degrading but is a health hazard and can be harmful to the environment. With the lack of hand washing facilities children often become sick and miss valuable time at school. When the older girls have their period there are no sanitary facilities and they have to stay at home which further impacts on their studies.

    On the bright side, where toilets and hand washing facilities have been built there has been a real impact on absenteeism. The children are enthusiastic about their new facilities and pass the information on to their parents some who have in turn built their own latrines and follow good hand washing hygiene thus improving the well-being of the whole family. Practical Action works with communities to help this happen.

    The global injustice is that there are still an estimated 57 million children around the world that don’t even have a school to go to. How will these communities ever work their way out of poverty with no access to education?

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  • Gender, Water Access and Use

    Tendai Tendere
    October 16th, 2014

    Water is a need to all and has no substitute!

    More often than not there is confusion between gender equity and gender equality. Equity relates to the just and fair distribution of resources between women, men, girls and boys, whilst equality means the state of being equal in terms of enjoyment of rights, treatment, quantity or value, access to opportunities and outcomes including resources.

    With the rate at which urbanisation is occurring some people are observed to suffer than others hence inequality. Despite the fact that it is an urban community, some settlements present a health time bomb as they sprout without being serviced (water pipes and sewer pipes not yet connected to the site) as such they have great potential for disease outbreak and disaster. The sad part is that such settlers have no-where to resort to other than nearby streams which are highly risky and contaminated. They and can only sigh for relief when organisations such as Practical Action receive funding and come to chip in with assistance.

    Water access brings with it social, technical and economic repercussions. For ladies, menstrual hygiene, maternal and post natal care, household chores such as laundry, dishwashing are common and critical uses which require plenty of clean and safe water. Vulnerable groups such as pregnant women, the sick, under- fives as well as the disabled equally need a substantial amount of water. Boys and girls need water from as early as childhood for drinking, preparing food, bathing and washing. Gentlemen need water to address economic challenges in industry where they are involved in productive activities such as gardening, either large scale in irrigations or small gardens behind the house, construction and manufacturing. Water is needed to maintain environmental aesthetic conditions through green lawn, trees and blooming flowers. As such the whole society needs water in-order to function well.

    Whilst access to water is paramount in manufacturing, transport, education ,mining and textile industries, its management, use and disposal goes a long way in maintaining a sustainable society and ecosystem.  Practical Action Southern Africa through working with communities attempts to address the management of domestic water and its discharge.  How water users manage and disposal of liquid waste, contributes in determining access to safe drinking water which is a cause for concern especially in urban areas. The woman is most affected as she is responsible for household chores and is expected to fetch the water from far and near places. All the family needs is safe water and a ready meal at the end of the day. Practical Action is implementing a project that promotes participation of community members in discussing factors that influence access to water, its use as well as its disposal, thus ensuring sustainable management of the resource. Dialogue between the service providers and clients will empower urban communities in contributing to improvement access and use of the precious resource.

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  • The woes of inequality

    Sanjib Chaudhary
    October 16th, 2014

    What comes to your mind when you think about inequality? To me, it’s living in a sea of woes. Not because you are unworthy, but due to external factors that persist in the society and surroundings.

    Touch someone and be prepared to get ostracised
    I hail from a small village in Eastern Nepal and whenever I get to my native place, I like savouring local delicacies. While I was gulping down the mixture of puffed rice and chick-pea curry, an elderly man, in his late fifties approached the shopkeeper with a glass in his hand. The shopkeeper, keeping a distance from the man, poured tea from a kettle into his glass. With other customers, he would go to them with the glasses of tea and serve them with respect.

    I know both the men quite well. The tea-seller is a Haluwai whose traditional occupation is making sweets. Another man is a Dom whose traditional occupation is making household items from bamboo and rearing pigs. While the former is free to mingle with anybody, the latter is not even allowed to touch anybody. He is not even allowed to touch a hand-pump from where other people fetch and drink water. People still avoid touching him. And if by chance he touches anybody, he gets severe scolding and one who is touched runs towards a water source. To sprinkle water over his body in order to get purified.

    This is inequality to the extreme.

    Rare toilets and ubiquitous mobile phones
    The next thing that baffles me is the non-presence of toilets. In the urban areas almost every household has a toilet but it is a rare item here and people think having a toilet is leading a lavish lifestyle.

    This, to me, is inequality that can be addressed. In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi issued orders to construct 5.2 million toilets in 100 days which turns out to one toilet every second.

    While almost everybody here has a mobile set today, people are not willing to construct toilets in their backyards. Since they are able to afford buying mobile phones and bearing the expenses of recharging from time to time, they simply need cheaper toilets. A little bit of change in behaviour and technology support from government and non-government organisations.

    Electricity at night means no sleep at all
    Adding to the woes is the frequent electricity cut-downs. While rest of the country too faces the power-cuts, the problem here is extreme. It affects agriculture as well. The sea of wires across the fields to run electricity-powered pumps remains useless most of the times during the day. And while people sleep at night, the farmers are busy running their motorised pumps to irrigate their pieces of land.

