World Water Day 2006

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  • 1.1 billion people lack sufficient access to safe drinking water.
  • 2.6 billion people lack access to basic sanitation.
  • 6,000 children die every day from lack of safe water or poor hygiene.
  • On average, African and Asian women have to cover 8 kilometers a day to get fresh water.
  • The average African lives with less than 20 litres per day while the average European consumes more than 150 litres daily and the average North American more than 300 litres.
  • 4 billion hectares, representing 1/3 of the emerged lands of the globe, are threatened by desertification.

Today is the World Water Day 2006 and I will take this opportunity to inform my esteemed readers of a water related project to contribute my share on this topic:

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is this years UN agency to coordinate events surrounding World Water Day (WWD) around the world – and this years theme is "Water and Culture". Well, water and culture? What does that mean?

According to the director general of UNESCO, Mr Koïchiro Matsuura, "technology alone will not lead us to viable solutions" on the world’s urgent water problems but instead "we must better understand the complex interactions between societies, water and the environment". And he goes on saying "water management itself needs to be understood as a cultural process….(…) …The nexus between culture and nature is the avenue for understanding resilience, creativity and adaptability in both social and ecological systems."

Or, to put it in my words: in order to have a positive impact on the world’s urgent water problems, we can not just apply various technologies while hoping that things might work out. Instead, we first of all need to comprehend the connection between the environment and our social systems. Of course, a relatively simple approach – which is still often neglected.
The basic idea behind this is to identify a causal framework which will help to deal with the various and complex water problems the world is facing today and in the future. And this is where the UNESCO’s programmes come into limelight:

The UNESCO, which btw celebrates it’s 60th anniversary, started developing international projects and programmes to improve our understanding and management of the earth’s resources.
One of these projects I would like to focus your attention on is the "from Potential Conflict to Co-operation Potential" initiative – which is one of UNESCO’s International Hydrological Programme (IHP) contribution to the World Water Assessment Programme (WWAP) in cooperation with Green Cross International (GCI).

Conflicts?
Over 260 river basins are shared by two or more countries. To date, the UNESCO’s International Shared Aquifer Resource Management project (ISARM) has inventoried over 150 shared aquifer systems with boundaries that do not correspond to those of surface basins. Approximately one third of those basins are shared by more than two countries, and 19 involve five or more sovereign states. Of these, one basin – the Danube – has 18 riparian nations. Five basins – the Congo, Niger, Nile, Rhine and Zambezi – are shared by nine to 11 countries. The remaining 13 basins – the Amazon, Aral Sea, Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna, Jordan, Kura-Araks, Lake Chad, Mekong, Neman, La Plata, Tarim, Tigris-Euphrates and Vistula (Wista) – have five to eight riparian countries.

The PC-CP project addresses the challenge of sharing water resources and its role is to help water resources management authorities to tip the balance in favor of co-operation potential away from potential conflict.

For its current 2nd phase, PC-CP has determined the following operational objectives to strengthen the capacity of the target audience in dealing with potential and actual water conflicts :

  • The development of educational material related to conflicts and cooperation in the field of shared water resources;
  • The development of appropriate institutional frameworks for the anticipation, prevention and resolution of water conflicts;
  • The development of methodologies for conflict prevention and resolution;
  • The improvement of legal tools for the management of shared water resources;
  • The development of a comprehensive information system on water conflicts and cooperation;
  • The dissemination of results and best practises at a global level.

So the bottom line to all this is that there are good and well elaborated programmes and projects in the pipeline that include a more holistic approach to today’s water problems. I am specially interested in the development of a comprehensive information system, and maybe today’s blog on this matter has slightly contributed to informing the public about these issues.

Please don’t miss today’s launch of the 2nd United Nations World Water Development Report (WWDR2) in Mexico City, Mexico. Thx! :-)

(deutschsprachige LeserInnen seien an dieser Stelle auch noch auf folgenden interessanten Link zum Thema Weltwassertag hingewiesen)

sanitation is dignity

gto2.jpgThe german print media recently covered the interesting initial public start of an international organization – the German Toilet Organization (GTO) – here in Germany which main objective is to lobby for more (public) toilets and improve access to clean sanitary needs worldwide (the pic to the left shows the recent “sanitation is dignity” exhibition on Potsdamer Platz in Berlin, Germany as organized by the GTO – pls click to enlarge).

