Cees van de Guchte and Veerle Vandeweerd
address the environmental aspects and costs of meeting the World Summit on Sustainable Development target on improved sanitation, and describe the growing global consensus on alternative low-cost technologies
Some four children die every minute in developing countries from diseases caused by unsafe water and inadequate sanitation. On average, 250 million cases of gastroenteritis occur worldwide every year from bathing in contaminated water, and 50,000-100,000 people die from infectious hepatitis. The global burden of human disease caused by sewage pollution of coastal waters has been estimated at 4 million lost person-years annually.
The deterioration of the aquatic environment is visible around the globe. The discharge of untreated domestic wastewater has been identified as a major source of pollution in most of the UNEP Regional Seas. Untreated sewage affects over 70 per cent of coral reefs, precious habitats are disappearing and biodiversity is decreasing, fishing and agricultural potential are being lost, while poor water quality is reducing income from tourism and the value of real estate.
Such concerns have helped push the international community to ensure that the targets of the 2000 Millennium Development Goals and the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) address improved access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation.
The WSSD agreed target on water and sanitation is To halve, by the year 2015, the proportion of people who are unable to reach or to afford safe drinking water and the proportion of people who do not have access to basic sanitation.
Population growth, rapid urbanization, and increasing water supply and sanitation provision to meet the 2015 targets will all generate increased problems from wastewater pollution. At present, only about a tenth of the domestic wastewater in developing countries is collected and only about a tenth of existing wastewater treatment plants operate reliably and efficiently. Ignoring wastewater pollution issues proves costly, in human, ecological and financial terms. Discharging it untreated to the natural environment directly affects the primary resource for drinking water supply, essential ecosystem functions and the sustainable use of water (see below). Increasing sanitation coverage, therefore, requires public sewage collection and treatment systems, so as to prevent raw sewage from entering groundwater, surface waters and coastal areas. Reusing wastewater should be considered as an important option, especially in water-scarce regions. A sustainable approach to sanitation includes wastewater collection, treatment and reuse.
Overall, the same number of people in both urban and rural areas (1.1 billion) will require improved sanitation by the target year of 2015. This means that 400,000 additional people will have to be supplied with services each day. The World Panel on Financing Water Infrastructure estimated in March 2003 that $72 billion was needed annually four to five times more than currently spent to achieve the target on sanitation, including household sanitation, hygiene and wastewater treatment: $56 billion of this is required for wastewater treatment alone.
A global consensus is emerging on how to address municipal wastewater collection and treatment sustainably. Guidelines on Municipal Wastewater Management and its Ten Keys for local and national action were considered by over 100 countries at the UNEP/GPA Intergovernmental Review meeting in 2001. Aimed at setting a new global standard in the field of sustainable municipal wastewater management, the Ten Keys cover policy issues, management approaches, technology selection and financing mechanisms. They have been developed jointly by UNEP, the World Health Organization, UN-HABITAT and the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, and supported by UNICEF.
Best practices and successful innovative approaches urgently need intensifying and scaling up. Capacity building through pilot projects and training on the spot will enhance further implementation. Partnerships that actively and effectively implement innovative approaches are key to success. These partnerships rely heavily upon strong commitment, shared responsibilities and just as important shared risks among all stakeholders
Cees van de Guchte is Senior Project Officer, UNEP/GPA Coordination Office, The Hague, Netherlands, and Veerle Vandeweerd is Coordinator, GPA, Head, Regional Seas Programme and Deputy Director, Division of Environmental Policy Implementation, UNEP.
GPA is the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities, see: www.gpa.unep.org.
Some of the damage associated with inadequate
Some examples of the costs of inaction
TEN KEYS for local and national action on municipal wastewater
1. Secure political commitment and domestic financial resources.
2. Create an enabling environment at national and local levels.
3. Water supply and sanitation is not restricted to taps and toilets.
4. Develop integrated urban water supply and sanitation management systems also addressing environmental impacts.
5. Adopt a long-term perspective, taking action step by step, starting now.
6. Use well-defined timelines, and time-bound targets and indicators.
7. Select appropriate technologies for efficient and cost-effective use of water resources and consider eco-technology alternatives.
8. Apply demand-driven approaches.
9. Involve all stakeholders from the beginning and ensure transparency in management and decision-making processes.
10. Ensure financial stability and sustainability.
10.2. Introduce innovative financial mechanisms, including private sector involvement and public-public partnerships.
10.3. Consider social equity and solidarity to reach cost recovery.
Contents | Editorial K. Töpfer | Action for tomorrow | Turning words into action | One hand washes the other | People | Fragile resource | Realizing the dream | Washing away poverty | At a glance: Water and sanitation | Music makes magic Angélique Kidjo | Targeting sanitation | In a city like Mumbai | Flowing from the bottom up | Books & products | Watering a thirsty land | Peace through parks | Reaching the unheard