Capacity building key to mainstreaming onsite sanitation management 

CSE’s School of Water and Waste aims to establish policy principles, innovative technologies and implementation strategies for citywide water and sanitation management

By Mahreen Matto
Published: Tuesday 29 September 2020

The world is urbanising rapidly, with around 55 per cent of its population — 4.2 billion inhabitants — living in cities. The demand for key services like safe drinking water and sanitation is likely to emerge as a major challenge in the coming years.

This is especially true for sanitation provisions. Many towns and cities are without sewerage. Formal sewerage provision is often confined to central business districts and high-income areas even in those places where it exists.

Looking at the prevailing situation, experts have critiqued the perspective of solely using the conventional infrastructure approach of centralised systems of sanitation management. Statistics show that 80 per cent of water worldwide is released untreated into the environment. This problem is even worse in developing countries.

State and non-state organisations across the globe have realised that sewerage networks alone cannot help achieve the increasing treatment capacity. Onsite sanitation management is a practical solution to meet this demand and reach those without adequate sanitation.

The approach promotes treating the waste at source, rather than dealing with it several miles away in a centralised manner. It can be considered as a sustainable and effective solution to achieve citywide sanitation for all.

Decentralised technologies and city-based governance are being actively endorsed for urban sanitation in developing countries. The Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) issued the Advisory on On-site and Off-site Sewage Management Practices as a comprehensive tool to strengthen the policy on sewage management (including on and offsite), address the complete sanitation value chain and work towards circular economy.

A key bottleneck in scaling the approach is the lack of knowledgeable and skilled practitioners. Municipal agencies and practitioners have little technical capacity for sanitation planning and execution.

Filling the capacity gap has acquired utmost importance for urban sanitation within the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals implementation framework. Experiences from many sanitation programmes have shown that sustainable action is not possible without skilled human resources. They are required to enable key public and private players to design, build, operate and maintain facilities — even with enough funding and available political will.

There are numerous sanitation programmes in developing countries that have aggressive capacity building goals mainly aimed at government officials to strengthen urban governance and service delivery. However, these programmes lack focus to build technical skills and leave non-state practitioners (private sector, technology providers, etc) behind.

In addition, they are not systematically planned and sustainable as they run only until the project ends. Thus, these types of trainings do not prepare practitioners to meet the emerging needs of the sector because of the wide gap between science and practice. 

The School of Water and Waste (SWW) unit of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a capacity-building hub that aims to establish policy principles, innovative technologies and implementation strategies for citywide water and sanitation management, lays the foundation for a water and waste-prudent society.

SWW has been instrumental in not only imparting training but also creating a pool of change agents who translate CSE’s trainings knowledge, skills and learnings to impact outcomes on themes such as decentralised and affordable wastewater management, citywide sanitation and faecal sludge / septage management (FSSM). 

Over the last two years, SWW has trained around 800 professionals through 22 training programmes on the mentioned themes, of which, 56 per cent participants were non-government officials.

Capacity building is an investment for everyone involved; the learner and his / her organisation, the course developer, the trainer and the sponsoring organisation. Measuring the efficacy of training activities will show both, the importance of resource investments and maximise future trainings.

In this regard, SWW conducted an online ‘Impact Workshop cum Master Class’ on June 29-30, 2020 as part of a series to achieve higher outcomes of the capacity building interventions. The workshop was divided into two themes — Water (Part A) and Wastewater and Faecal Sludge / Septage Management (Part B) spread across two days, respectively.

The workshop aimed to bring together the SWW alumni. All alumni were contacted and invited to present their stories of success. Each workshop included more than 10 presenters focusing on how the enhanced knowledge and skills during training had been used to plan /design, implement case studies / project, policy reform or other enabling frameworks to build a community of practitioners.

The workshop on Day 2 — ‘Wastewater and Faecal Sludge / Septage Management’ — was attended by almost 170 alumni. There were 17 presenters from diverse backgrounds, associated with national and international organisations.

These included WaterAid India and Bangladesh, CDD-BORDA, Ernst & Young, Bijnor Nagar Palika Parishad Uttar Pradesh, USAID, Administrative Staff College of India (ASCI), Emanti Consulting-South Africa, Practical Action–Bangladesh, SCMS School of Engineering and Technology, Kerala, National Mission for Clean Ganga, UP Jal Nigam, Orissa Water Supply & Sewerage Board, IPE Global and more.

Speakers showcased their journey on how the enhanced knowledge and skills from SWW trainings had been used to implement their action plans aiming towards successful outcome in the various themes mentioned below:

  • Citywide inclusive sanitation
  • Tools and approaches for citywide sanitation (including preparing city sanitation plans / shit flow diagram)
  • Decentralised wastewater treatment including reuse
  • Faecal sludge / septage treatment
  • Sanitation safety plan

It was clearly spelled out in the workshop that mainstreaming sustainable sanitation management requires a shift from conventional practices to a more resource-efficient and participatory approach. Capacity building trainings are key to bringing such approaches that are tailor-made for adaptation to targeted audience and to local conditions.

Capacity building should not be a one-time process but a systematic and long-term process with adequate interaction, hands-on learning and post-training support. It is through this approach that learnings translate into action and outcomes.

“In the Global South, the upscaling of onsite sanitation management is much needed and one of the drivers is capacity building of state and non-state actors. This will help in creating change agents who will disseminate and implement the citywide sanitation planning,” Suresh Rohilla, senior director and academic director, School of Water and Waste, Anil Agarwal Environment Training Institute, CSE, said.

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.