2.4 BILLION PEOPLE or one in three of the global population lack improved sanitation facilities, 663 MILLION PEOPLE lack improved drinking water sources and a staggering 946 MILLION PEOPLE had no alternative to practising open defecation. These are depressing figures especially considering they were from 2015. Apologies for starting the blog on such a downer but if people only read one sentence in this entire blog it needs to be these sad statistics. Please click on the report cover below to see the figures quoted.
The question has to be asked if industrial scale production of the flushing toilet has occured since the midle of the 19th century, and if sewage systems and aquaducts date back to the Roman Empire then why are so many people going without to this day? If that question had a simple answer the world would be a very different place. From the perspective of an engineer the basic design and logistical challenges are minor. The technology is well developed, undertood, and widely deployed in the developed world.
So again I repeat, if the technology and knowledge is there what is the problem? This seems to be a chronic symptom of western culture trying to help out other societies. We assume our way is the best way and are generally ignorant of the local customs and infrastructure. A classic example of this is installing ceramic toilets in a location with no sewerage system or providing a water well or purifier for a community that is too far away for people to practically use.
It is therefore necessary for engineers and decision makers not to focus so much on the technical aspect but the social side of problems. This is where the emergence, and almost universal acceptance of, social media platforms has created one of the most powerful weapons in our present day armoury. It can be used to disseminate information in a bite-size format that is digestable by the masses, providing a call to action without overwhelming and disillusioning people. However if used improperly it can unfortunately cause people to have a sense of accomplishment for merely “liking”, “sharing” or “retweeting” etc. It is therefore the role of “social-innovators”, skilled users of social media, to enact change and develop solutions tailored to these developing countries.
In developed countries there are three main types of human waste treatment: Sewerage systems; which are expensive to install and maintain and are unable to cope with sudden population influxes e.g. refugee camps, Septic tanks; which require appropriate soil types and land to use them on, and Latrines; i.e. long drops which fill quickly especially if community use and don’t actually treat the waste and can harbour disease.
Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS)
CLTS is an innovative whereby rather than just throwing equipment and infrastructure at the problem education and a collective sense of ownership of the problem are used as mitigation. For example in the Simaye village in Mali, Two facilitators demonstrated how open defecation was contaminating there limited water sources which was resulting in diarrhea and children suffering. As expected this garnered a feeling of disgust in the village, which as desired caused social pressure on those who practiced open-defecation.
Organisations such as Sanergy have developed a vertically integrated, add-value sanitation chain, which is as follows:
- Sanergy build and install small toilet facilitiesin communities or villages.
- The facilities are then either pay-per-use; if bought by an entrepeneur, residental; allowing safe and private use, or community installations; in areas such as schools and churches.
- Waste is collected daily in replaceable cartridges which are small enough to be man portable, allowing service in very remote villages that lack road access.
- Waste is converted to organic fertiliserm animal feed and renewable energy at a centralised facility,
- The final add-value products are then sold distributed to customers, mainly farmers in Kenya.
Social Enterprise Services
A similar concept is that of Sanivation: Sanitation as a Service, whereby Sanivation install container based toilets and rather than an upfront fee a small service fee is charged monthly. To then further reduce the environmental impact rather than dumping the waste it is converted into a charcoal alternative that is clean burning. The sale of this alternative fuel source allows the service fee to be minimised.
Social Innovation Efficacy
As stated earlier access to improved drinking water and waste water management strategies ARE a global issue, with diminished quality of life for literally billions of people. However the global strategy of well-to-do governments throwing cash incentives, rebates, subsidies etc while definitely having a noticeable impact doesn’t achieve as much as it could. This is where these siginificantly smaller players are tackling a global problem on a village scale, and appear to be making serious progress. The cynical advantage of having many smaller organisation rather than large NGOs is the distributed risk. If one particular village suffers corruption or incompetence it only affects that village rather than potentially an entire nation.
By The Numbers
Sanergy has had a demonstrable effect with 1,134 active installations in settlements, with 53,436 daily uses. This use of which has produced 2,467 metric tons of waste that has been treated and disposed of rather than endangering the community. Sanergy directly employs 251 personnel with an additional 659 jobs created in the serviced villages.
In the context of the millions without proper sanitation, 50000 uses is pretty much inconsequential, however not only is it a business model that is easy to expand it is easy to say that the difference in quality of life to these communities is far from consequential.
I therefore see the positives these initiatives can and have achieved on a (very) local scale and believe that this is the way forward.
(Also as an update