Effective Planning of Sanitation Services for Urban Areas with Limited Utility Provision (IWA reference paper for NETSSAF)
Prepared by Darren Saywell
The UN estimates that some 611 million urban people lack access to ‘improved’ sanitation and many commentators agree that the actual number of people who don’t have access to reasonable sanitation in urban areas is actually much higher. Providing adequate urban sanitation services is becoming increasingly challenging because:
§ in many countries, particularly the poorest countries, cities are growing faster than services can be provided; and
§ cities are becoming increasingly informal – and characterized by unplanned and informal settlements
This challenge is concentrated in the poorest countries that lack the financial means to support widespread public investment, and in cities with nascent and underdeveloped utilities.
Despite the challenge many utilities and urban governments are charged with the responsibility of providing at least basic sanitation services to all their customers or citizens. In a climate of constrained access to capital these need to be effectively planned to provide the best possible value for money.
2. The need for Planning to be Effective
Effective planning of urban sanitation would result in the optimum use of available resources to meet at least the basic needs of all citizens/ consumers while providing the city as a whole with a technically, financially and socially sustainable system which safely separates humans from excreta and protects the wider environment.
The planner needs to start from a position of ‘technology neutrality’; seeking to find the best range of solutions to the problem at hand rather than to fit a pre-selected technology to the situation on the ground.
When conventional technical planning and design practices are employed they seem often to result in sub-optimum use of resources. They tend to:
§ focus on conventional reticulated sewerage, thus automatically precluding any households who do not have access to 24 hour water supply from benefiting and missing opportunities for cost-savings with more appropriate lower cost solutions;
§ result in investments that are heavily skewed towards downstream treatment;
§ result in highly ‘static’ plans that fail to reflect the gradual process of development of household demand for sanitation; and
§ pay inadequate attention to long-term operation and maintenance requirements often resulting in the construction of sanitation systems whose management and financing requirements far outstrip the capacity of the relevant agency.
The result is that investment may not result in better services for the majority of people who do not already have a ‘formal connection’ to a utility system.
The more natural process of developing cheaper local solutions first and then graduating to an improved system over time is precluded by the service-provider’s first decision to focus on a particular technology. The range of technologies that have been successfully deployed is enormous; from composting toilets to small bore sewers and including conventional systems. But all of the urban sanitation success stories in developing-utility situations have one thing in common; they are based on an approach which recognizes the gradual shift in behaviours and household investment patterns and make appropriate use of locally endorsed technologies.
The key is open-mindedness about what is going to work.
3. The Benefits of Good Planning
The incentives for better and more ‘responsive’ planning are clear:
§ it will result in a system that is more efficient at meeting the service objectives of the utility;
§ it will lead to more services reaching the poorest and the unserved – the development objectives of the financiers and government;
§ better results will generate confidence and increase the demand from the majority of poor households for more investment and more development; and
§ growing success will establish a credible technical and financial base for a new generation of utilities to meet the demands of the cities of the twenty-first century.
The cost of failure is high:
§ public health burdens rising uncontrollably, as they once threatened to do in the industrial heartlands of nineteenth century Europe; and
§ a further breakdown in the principles of equity and justice.
4. Considering the Whole City as the Basis of Planning
There are a wide range of interests and objectives which may come into play when an urban sanitation system is being planned. These variable interests arise partly because there are usually a number of ‘stakeholders’ or interested parties each of whom has a different perspective on the problem. For example, while the elected government of the municipality may have an over-riding interest in cleaning up the city and preventing outbreaks of disease, the river basin authority may be more interested in preventing pollutants from entering the basin system. Meanwhile the householder would appreciate being able to live in a clean street and have children who are not frequently sick with diarrhea. Beyond health and the environmental protection, other interests for different stakeholders may include:
· Economic development
· Improved water resources management
· Poverty reduction
· Improved urban planning or
· Reducing operational costs
These interests can only be truly balanced if they are properly articulated. Articulation is only possible if all the interests can be expressed – this often does not happen since planning is carried out away from the concerned householder or local ward government. Effective planning takes into account all these interests in a way which reflects the ‘domains’ of the city. Such domains will vary in different locations but are can be usefully categorized as:
· The Household - the personal sphere within which households (families, individuals, small units etc) take investment and behavioural decisions;
· The Neighbourhood/ ward/ district - a continuum of ‘areas’ within the city at which level households either act jointly, are jointly represented by the political process or can be organized for planning purposes;
· The City - the level at which services are centrally planned and organized, and financial decisions are taken; and
· Beyond the city - the sphere in which policy and practice is set which impacts onto decisions made at the city level.
Effective planners do more than play lip-service to these domains and their interests – they find ways to balance them or give them ‘voice’ in the decision making process. Consultation can be one vehicle for achieving this, but still the most important act of the effective planner is to truly consider the context into which systems are planned – including the interests, external factors and capacities which exist at these different levels.
5. Considering the Sanitation System as a Whole
In systems-terms sanitation consists of some combination of:
· A toilet
· Collection mechanism
· Transportation mechanism
· Treatment process
· Disposal/ re-use mechanism/ process.
Of course, technical choices made for each component of a system are highly interdependent (no engineer would suggest the need for a cartage approach if water closets are in use). But if technical assumptions are fixed and not challenged some of the objectives of the sanitation system may not be achievable and it is often at the household level that the failures are most evident.
The key step here is to identify what are the implications of the system right through the city from the outfall up to the toilet block. These may be;
§ managerial (who will empty those pit latrines, or clean those lane sewers?);
§ financial (who will pay the person who empties the pit or cleans the sewer?);
§ behavioural (do some communities want to re-use treated waste products for urban agriculture?); or simply
§ practical (is there water to flush the toilet? Is there room for a pit latrine?).
So rather than planning becoming more unified as technologies develop, the planner in fact needs more skill than ever before to balance the interests and technical challenges for the system as a whole. This must be done even while conventional challenges and constraints, arising from what might be considered more ‘conventional’ technical considerations including ground and groundwater conditions, availability of water, social practices, the need to handle grey water and stormwater, and ultimately the cost, still have to be taken into account.
6. In summary: Planning an Effective System
Finally the planner has to go back to the beginning and check whether what is proposed does in fact meet the requirements of the stakeholders right across the city. The crucial question which is not asked often enough is; will this system result in better access to basic but sustainable sanitation services for the household?
Effective planning in nascent-utility contexts requires a sea-change in the way technical decisions are taken, so that they can respond better to the human and political context in which they are made. Rather than trying to make use of ‘off the shelf’ technology designed in another context, planners need to draw on well-established principles of good planning and design practice from within the technical world and also from much thinking in the development world to;
§ analyze the objectives of a sanitation system across all domains of the city, including the household (other domains include the neighbourhood, city and beyond the city)
§ analyze the external drivers and contexts which impact on behaviours in each domain
§ analyze technical options in terms which relate elements of the system to these domains
§ assess the management requirements in each domain; and then
§ assess whether the proposed sanitation system will work and will result in services to people.
 Reference JMP and IIED
 Habitat reference
 The analysis will also vary enormously in different contexts which have differing institutional arrangements.
 In particular for example Albert Wright, <st1:stockticker w:st="on">SSP</st1:stockticker>, Roland Schertenleib/ John Kalbermatten, HCES, Steven Esrey Closing the Loop etc.