An environment engineer shows how sanitation safety planning helped Kochi Municipal Corp

An environment engineer shows how sanitation safety planning helped Kochi Municipal Corp

Nearly 4.2 bln people do not have access to safe sanitation; sanitation safety planning is a risk-based technique that can help mitigate health risks

This is the first in a three-part series from the impact workshop conducted by Centre for Science and Environment under School of Water and Waste programme to mainstream sustainable urban water management for creating future sanitation leaders

Universal access to adequate sanitation is a fundamental need and human right, but around 4.2 billion people do not have access to it. These people, therefore, defecate in the open, putting themselves in the way of a myriad of diseases.

A crucial approach that helps mitigate health risks posed by unsafe sanitation practices is sanitation safety planning (SSP): A step-by-step risk-based technique that assists implementation of local-level risk assessment and management for an entire sanitation service chain.

SSP can be applied to all sanitation systems to ensure they are managed to meet the health objectives. The School of Water and Waste (SWW), a capacity-building initiative under Delhi-based think tank Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has been promoting the concept.

It has been doing so in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO). Ratish Menon, associate professor (environmental engineering), SCMS School of Engineering and Technology, Kerala, carried out SSP study at two wards of Kochi Municipal Corporation (KMC) in line with the WHO guidelines.

The SSP approach can contribute towards Target 3 of Goal 6 (clean water and sanitation) of the United Nations-mandated Sustainable Development Goals by: 

  • Reducing pollution
  • Eliminating dumping
  • Minimising the release of hazardous chemicals and materials, thereby halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and increasing recycling and safe reuse globally
Risk assessment matrix, Kochi Municipal Corporation Ward No.54, 56: Ratish Menon

Coverage and performance of sanitation systems were assessed for ward no. 54 (Elamkulam) and ward no. 56 (Panampilly Nagar).

The following steps were followed:

  • A ward-level survey was carried out to identify sanitation pathways and objectives for SSP were set
  • A stakeholder analysis was carried out to identify stakeholders for each sanitation step, their role, potential and motivating and constraining factors for being part of the SSP in the two wards
  • Sanitation pathways were mapped and exposure groups identified for each pathway. This led to identification of hazardous events and assessment of the exposure risks. As part of SSP, water as well as solid-waste audits were carried out in the two wards. This helped develop and implement an improvement plan with incremental improvements to protect all exposure groups.
Description of a sanitation system
Chart: Ratish Menon
  • SSP introduced the concept of safe sanitation to officials, elected representatives and other stakeholders at KMC.
  • It also discussed improvement plans for reducing risks to the exposure groups
  • Though city sanitation plans were developed for Kochi, prioritising activities to leverage major health benefits for sanitation workers as well as the public could be identified through SSP.
“The hands-on experience gained through the group exercises during the SSP training conducted by SWW in 2019 helped evaluate the exposure risks and develop incremental improvement plans for the wards in Kochi. The visit provided an exposure to the real-world sanitation scenario of a town. The interaction with sanitation stakeholders helped understand how the exposure pathways were identified and risks evaluated. This helped in adequate preparation of SSP while replicating the work.”
– Ritish Menon

This work is now being considered a model for other wards at KMC. It is expected that the pioneering initiatives in the above two wards will encourage more investment in sanitation systems in Kochi and persuade utilities to use SSP as a management tool.

SSP can be used both at the planning stage for new schemes as well as to improve the performance of existing systems. It underscores the leadership role of the health sector in the use of wastewater, excreta and greywater, and helps to bring a human health perspective to traditional non-health sectors such as sanitation engineering and the agricultural sector.

Risk assessment matrix for Ward 54 and 56. Chart: Ratish Menon

Public health is the underlying purpose of sanitation — but actual health risk often plays a smaller role in planning. The novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has highlighted the importance of better sanitation as one of the key elements in managing the it spread.

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