Toilets, choo, restrooms, latrine, lavatory – you name it.

Well, you name it? What kind of words do people use when they try to express their need to “take a natures call” or have to relieve themselves? The problem starts with the fact that we – we as in people world-wide – don’t even like to talk about these issues. It’s a taboo that keeps on being ignored, yet going to toilet is just as natural as eating or sleeping. And in order to improve the sanitary situation worldwide, first thing we need to do is to start talking about this issue.

The shocking truth is that, according to the WHO and UNICEF, roughly 2,6 billion people (around 42% of the worlds population) don’t have access to a working (read: adequate) sanitary system – and with an ever growing population and a clear need for an improvement, something has to be done. Soon.

“Proper sanitation protects water resources, increases health, provides dignity, increases agricultural production, can be an energy resource”….wait! It increases agricultural production? How come?

The problem with waste water treatment in huge treatment plants starts with the initial problem that we – the users – flush down virtually anything down the toilet. Out of sight, out of mind? Maybe… However, the results of these daily actions are that we get to have this huge mixture of waste and nutrients that require a lot of process engineering and energy to be separated.

==> We are using electrical energy to treat our waste. How crazy is that?

Now, what’s with that argument that an improved treatment could increase agricultural production? Let me please (try to) explain:
Instead of re-thinking complicated and expensive ways on how to separate this horrible mixture, let’s directly go to the root of the problem and separate the urine from faeces and greywater where they are being mixed up: at the toilet. There are some toilet designs out there that come with a built-in separation system – just think of a bowl that has an extra outlet for the urine and you get the idea.
By doing this, we receive an almost homogeneous, separated material out of which we can then recover nutrients, trace elements and even energy. Think of phosphor, this fertiliser stuff we put on our fields & gardens: the world-wide resources are limited, yet some countries (like Nepal) still invest a lot of money to import it although we could just recover up to ~40% of that phosphour from our urine.

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In fact, the German Agency for Technical Co-operation (GTZ) started (among others) an initiative to promote this idea of closing nutrient loops some years ago and have shown great progress in promoting this much needed approach to fulfill the Millenium Development Goals set by the UN. They call it ecological sanitation (ecosan) and to emphasize a systematical approach to this paradigm shift, they have published a source-book (PDF, 9 MB) as well as other useful information material that will help to promote this great idea of ecological sanitation.
Mind you – ecosan isn’t just a technology or a technical approach to bugging issues. It’s a philosophy and understanding for the challenge which we’ll have to face in the 21st century: closing biological cycles/loops. Among the key issues of ecosan as documented in the so-called Bellagio Principles, we find the following definition:

Waste should be considered a resource, and its management should be holistic and form part of integrated water resources, nutrient flow and waste management.

• inputs should be reduced so as to promote efficiency and water and environmental security
• exports of waste should be minimised to promote efficiency and reduce the spread of pollution
• wastewater should be recycled and added to the water budget

And yes, I am very passionate about this subject and as I’ve mentioned earlier, the challenge I see for us in the 21st century will be to re-design the products and technologies we’re using on a daily basis so that every material remains in a biological or technical loop / cycle. No more end-of-pipe technologies but cradle-to-cradle designs with materials that remain as nutrients to future generations. There is so much technology out there and it starts with generating an awareness for the biological cylce – something our forefathers already knew and we apparently forgot with todays products. Also, this isn’t just one of those ideas for the drawers of development aid – this is an approach on a global basis that sees various implementations in e.g. Europe as well as in Asia or Africa. The technology is already applied – even in Kenya – and in fact, I am planing to promote this even more when I am back in Kenya.
(@GTZ: I AM YOUR MAN ON THIS…hint, hint ;-)

Coming back to the toilet issue, please have a look at the website of the World Toilet Organization to find out what YOUR options are to make a change – now. Thank you!