Sanitation in ‘intelligent settlements’

>> Saturday, March 12, 2016

Ike Señeres

As I understand it, drainage systems and sewerage systems are supposed to be separate and different from each other. As far as I know however, there are very few municipal sewerage systems that exist, and what appear to be more popular instead are septic tanks.
To some extent, we could say that septic tanks could have similar functions as the sewerage systems, but that would be like comparing offline machines to computer networks. From the economic standpoint alone, septic tanks would appear to be the less practical choice, because of its poor economies of scale. From the environmental standpoint, septic tanks are also a greater threat to be environment, because of the higher possibility that pollutants would escape to the aquifer.
 In the United States and in many other countries, sewerage is part of local government services, and as a matter of fact, it is a major source of revenue for these local authorities.
As it was supposed to be, the construction of local sewerage systems might have been a problem or a challenge for the local officials but as it turned out, it became an opportunity for them because it became a major income earner for them. Sad to say however, the construction of local sewerage systems has not entered the consciousness of our own local officials, and that is perhaps the reason why very few sewerage systems have been constructed around the country.
 At the outset, the construction of local sewerage systems could have been prioritized due to sanitation objectives, but later on these became the sources of recycled water, biogas and compost fertilizer. Although sewerage systems could be considered as non-profit public services, it has actually turned out to be a business for many local governments abroad. For all intents and purposes, sewerage has become a public utility in many countries, very much in the same category as gas, water and electricity. It is interesting to note that in some places where gas is a public utility, their gas supplies are actually derived from their sewerage systems in the form of methane.
 Although drainage systems and sewerage systems are supposed to be separate and different from each other, these two could actually be designed to work together, basically for the purpose of disposing cleaned water into the seas and rivers.
That may have been the original purpose, but the priorities may be changing now, because there is now a huge demand for recycled water for gardening and irrigation. Here in the Philippines, there are many open canals that are supposed to carry water into the seas and rivers, but many of these are stagnant and therefore the water is not even clean. What is even worse is that the stagnant dirty water becomes a carrier for water borne diseases, thus defeating the purpose of sanitation in the first place.
 What may be obvious seems to escape the attention of local government authorities who could not seem to understand the fact that stagnant water becomes the breeding ground of mosquitoes that have been spreading dengue and now the zika virus.
The first thing for them to do is to clean the open canals and to make the water flow towards an outlet. If it is not asking too much, the local authorities should cover these canals so that these will no longer be open. That will also prevent the local residents from using these open canals as their garbage dumps or much worse than that, to use these as their open air toilets. That is yet another problem to be solved, the lack of garbage collection systems that are supposed to be part of sanitation.
 The Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) of the United Nations includes access to toilets as one of the indicators of being in a state of poverty. I have proposed FACETS as an acronym for all the six indicators, meaning Floor, Assets,Cooking Fuel, Electricity, Toilets and Safe Water.
The six indicators measure the living standards of people all over the world. It could be safe that the last two indicators should actually work with each other, because one could not work without the other. The other indicator that could work with these two is cooking fuel, because of the fact that sewerage systems and or septic tanks could be designed to produce biogas.
 Under the indicator of floor, a household is considered poor if its floor is made of dirt (mud), sand or dung. Perhaps that is also so because without a clean floor, it would be difficult to maintain proper sanitation in a dwelling. Even if this indicator does not specifically mention what the materials of the actual house should be, it is clear that the floor should not be made of dirt (mud), sand or dung.
It also does not specify what kind of toilet it should have, as long as there is one. Obviously, it should have running water. That being the case, it would appear that having communal toilets would already be compliant, because the reference is about access to, and not ownership of toilets.
 Obviously synonymous to good sanitation is the existence of a good garbage collection system. For so many years, many environment activists have been promoting good segregation practices, but sadly to no avail. Unfortunately, the problem of local government corruption affects this goal, because many local mayors are making money from the hauling and dumping of garbage into the landfills or dumpsites.
This racket is very easy to explain, because the more trips of trucks there are, the more money the corrupt mayors could make. There is actually a conflict of interest here, because the more garbage there is hauled and dumped, it’s good for the bad mayors because the more segregation will happen, the less garbage there will be.
 As it is supposed to be, there is supposed to be a law that requires all municipalities (towns and cities) to have at least one Materials Recovery Facility (MRF). Again, this is affected by the conflict of interest, because the more trucks that will go to the MRF, the lesser trucks that will go to the landfills or dumpsites. By the way, dumpsites are supposed to be banned already, but many municipalities have not put up their own landfills. Even if they do have landfills, very few of these are fully compliant with international standards hence there is a lot of seepage into the aquifer, thus affecting the quality and safety of ground water.

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