Experts at the Second India-Africa Dialogue in Accra Root for Decentralised Excreta Management

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CSE and Mhango George in Accra, Ghana
March 16, 2016

Experts expressed strong disapproval against centralised wasterwater or excreta management which was the norm the world over, particularly in urban areas of India and other parts of the world.

“Centralised wastewater management means excreta is not managed locally but is only transported through pipelines and dumped somewhere else,” said Dr Suresh Rohilla, Director of Centre for Science and Environment’s Water Programme. He was speaking at the Second India Africa Dialogue and Media Briefing Workshop held in Accra, Ghana, which was attended by leading science, water and sanitation reporters from around 15 countries of Africa.

A latrine in rural Uganda.  The world remains behind in providing universal access to safe and hygienic toilets.
A latrine in rural Uganda. The world remains behind in providing universal access to safe and hygienic toilets.

The workshop, Sewerage to Sanitation, Opportunities and Challenges for Sustainable Sanitation Solutions for Future, was organized by CSE in partnership with MESHA Kenya and SATCGO, a Ghana-based association of science journalists.

Experts at the workshop said that large quantities of water – a precious natural resource – was used in carrying human excreta. “This is not the best use of water,” said Dr Sudhir Pillay, a scientist with South Africa’s Water Research Commission. Pillay said the number of people defecating in the open was increasing in 26 of 44 countries in the sub-Saharan Africa. In Ghana, only 15 per cent of people used an ‘improved’ sanitation facility.

Pillay said the current technology – using water to flush down excreta and carry it away – was not sustainable. The solution, he said, was on-site faecal sludge management using modern septic tanks and other technologies so that the excreta did not use contaminate water bodies.

Pillay and Patrick Apoya, a water and sanitation expert, advocated for DEWATS – Decentralised Wastewater Management Systems – which used advanced systems including septic tanks, biogas digesters, anaerobic filters and other methods to convert wastewater into clean, usable water.

“The current piped sewerage systems do not treat sewage but merely transport it away. They are toxic and extremely polluting for the rivers and lakes where they are dumped,” said Rohilla. Apoya shared detailed suggestions on decentralised models which communities could adopt.

The participants in the workshop included Aghan Daniel from MESHA, Maxwell Awumah, president of SATCGO, senior journalists Maina Waruru; Linda Sante; Mandi Smallhorne , Fredrick Mugira and George Mhango of Water Journalists Africa network

Some of  the leading science, water and sanitation reporters in Africa who met in the Ghanaian capital Accra for the second India-Africa dialogue and media briefing workshop about sewerage and sanitation
Some of the leading science, water and sanitation reporters in Africa who met in the Ghanaian capital Accra for the second India-Africa dialogue and media briefing workshop about sewerage and sanitation

CSE analysis
A CSE analysis says that in the corresponding period when the world population increased by three times, water consumption increased six times. The ‘modern’ lifestyle and processes required much more water than before, leading to water shortage. Currently, around 75 per cent of the world faces water scarcity. It is necessary that wasteful practices are discarded. “It is not prudent to create water and sanitation systems that are wasteful in design later which we will want to make efficient later,” he said.

CSE analysis says that earlier communities had a role to play in water and sanitation management in their areas. However, colonisation created systems and structures where the participation of local people in making decisions was completely eliminated while the systems also became more and more centralised.
While water supply systems were centrally controlled and relied on long transmission lines and transportation of water from distant locations, sewage disposal, too, was done in a centralised manner in most towns and cities. As much as 20 to 50 per cent of water was wasted during the supply process.

The analysis showed that the per capita (per person) consumption of water increased when the sewage systems became more ‘modern’. For example, data from India shows that in towns, the per capita consumption of water was 70 lpcd (litres per capital per day), it increased to 135 for cities. For the metros, it was as much as 150 lpcd. “Only 20 per cent of this water is consumed. The rest is wastewater – indicating an urgent need to curb wastage of water through wasteful sanitation and other practices,” said Rohilla.

CSE workshop with Ghana government
CSE also organised a workshop between March 14 and 16 on decentralised wastewater management for the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development (MLGRD), Government of Ghana. Officials from the Environmental Sanitation department of the MLGRD were the key participants in the capacity-building workshop.

Speaking about CSE’s engagement with Africa and Asian countries, Rohilla said, “CSE has strong local roots as well as regional experience. We believe we can play a role in interlinking local and global action on water and sanitation.” Ghana is one of the two countries in Africa (the other is Rwanda) where CSE has “deep dive engagement”, indicating the intensive nature of CSE’s involvement in the water and sanitation programme of Ghana.

Describing the current situation which is common across countries and continents, Rohilla said the most used method of managing excreta was using water to wash it away. It did not amount to treatment. “Septic tanks treat excreta while the ‘modern’ methods simply rely on water carrying it away. This is unsustainable as water is too precious to be wasted in carrying faecal matter.

Moreover, the sewage needs expensive treatment and, if that is not done, can contaminate and pollute,” he said.

Speaking about the need for the workshop, Henrietta Ose-Tutu from the Department of Environmental Sanitation, MLGRD, said that the current discussion and effort around waste management was more focussed on solid waste.

“It is necessary that we lay emphasis on liquid waste or wastewater management as well,” she said.

The participants, she said, comprised officers from the ministry, the regions and assemblies of Ghana. This workshop, she said, was one of the several steps her department had taken in equipping officers technically to work on wastewater management.

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