Smits, S., Da Silva Wells, C. and Evans, A. (2009). Strengthening capacities for planning of sanitation and wastewater use : experiences from two cities in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The Hague, the Netherlands, IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre (Occasional Paper Series 44). 56 p. ; 5 fig., 6 tab. 37 ref.
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It is well-known that many peri-urban communities use wastewater (often untreated) in agriculture. Although wastewater-dependent agriculture provides livelihoods to farmers, there are associated health and environmental risks. The roots of this situation lie in the poor sanitation in cities where part of the population doesn’t have access to basic sanitation services at all, where domestic wastewater is not properly collected or is discharged into open water bodies without any treatment, and where industrial discharges and dumping of solid waste often add to the pollution problem.
The basic premise of the Wastewater Agriculture and Sanitation for Poverty Alleviation (WASPA) in Asia project is that by integrated planning both the lack of sanitation services and the health and environmental risks associated with wastewater use in agriculture can be addressed simultaneously. The idea is to improve conditions along the entire sanitation chain (from household latrines to collection, treatment and reuse of wastewater), while maintaining the characteristics of wastewater valued by farmers, such as nutrient content.
This concept was tested in two towns: Rajshahi in Bangladesh and Kurunegala in Sri Lanka. The project worked through Learning Alliances, composed of local stakeholders, including farmers, residents, small industries and local authorities. With these Learning Alliances, the current situation was analysed, and integrated plans for improvement were formulated and executed in a collaborative manner with a range of stakeholders. This document provides an overview of the experiences of the project and provides a critical reflection on the WASPA concept and its applicability.
The project found that the sanitation situation in both cities was less severe than originally hypothesised. Lack of access to basic sanitation only contributed in a minor way to wastewater flows. Instead, other sources of pollution were identified, such as discharges from small industries and leakage from poorly maintained or inadequate septic tanks. At the same time, the impacts of wastewater agriculture on crop yields and health risks were less than expected.
The situation also proved to be more complex than originally thought, necessitating that a broader range of stakeholders be involved in the identification and implementation of solutions. The multi-stakeholder approach of Learning Alliances and participatory planning cycle provided a useful framework for addressing this complex problem. It allowed examination of the entire sanitation chain and identification of potential strategies for
improvements along the entire chain. In addition, it provided a way of gradually building up relations between stakeholders in a context characterised by institutional fragmentation, conflict and poor accountability. Over time, relations improved and more integrated planning emerged.
A potential drawback to the approach is that stakeholders tend to identify isolated and conventional actions to address the situation, and thus need strong facilitation and increased knowledge to arrive at appropriate solutions. Also, transaction costs of the approach are high, in terms of getting the teams in place, starting up the multi-stakeholder process, and getting stakeholders to carry out a joint planning exercise and subsequently implement their plans. However, the project demonstrated that integrated, joint planning is important for addressing complex problems that span sectoral, administrative and social divides and that, ultimately, the high transaction costs are justified.