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Water articles are written by ADB staff and external contributors on various water issues, reforms, and good practices.
Healthy Households, Communities, and Rivers: Who Is Making the Connection?
By Wouter Lincklaen Arriens
Lead Water Resources Specialist, ADB
“Another day starts in Oodaikuppam, a marginalized community perched on the beach in Chennai,” said the narrator of a film 1 on the dire need for sanitation (read: toilets) I saw recently. “Men trek to the beach for open defecation, and women have to walk 1.5 kilometers to a municipal latrine.” SANITATION INVESTMENTS NEEDED With an estimated 1.8 billion people still lacking “improved sanitation,” the Asia-Pacific region falls short of target 10 of the Millennium Development Goals. A toilet in every house means dignity for all. Local voices tell the story. According to Baby Nanda, “It was a problem to go out and find a place in the filth and with the city growing every day, there was no privacy anywhere.” Nanda became the first resident in Bhopal’s Satnami Nagar community to have a toilet in her house. 2 Sanitation does not end with household toilets. Lack of wastewater treatment adds to the problem. Water pollution has long been regarded as Asia’s top environmental challenge. It affects entire communities, streams, and rivers. “Sanitation needs to be understood as everyone’s problem,” explains Ronald Muaña of Manila Water Company Inc., whose website states that “in Metro Manila, all major river systems are biologically dead.” Dead rivers used to be found in most developed countries too, yet many have been cleaned up. Visit Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Brisbane, or Melbourne, and you see the results. As the International Year of Sanitation 2008 draws near, more attention will be given to investments in toilets to help end the daily shame of women and girls who suffer indignity without such facilities. It should not stop there. Investments are also needed for collecting and treating wastewater and solid waste to transform smelly and unhealthy communities and usher in economic prosperity, and to clean up filthy and dead rivers full of trash and wastewater. LOCAL SANITATION INITIATIVES The good news is that all over the region, innovative work is already ongoing at the local level to change the status quo and start creating healthy households, communities, and rivers. Such local initiatives can serve as inspiration for communities elsewhere in the region to invest in sanitation.
Pakistan. Relief organizations installed toilets in village homes after a massive earthquake devastated the country’s northern region in October 2005. The impact in communities has been significant. “Since we started using the toilet, we cannot even think of life without one now,” said 70-year old Qasim Jan. 2 Elsewhere in the country, local trader Maqsood Nabi said, “Nullah Lai is the shame of Rawalpindi.” A project to clean up the Nullah Lai waterway has started by installing garbage collection points on its banks.2 India. Joe Madiath of Gram Vikas has won praise for helping hundreds of villages achieve 100 percent sanitation coverage. Gram Vikas, a nongovernment organization, insists that total village participation is necessary. Its approach may well be a key to success for other communities in the region that are aspiring to increase sanitation coverage. Maldives. The country’s capital Malé has achieved 100 percent sanitation coverage, and is now promoting sanitation investments in the outlying rural island communities. Philippines. San Fernando City adopted ecological sanitation (ecosan) toilets in combination with waste ventures to promote urban agriculture and toilet manufacture. It also lobbied for ecosan recognition in the Philippines’ Clean Water Act. One community in the city has now prohibited open defecation along the seashore and in public places, and the city is formulating a 10-year sanitation plan. In Caloocan City’s Barangay 169, ADB’s Smarter Sanitation toolkit helped the community to choose an appropriate wastewater treatment solution to stop untreated wastewater flowing from failing septic tanks into a nearby creek. When citizens complained that Lilo-an City’s sublime beaches turned dirty from untreated waste discharge of its public market, the mayor took action to implement a decentralized wastewater treatment system. In the capital Manila, wastewater management is addressed in stages, starting with affordable service for desludging septic tanks, and transforming communal septic tanks into decentralized plants capable of secondary and tertiary treatment before the water is released into waterways.
A team of Philippine and Japanese engineers is showing how solid waste can be used to clean up household wastewater, which contributes half of the country’s water pollution. And a project is about to demonstrate the use of low-cost technology for removing mercury in the Bulacan river north of Manila. Nepal. Cleaning up Madhyapur Thimi’s river proved a challenge after failed sanitation systems increased river pollution. The Environment and Public Health Organization (ENPHO) rose to the challenge of assisting local communities with ecosan toilets and reed bed treatment systems at the tail end of city sewer outlets. Viet Nam. Peri-urban communes like Kieu Ky on the outskirts of Hanoi are identifying an appropriate waste collection and treatment system. The country is revising its regulations for financing wastewater treatment. People’s Republic of China. A public awareness campaign in Fuzhou City’s Nantai Island community has changed community mindsets to clean up their rivers. Less than 15 percent of the country’s population is connected to wastewater treatment plants, and the government plans to invest up to $30 billion to change this, partly through build-operate-transfer schemes. The Suzhou Creek project in Shanghai has become a model for cleaning up urban rivers. After the government’s investment, the citizens now face and embrace the river instead of turning their back on it. Communities elsewhere might start off by embracing their river and deciding to stop using it as a sewer. MAKING THE CONNECTION These and other stories show that local initiatives can produce significant results. And as the region mobilizes to increase sanitation investments, some important messages are also coming through. First, a toilet in each household brings dignity for all. Second, community leaders can make a big difference in catalyzing sanitation when they decide not to leave anyone behind. Changing mindsets is critical. And third, examples in developing and developed countries show that dead rivers can be restored to life when government and citizens turn to face and embrace their river, and invest in cleaning up their wastewater and solid waste. Sanitation starts in households, but doesn’t stop there. The challenge continues with cleaning up entire communities and their discharge into waterways. Making that connection is key to creating healthy households, communities, and rivers. “Healthy river, healthy people,” said a slogan of Fuzhou’s Nantai island project. It can be done, starting with toilets.
From “Crossing Boundaries” at the 2007 Stockholm World Water Week. From Asia Water Wire.
Wouter Lincklaen Arriens is the Lead Water Resources Specialist of the Asian Development Bank (ADB). Since 1994, he has coordinated ADB's work to support its member countries in water policies, reforms, knowledege management, capacity development, and regional cooperation. He serves as ADB spokesperson for water work, and recently coordinated the preparation of ADB's Water Financing Program 2006-2010, which seeks to double investments and results in rural and urban water services and water resources management in river basins. In this column, Wouter contributes his thoughts on water challenges and solution strategies in the Asia-Pacific region. *This article was first published online at ADB's Water for All website in October 2007: http://www.adb.org/water/articles/2007/WoW-Healthy-Households-Communities-Rivers.asp.
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