Challenges of Urban Sanitation

Dr. Akepati S. Reddy Thapar Research Laboratories Thapar University Patiala (PUNJAB) – 147 004

Years 2005 to 2015 is the International Decade for Action ‘Water for Life’. To halve the proportion of people without access to basic sanitation is one of the three primary goals of this decade of water for life. Halving, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation is one of the targets set towards achieving the UN millennium development goals (MDG). At the UN Millennium Summit (Sept. 2000), over 190 world countries have agreed on 8 millennium development goals and 18 targets. Providing access to basic sanitation is included in the 10th target under the 7th MDG ‘Ensure Environmental Sustainability’. Year of reference for this basic sanitation goal is 1990. For meeting the sanitation target everyday upto 2015, 370 thousand additional people should gain access to improved sanitation. Our challenges of the water for life decade on the sanitation front in meeting the MDG target are 1) pushing ahead and taking care of the huge backlog of rural people unserved, and 2) accelerating our efforts in urban areas to keep pace the rising urban population. In 2004, only 39% of the world’s rural population was having access to improved sanitation. In 1990 it was 26%, and if the current trend continues it may raise to 49% by 2015. For South-Asian countries these figures are 8 and 27 for 1990 and 2004 respectively. For India the situation is still grim. In 1990 only 3% were served and by 2004 it raised to 22%. In 1990, 79% of the world’s urban population had access to improved sanitation. By 2004, access for improved sanitation has risen to 80% and, if the current trends continue, it may raise to 82%. For South-Asian countries, these figures are 54 and 63 for 1990 and 2004 respectively. In India, urban population having access to improved sanitation was 45% in 1990 and has risen to 59% by 2004. Despite growing percentage of people gaining access to improved sanitation, unserved urban population is increasing due to rapid urbanization. Globally, in 1990, there were 475 million unserved people. In 2004 this number has raised to 611 million, and it may raise to 692 million by 2015. In India also, the unserved urban population is increasing. It was 121 million in 1990 and this number rised to 125 million by 2004.

Beyond 2007 more than 50% of the world population will be urban. Most of the urban population growth will be occurring in developing countries that too in the unplanned and underserved slums. Sanitation coverage of urban slums is much below the average of the urban areas. High population density, poor urban infrastructure, lack of space, lack of secure tenure and sustained poverty make sanitation in slums very critical. This is making urban sanitation, specially, in urban slums all the more important. More than 25% of the urbanites of developing countries will remain unserved. Even those urbanites, who are covered are facing a different set of challenges. The sanitation infrastructure is falling into despair as a result of inadequate institutional support, insufficient cost recovery, poor operation and maintenance and from lack of sound management practices. Current trends indicate that we may fail to meet the urban sanitation challenge. Satisfying the sanitation needs of urban poor and the urban slums will continue to prevail as one of the greatest humanitarian challenges. In this talk I will try to analyse the challenges faced by urban sanitation and discuss the strategies that can be followed for meeting the challenges and achieving the millennium development goal and basic sanitation target by 2015.

Sanitation is defined by world health organization as the means of collection and disposal excreta and community liquid waste in a hygienic way so as not to endanger the health of individuals or the community as whole. Sanitation in its narrow sense can be considered to include safe disposal of human and animal excreta, wastewater and solid waste and drainage. Convenient toilets and sewerage systems are central to urban sanitation. Basic sanitation is defined as the lowest cost option for securing sustainable access to safe, hygienic and convenient facilities and services for excreta and sullage disposal that provides privacy and dignity while ensuring a clean and healthful living environment both at home and in the neighborhood of users. Sanitation together with safe drinking water and good hygiene practices is a key defense against disease. Inadequate sanitation results in sickness and death, higher health costs, lower worker productivity and denial of the right of people to live in dignity. Hundreds of millions of people are debilitated by illness, pain and discomfort and around 1.6 million people die annually from lack of safe drinking water and sanitation. This number is 8 times to the number of deaths from the Asian Tsunami, 2004. Of the people about one million are infants and children of less than 5 years age.

Challenges of urban sanitation

Today urban sanitation is caught in the debate between the following schools of thought: a) people have right to a clean and safe environment and government must provide sanitation for free; and 2) sanitation serves both social and economical good (health related expenses are reduced and keep people fit to be productive and earn money), and hence people should pay for the sanitation service. Our urban environment is rapidly changing but the technologies and approaches used for sanitation are not changing. We are still depending on years old engineering and infrastructure solutions. Further, we are excessively depending on the practices and standards of the developed world. Use of technologies that consume large amounts of water and generate large amounts wastewater and waste management through storage, flushing and disposal has been the approach followed in our cities. Urban sanitation is characterized by infrastructure including vast number of toilets, sewerage systems, functional sewage treatment plants and treated effluent disposal facilities. Investment required for creating this infrastructure is very high (reported as 5 times to that needed for providing safe water supply service). Further, these infrastructure projects have longer project cycles (policy making, mobilization of resources, planning and design, construction, and operation and maintenance of sanitation system). In essence, expansion and sustainability of sanitation is costlier. Issue of old, fragmented and deteriorated sewerage and drainage system is another challenge mostly originated from the speedy urbanization. Shortage of funding and technological resources, week institutional arrangements and management capacity and lack of public awareness are mostly responsible for this challenge. Not having a good sanitation policy, and when present, not strictly implementing the policy have been serious problems. Almost non-existing legal and institutional framework, and utilities not being sufficiently autonomous and accountable have been the other important problems suffered by the urban sanitation sector. Mostly publicly (local government) run utilities (which are normally monopolies) provide sanitation services. These utilities mostly disregard the regulations even if they are in place.