    Coping with the inequalities
    In spite of living amongst inequalities, people here are cooperative and always smiling. The scenario of untouchability is changing. People now have started communicating properly with Doms and other so-called lower castes, thanks to the social change and awareness brought by different agencies. Practical Action has supported such communities in Nepal and Bangladesh as well.

    While toilets were wonder items in the village, people returning from the Gulf and other countries (where most go to work as menial labourers) have started building toilets. The variety of different technologies used by Practical Action, as appropriate to each community, will be helpful to improve sanitation and health.

    Treadle pump

    Treadle pump

    Practical Action offers simple solution to sleepless nights for the farmers. The introduction of treadle pumps has increased the income that farmers generate from their land, both by extending the traditional growing season and by expanding the types of crops that can be cultivated. Called dhiki pump, it can be operated by legs. No electricity required!

    People are happy that the situation is changing and I am proud that Practical Action is one of the change-makers.

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  • Uncounted and under-recognised: Inequalities in Urban Water and Sanitation

    One of the greatest challenges of the coming decades will be the ever growing number of people living in urban areas. More than half of us already live in cities, and by 2050 of a population of 9 billion, 6.3 billion of us will live in cities. Virtually all of the expected growth in the world population will be concentrated in the urban areas of the less developed regions.

    24412But let’s think about the implications of that for a moment in terms of the facilities that a city system needs to provide for its residents. If every year, Asian cities are growing by an estimated 40.4 million people, that means at least an extra 6.6 million tonnes of rubbish and 3.7 million tonnes of human faeces every year. We know that most of what is already produced remains untreated and flows directly into water bodies. In urban areas globally 2.1 billion people use toilets connected to septic tanks that are not safely emptied or use other systems that discharge raw sewage into open drains or surface waters. The people who have to live surrounded by all of this are, of course, the poor. The health implications are terrible – rates of under 5 mortality are higher than rural areas, and the under-nutrition related to repeated bouts of diarrhoea produces stunting and has live-long impacts on brain development.

    One challenge is that the reporting of access to water and sanitation routinely under-reports the severity of these challenges.

    • Global monitoring systems for access to water and sanitation do not disaggregate for slum populations compared to the rest of the city
    • Poverty lines don’t recognise the additional cost of meeting a basic standard of living in urban areas so people are counted as ‘above’ the poverty line – when they are unable to fulfil their basic needs
    • Investments in WASH don’t reach those who need it most
    • Definitions of ‘improved’ water and sanitation aren’t adequate for urban populations. People may be counted as having ‘improved’ access to water when all they have is a stand pipe with contaminated water that only runs for a few hours a day, or a few days a week.

    One of the reasons for progress on the MDG on access to Water and Sanitation has been that we have been able to count and track what is happening. The data available have begun to highlight how far behind we are on sanitation, and that significant inequalities remain. The power of data needs to highlight the massive inequalities within urban areas between rich and poor.

    It’s good to see that the Open Working Group report for post-2015 development framework recognises that water safety – not just access – is important. Also that it talks about ‘halving the proportion of untreated wastewater’, achieving adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and ending open defecation.

    15234If national surveys are unable to collect information on slums, the good news is that poor people are already doing it – because they too understand the value of counting and being counted. The enumerations carried out by slum dweller communities, highlighted through the recent #knowyourcity campaign is one illustration of this. We should be doing more to bring this evidence together and shine a light on what it is telling us about the real situation on the ground, to galvanise more action on a problem that is only going to grow in the next twenty years.

    Practical Action is proud to have recognised this issue and chosen to focus its WASH and Waste Management programme on the needs of the urban poor. We are committed to continuing to highlight the problem, demonstrate and promote practical and innovate solutions to tackling it, and advocating for changes in policies and investments that will really make a difference.

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  • A qui appartient le Nil ?

    Le Nil traverse huit pays d’Afrique et chacun de ces pays revendique sa part du fleuve en investissant dans de gros projets.

    Le barrage Grand Renaissance
    Le Nil bleu prend sa source en Ethiopie, un pays qui avait jusqu’à maintenant largement sous-exploité le fleuve pour l’irrigation ou la production d’électricité . Aujourd’huit, l’Ethiopie s’est lancée  dans la construction du plus grand barrage hydroélectrique d’Afrique, en détournant une partie isolée du fleuve. L’idée est alléchante, car Les turbines vont permettre de tripler la production d’électricité dans un pays ou seulement 1/5ème de la population y a accès. On imagine facilement l’impact positif que ce projet peut avoir sur la santé, l’éducation et le développement des petites entreprises dans le pays.

    Mais le prix à payer est élevé : il inclue le déplacement de tribus, l’impact sur la nature, et pire encore, les tensions politiques que ce projet a déclenchées. Les 85 millions d’égyptiens en aval se demandent si leur partie du fleuve va s’appauvrir. L’Ethiopie se veut rassurante, en affirmant que l’eau utilisée dans les turbines sera entièrement rejetée. Mais L’Egypte refuse catégoriquement la possibilité de perdre le contrôle du flux du fleuve, et menace de détruire le barrage en revendiquant son droit historique. En effet, un traité colonial britannique a accordé en 1929 un droit de véto à l’Egypte sur tout projet en amont du fleuve. Le traité a été modifié ensuite pour déléguer une partie de ce pouvoir au Soudan. L’Ethiopie et les autres pays traversés par le Nil ne disposent d’aucun droit.

