Mr. Madzaramba is a Water Resources Engineer with experience in wastewater reuse, decentralized water and wastewater systems focusing on increased water supply, environmental sustainability and improved public health. We are pleased to share his interview in this two-part series on non-sewered sanitation.
The following questions were discussed:
- What are the top challenges to extending sanitation to informal settlements and high-density communities, and how have you overcome these challenges?
- As the City Engineer, for a city experiencing rapidly expanding non-sewered informal settlements (e.g. Marondera, Zimbabwe), which is prone to water borne diseases such as typhoid and cholera, if the central government either has no budget or desire to provide funding for sanitation, what would you do?
- How can/should a utility manager or a city engineer engage the private sector, with non-sewered sanitation?
- How are you going to attract the private sector for a utility who may be challenged to pay for their services?
- Do you believe, in Zimbabwe, that users and the developers can afford to pay the private sector?
- What is the decision-making process in determining between piped sanitation, traditional sewerage and non-piped sanitation (e.g. faecal sludge management)?
What are the top challenges to extending sanitation to informal settlements and high-density communities, and how have you overcome these challenges?
I refer to these challenges as ‘barriers to development.
The first barrier is the fact that utilities typically do not have an obligation to improving infrastructure of informal settlements. Utilities are most constrained by financial and legal barriers in informal settlements. South Africa may be an exception, but largely there is no formal obligation for utilities to enhance service delivery in shanty towns in Africa.
Second, as a direct consequence of no obligations to sanitation, financial issues arise, and utilities will not allocate sufficient budget for these high-density areas. This is normally because, during the budgetary process, there is no or little allocation for sanitation infrastructure. Besides, informal settlements exist beyond the administrative districts of most utilities. In fact, in some cases, these areas are shared amongst more than one utility district. As a result, a number of municipalities exclude these areas from their budgeting, or do not commit to providing sanitation (hence proper development) for its citizens.
The third issue is rapid urbanization in Africa. In many metropolitans the demand for sanitation services from the peri-urban suburbs is exceeding design capacity. Cities are facing tremendous growth – further challenging the capability of the municipalities, the city’s finances and even administrative capacity. Informal settlements are often growing faster than formal settlements, further hindering a utility’s ability to develop adequate sanitation – as their attention is primarily on the formal settlements.
Population density is evidently a major issue when considering extending sanitation to informal settlements. It limits available sanitation options, in terms of technology, such as non-sewered sanitation, septic tanks, etc – all difficult to implement in highly dense areas due to the close proximity of dwellings, narrow or no access points and lack of other critical infrastructure (e.g., power and communication). By comparison, there are more options in less densely populated formal settlements.
In response to how to overcome these issues, there are three possibilities/solutions that are appropriate:
- Sanitation is a basic human right, and all residents should be able to at least be given access to it wherever they are. Municipalities or city councils must therefore advocate for and put in place policies to ensure that sanitation is provided to all inhabitants of their city – even those living in marginalised communities not prioritized in terms of budgeting and in planning of infrastructure of the city. Additionally, central governments should make available monetary support for sanitation in high density areas, since most local municipalities and city councils may not have sufficient financial means to address this on their own.
- Secondly, for informal settlements in high density areas, communal sanitation must be considered because, as mentioned earlier, adequate space is an immense problem. Communal sanitation minimizes land requirements to develop this infrastructure. When sanitation services are combined, more people will have access as compared to each individual or household having their own form of sanitation – proper or not. In addition, governments must recognize the rights of marginalized communities and work towards better land tenure systems such that developers have adequate space to advance basic essential services and infrastructure.
- Utilities need to adopt and promote low-cost, on-site sanitation systems suitable for low-income communities. For this reason, solutions that are specific and applicable to such areas must be identified instead of traditional approaches more suited to less dense and more affluent communities. In addition, central governments should promote private-public partnerships (PPP).
As the City Engineer, for a city experiencing rapidly expanding non-sewered informal settlements (e.g. Marondera, Zimbabwe), which is prone to water borne diseases such as typhoid and cholera, if the central government either has no budget or desire to provide funding for sanitation, what would you do?
