FSM in Bangladesh: How to operationalize the Institutional and Regulatory Framework?


March 28th, 2018

Bangladesh is considered a role model in the world for its achievement in providing access to sanitation for all. Currently, more than 99% of people in Bangladesh use toilets. The positive progress has created challenges. Issues such as how to empty the toilets, and how to deal safely with the faecal sludge need to be addressed. Manual emptying by informal workers, and indiscriminate and untreated disposal lead to serious environmental pollution and bring adverse impacts on water quality and public health. The informal emptiers have a big role in the current Faecal Sludge Management (FSM) market system but their dignity and working environment is a big issue.

Last year (2017), the Government of Bangladesh published an Institutional Regulatory Framework (IRF) setting out the roles, responsibilities and coordination of different agencies (i.e Department of Public Health and Engineering, Utility Companies – WASAs, Urban and Rural Government Institutes & private sector) to tackle the FSM challenges. The framework was developed collaboratively by ITN-BUET (Centre for Water Supply and Waste Management), Practical Action and others and includes many of the key issues Practical Action wanted to see promoted. The initiative is highly appreciated by the global development partners. The burning issue now is how to operationalize this framework and bring visible and tangible impact on the ground.

The country is yet to develop solutions which are proven to be technically feasible and reliable, socially acceptable, financially and economically viable and can be managed by the existing institutions. However, a number of organizations is doing research, innovations, piloting and demonstration work to create the evidence of the whole FSM service and value chain – including containment, emptying, transportation and treatment of sludge for resource recovery and its market promotion. These endeavors, including our own in Faridpur, have created useful examples and provided evidence in particular circumstances but are yet to go to scale. One of the biggest learnings from these initiatives is that capacities are limited at all tiers i.e. grass roots, local, sub national and national level to improve FSM and to operationalize IRF.  

The government is not short of resources, and could invest in scaling up solutions for greening the economy and for sustainable growth. The most recent example is the Padma Multi-Purpose Bridge, the biggest infrastructural development project,  which the country developed without any financial assistance from external development partners.

The time has come to think how we can build national, sub national and local capacity in an integrated, holistic and coordinated way to operationalize the IRF.

A national capacity building program needs to address different aspects and engage many stakeholders. For example, changes in behavior and community practices for safe disposal of sludge is a big issue. Both social and electronic media has a significant role in popularizing messages to call for actions to stop unsafe disposal. However, the businesses are not properly orientated and they lack capacity.

Informal groups, small and medium entrepreneurs and large scale private companies can play a big role in operating the business of improving the FSM services and treatment businesses. The local authority can invite the private sector and can create public private partnerships to leverage resources to improve the services. However, their institutional capacity is not up to the mark for design, development, management and monitoring this partnership.

The professional capacity of consulting firms to design context specific appropriate FSM schemes is also an issue. The contractors that are responsible for construction of the faecal sludge treatment plant, secondary transfer stations and other physical facilities are yet to be developed. Similarly, the capacity of local manufacturers to fabricate pumps, machines and vehicles to empty and to transfer the sludge to the disposal sites is yet to be developed. Last but not least, finance institutions (including development banks, climate and green financing agencies, micro financing organizations) need to understand the sector better and focus on building their capacities to make sure there is enough investment to tackle the issues on FSM. The Department of Environment (DoE) needs to be on board for setting and regulating standards for improved FSM. Research & development capacity is extremely limited, especially when it comes to researching different aspects – particularly social, economic, environmental and health aspects. The Government should have a National Plan of Action for effective implementation of IRF on the ground.

The emerging question is how to build this local and national capacity to optimize the impact from the current and future investment programs around FSM by the Government of Bangladesh and their lending partners Asian Development Bank and the World Bank. This capacity building is a big responsibility and cannot be delivered by any single organization alone.

The country urgently needs to form a coalition/consortium of FSM organizations – led by Policy Support Branch of the Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development & Cooperatives. These parties can designate and hire credible organizations to make a good action plan for short, medium and long term in participation with all stakeholders. This consortium should utilize the comparative strength of each organization and the organizations should not compete with each other. Practical Action is keen to play a part in such a consortium, drawing from our experiences on the ground, and our knowledge of ‘where capacities are lacking’ and ‘what are the best ways of building them.

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