    En Ethiopie, le barrage Grand Renaissance va permettre au pays de tripler sa production d’électricité(photo ethiovision.com)

    Le Nil sous pression
    Voici un autre exemple de partage forcé du fleuve : l’agriculture intensive. J’admirais les photos aériennes des crop circles sans en mesurer l’impact. Dans les plaines assoiffées du Soudan, sur le plus long tronçon du Nil, a surgi un oasis artificiel de 9000 hectares. L’idée : détourner les eaux du Nil pour permettre l’irrigation de 102 cercles de verdure créés grâce à de gigantesques irrigateurs à pivot central. On pourrait penser qu’il s’agit d’une solution pour mettre un terme aux problèmes de malnutrition. Eh bien, non ! Non seulement on y produit uniquement de la luzerne pour l’alimentation animale, mais le produit de cette culture ne bénéfice pas aux Soudanais. Ce sont leurs riches voisins des états du Golfe Persique qui en profitent.

    De gigantesques cercles de verdure sont créés grâce à des irrigateurs à pivot (Image courtesy Robert Simmon and Jesse Allen, USGS/NASA)

    De gigantesques cercles de verdure sont créés grâce à des irrigateurs à pivot (Image courtesy Robert Simmon and Jesse Allen, USGS/NASA)

    On mesure parfaitement les tensions que ces développements suscitent. Les habitants des rives du Nil vont devoir se concerter tôt ou tard pour s’assurer une répartition équitable des eaux du fleuve et permettre un développement durable dans ces régions, ou s’habituer à voir le débit du Nil diminuer grandement dans les prochaines années.

    La BBC a réalisé un documentaire sur BBC iPlayer (Sacred Rivers with Simon Reeves)

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  • Handwashing with soap – more relevant than ever

    On 15th October, people in oct15-engmore than 80 countries are celebrating Global Handwashing Day.  With impacts reaching far beyond the day itself, the event raises awareness that hand washing with soap, such a simple gesture, can save lives.

    The battle against Ebola highlights once again how important this practice is for preventing disease. Handwashing with soap is one of the cheapest and most effective ways to « self-vaccinate» against the transmission of viral diseases according to Sanjay Wjiesekera head of UNICEF’s global water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programmes. “Our teams on the ground in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea are stressing the importance of handwashing as part of a raft of measures that are needed to halt the spread of Ebola. It is not a magic bullet, but it is a means of additional defence which is cheap and readily available.

    One more reason to redouble our efforts to ensure hand washing with soap is firmly anchored in the habits of every man, woman and child – everyone, everywhere, at all times.

    Prevention is better than cure!



    tippy tapThe Tippy-Tap is a simple device to wash hands where there is no running water.

    You can find instructions to make a Tippy-Tap  in our collection of technical briefs at Practical Answers



    To read about Practical Action’s work to improve access to safe water and sanitation visit: http://practicalaction.org/urban-water-sanitation-waste

    To support our work visit: http://practicalaction.org/make-a-donation

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  • Se laver les mains au savon – plus pertinent que jamais

    oct-15-2Ce 15 octobre, dans plus de 80 pays, on célèbrera la Journée mondiale de lavage des mains au savon.  Bien plus qu’une simple journée, cet événement permet de sensibiliser les personnes à un geste simple, qui peut sauver des vies.

    La lutte contre l’épidémie d’Ebola souligne à nouveau l’importance de cette pratique dans la prévention des maladies. Se laver les mains avec du savon est une des méthodes les moins chères et plus efficaces de « se vacciner » contre la transmission des maladies virales selon Sanjay Wjiesekera chef du programme mondial d’eau et d’assainissement de l’UNICF – « nos équipes sur le terrain en Sierra Leone, au Libéria et en Guinée soulignent l’importance du lavage des mains dans le cadre d’une série de mesures qui sont nécessaires pour enrayer la propagation du virus Ebola. Ce n’est pas une solution miracle, mais c’est un moyen de défense supplémentaire qui et facilement disponible et qui n’est pas cher ».

    Une raison de plus de redoubler les efforts visant à enraciner l’habitude de se laver les mains au savon  – l’enraciner dans les habitudes de tous et de toutes, à tout moment et partout.

    Prévenir vaut mieux que guérir !



     Ltippy tape Tippy-Tap est un appareil simple qui permet de se laver les mains dans les situations où il n’y pas d’eau courante.

    Télécharger les instructions pour fabriquer un Tippy-Tap

    ou parcourir d’autres ressources sur notre site Réponses Pratiques


    Pour davantage de ressources en français sur le lavage des mains, consulter Pedag-eau

    Pour lire plus sur le travail de Practical Action dans le domaine de l’eau et de l’assainissement visiter notre site principal : http://practicalaction.org/urban-water-sanitation-waste (en anglais)

    Pour soutenir notre travail visiter : http://practicalaction.org/make-a-donation

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