Strategies and solutions
Looking for alternatives to the costly major infrastructure: Alternatives are available at all stages of sanitation (toilets, excreta or sullage collection, treatment and disposal). 3R strategy (reduce – reduce volume and improve quality, reuse and recycle) that gained endorsement at the G8 summit of 2004 can guide our choice of alternatives. Alternatives can be different for households, for shared facilities, for communal facilities and for central systems of collection, treatment and disposal. Segregation and safe reuse of grey water at the household level (hydroponics and kitchen

gardening), minimizing water use in toilets, etc., can prove very effective. Toilets consume about 30% and even more of the water supplied to a household, and use of low flow toilets or the concept of dry sanitation (dry toilets) can dramatically reduce silage generation. Treated municipal wastewater can be recycled and reused in agricultural and industrial systems. Adapting Ecosan (ecological sanitation): Ecosan is based on the systematic reuse and recycling of nutrients, organics and water as a hygienically safe, closed loop and holistic alternative to conventional sanitation. Key features of ecosan are 1) prevention of pollution and disease caused by excreta, 2) managing excreta as a resource, and 3) recovery and recycling of nutrients. Innovative toilet designs are used here for collecting the excreta separately for processing to reduce volume, weight and pathogens and composting. Greater emphasis on soft approaches: There are two approaches for solving problems: hard approach and soft approach. Engineers tend to solve sanitation problems by hard approach through building infrastructure capacity. Social scientists think about solving the problem by soft approach through building human capacity. Soft approach, involving awareness and capacity building, can make sanitation services cheaper and the sanitation infrastructure effective and sustainable. Soft approach should become integral part of the sanitation infrastructure project and play complementary role. People paying for the sanitation service: If people have right for sanitation then sanitation should be provided fee of cost. Even if sanitation is considered as a social and economic good, majority of urban population, specially, the urban poor and the slum dwellers, may neither have ability to pay nor can they afford to pay for the sanitation services. But social marketing of sanitation can make people willing to pay for the sanitation services. Increasing community language and understanding of sanitation and its linkages to health can stimulate demand for sanitation and make people willing to pay. Formulation of good sanitation policy: central and/or state government should formulate sanitation policy and guidelines. All the people and agencies, who play critical role in the policy implementation should be involved in the policy formulation. While framing the policy due consideration should be given to the resources required for its implementation and to the capacities of the policy implementing agencies. The formulated policy should provide base for the creation of legal and institutional framework. It should indicate the roles and responsibilities of different players involved in providing the sanitation service. Further, the policy should indicate its financial implications to all the stakeholders (central and state governments, local governments, utilities and people). Implementation of the policy and monitoring of compliance with it can be the local government’s responsibility. Legal framework: legislation and regulations should provide for the monitoring of compliance with the sanitation policy and adequacy and

appropriateness of the service, and should adequately establish the roles and responsibilities of utilities. Regulations should control the utilities (which are normally monopolies) and the quality and standard of service provided by them. Through approving tariff levels regulations should ensure that the utilities have the resources for sustainability while taking affordability of users of service into consideration. Regulations should be applicable equally well to both private sector utilities and publicly run utilities by local governments. Institutional framework and capacity development: Institutional framework should provide for awareness and capacity development. It should provide for the setting, implementing and monitoring of regulations and standards. It should also provide for the social marketing of sanitation services. Capacity building or development should work in the direction of taking maximum advantage of the soft approaches for expansion and sustaining of urban sanitation. Institutional frame work and capacity development should encourage community approach for sanitation and involve all stakeholders in providing cost-effective sanitation service. Utilities should be autonomous and accountable service providers: For sustainability utilities should have freedom to set tariffs, to hire and fire and compensate their staff and to purchase needed equipment and materials needed in the providing of sanitation service. Further, the utilities should be run along commercial principles (maximize efficiencies and tariff collection). Government’s and political interference into the autonomy of the utilities should be minimized or altogether avoided. Use of technology that is easy for the communities to use, maintain and repair.

Concluding remarks
Preferring clean, healthy and productive environment is a basic human nature. People want that they are involved in the decisions that affect them. community mobilization, equipping people with necessary information and involvement of people in decision making can lay a strong foundation for sustainable sanitation. Sanitation should not be seen in isolation. Integration of sanitation, hygiene and safe drinking water is needed. Community should be made aware of the strong linkage among personal hygiene, safe water supply, sanitation, drainage and municipal solid waste management desired outcome.

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