I would search for the most suitable solution, without neglecting the socio-economic issues of the city. For instance, I would propose for informal settlements’ interim solutions such as pit latrines while we await approval and financing for more lasting and appropriate remedies. This would, for example, result in a quick and meaningful reduction in open defecation – thus water borne diseases. Also, I would push for potable water supply points to collect safe drinking water.
How can/should a utility manager or a city engineer engage the private sector, with non-sewered sanitation?
There is a rapidly increasing number of non-sewered options thanks to a global effort in this area including from major foundations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, NGOs and the private sector.
For example, a utility manager could engage the private sector to promote a variety of build-operate-transfer (BOT) systems employing new non-sewered sanitation technologies. The private sector brings state of the art know-how and experience (sometimes disruptive) as well as market-oriented solutions that increase the chances of durable solutions. The benefit of BOT is a larger degree of financial independence for the private entity (i.e., not needing funding from a public entity) as opposed to the historical approach of just the “B” component whereby the private sector must be paid by the utility or by the government – a challenging situation if they are already under financial stress. In most BOT situations, the private sector builds, operates and charges – in principal, everybody wins. That is, they receive a profit, the community has access to proper sanitation services – reducing risks of disease – and the public entity has neither the financial nor operational burden of the new sanitation system and infrastructure.
How are you going to attract the private sector for a utility who may be challenged to pay for their services?
Ideally, this is accomplished by creating a situation whereby the private sector is not paid by the utility, the municipality or the government for what they provide. The arrangement should be one where, ultimately, it is the user/rate payer that pays for services rendered. For example, introducing water treatment for the town of Marondera, with the municipality obtaining support from the private sector and engaging the users directly. I believe utilities or town councils should be open to empowering developers, of new or unserved areas, to directly engage the private sector for sanitation without involving the utility in terms of the funding and construction. All the expenses can be covered by the user or the developer, and the private sector delivers the infrastructure.
Do you believe, in Zimbabwe, that users and the developers can afford to pay the private sector?
In principle, yes. That said, the employed sanitation technology should be appropriate for the socio-economic situation of that area. The point is to find the best solution that is also affordable to the inhabitants of that area.
What is the decision-making process in determining between piped sanitation, traditional sewerage and non-piped sanitation (e.g. faecal sludge management)?
Decision makers will have to consider a number of technical and community factors.
Technical factors include area-specific designs. For example, is your typical flush toilet, and associated conveyance and treatment, appropriate for the area in question?
For whatever solutions are proposed, the designers are obliged to meet local (and in some cases international) standards and regulations.
They must also consider availability of required building (and maintenance) materials and tools for the proposed system (e.g., whether they locally produced and affordable).
Costs to the rate payer are important. Hence the CapEx and OpEx costs, and impact on rates, have to be evaluated.
Next, accessibility to the infrastructure/system must be studied. For example, can the elderly and disabled easily use/access the proposed technology?
What are the required operation and maintenance (O&M) aspects – labour, parts, tools and costs?
Of course, freshwater requirements must be considered; and the question asked, if we select traditional sewer system, do we have the required supply of water and infrastructure? For instance, a standard flush toilet requires almost 15 m3 per year in order to dispose of less than 1m3 of human waste per person. On the contrary, water requirements for most non-sewered sanitation technologies’ is negligible.
There are external factors to consider as well. For example, is the bi-product of the proposed system of benefit (e.g., for irrigation, electricity production or fertilization)? A system that can be employed to treat and reuse it for irrigation creates a closed circle of resources compared to a linear system, much like the older piping systems where faecal matter is exported to another area.
Another factor to consider is environmental factors (e.g., the risk of groundwater contamination) which are quite important especially when considering the use of non-sewered sanitation in areas with shallow aquifers.
Even cultural norms should consider in the decision making process. This includes gender sensitivities. As women are usually the ones most impacted by lack of or poor sanitation (e.g., in tending to sick children), how does the proposed technology impact women?