EWB E-conference 2011

Water and Sanitation

Good morning and welcome to the WatSan platform, where we are discussing the papers on the central role of water and sanitation in development. I would be very interested to hear your responses to these papers, do the points raised in them match your experiences in other countries?

I have a few questions to start the discussion:

Furber and Crapper discuss two projects in Ghana: one in water supply, and one sanitation project in a school, aimed at improving access to education. I would be interested to hear how supplying cows is expected to provide enough income to supply petrol for the pump and repair any damage that may arise. Although cows supply milk, and beef as they grow, is this likely to be enough to maintain the water supply system adequately? I was interested to read the lack of engineers in Sub-Saharan Africa. However, rather than seeing large numbers of foreign engineers as necessary for development, might it not be better to focus on training people locally, particularly for some of the projects which might require less training?

The paper by Barrie, McBride and Antizar-Ladislao presents two innovative technologies to assist decision making in water treatment technology: Rule Based Reasoning (RBR) and Case-based Reasoning (CBR), which appear to have a great potential to increase efficiency in the water treatment sector. Are chlorine tablets much more effective at destroying pathogens than boiling water? I wonder how effective increasing education about water safety, as well as the ability for people to boil water, would be at increasing water safety.

The paper by Radford, Coffey and Fenner, discusses the fluidisation of pit latrine sludge, so that it may be removed from the latrine. I‘m aware of a project implemented by Practical Action, where a latrine has 2 pits (the SULAV latrine). When one is full, it is sealed and left for a year (while the other pit is used), after which the pathogens in the sludge in the original pit are no longer harmful, so the sludge may be safely used as manure. Might this be a useful way of disposing of the sludge, or is there to little room/money for the construction of both pits in places such as slums?
Good morning!

Thank you ever so much for your questions. In response to your questions regarding the Furber Crapper paper:

The cows are not intended to provide income for running costs such as petrol. They are more intended for larger expenses that occur occasionally such as when it is necessary to buy a replacement pump. A calf can be bought for 150 Ghana cedi and after a couple of years is worth up to 7 or 800. The water pumps cost 300 to 350 cedi each. Therefore, when the pump needs to be replaced a cow is sold and it is possible to buy a new pump and a new calf. The fish farms and community farm are more intended to help with general running costs.

I entirely agree that training people locally would be an ideal solution to the lack of engineers in Sub-Saharan Africa. Perhaps the foreign engineer can make the most long term impact by helping to train local people. In Ghana one of the local NGOs has been trained up to undertake water projects with communities. They provide communities with a borehole and they run excellent hygiene training and help communities put together water and sanitation committees. The problem however, is that because they do not have fully trained engineers working for them they do not have access to a full range of technologies that they could implement, they only take on borehole projects. Boreholes may not be the best solution for all communities and may not be possible at all in some.

I think what I am trying to say is that foreign engineers (or local fully qualified engineers where available) will still need to be involved in order to help with training and to keep the level of service being offered as high as possible.

I hope that answers your questions. I’d be very interested to hear any further questions or comments you have.


I'm interested to hear about the 'cow insurance', it sounds like a nice idea, but I'm wondering what difficultities have been faced with it and if it been proven to work?

I know only a little about the rural water sector in Ghana, but I'm aware that the Community Water and Sanitation Agency (CWSA) is responsible for it. I was wondering how much coordination is done between the NGO who initiated the water project and the CWSA and how/if the NGO tries links to the government's Sector Wide Approach (SWAp).

Ghana also has District Water and Sanitation Teams which are technical units which support the delivery of water and sanitation services. I'm not sure how much resource they have, but this seems to be the logical way to provide engineering skills (potentially foreign engineers training local engineers I suppose).
The cow insurance was a suggestion that came from one of the elders from the village, Abraham. It is the way that many of the Ghanaians I met during the fieldwork go about providing insurance in their own lives. My translator Setor spent some of the money I paid him on two goats for similar reasons. He said that if he needed to go to hospital or had some other emergency he would be able to sell a goat. It seemed to be to have been successfully proved to work in peoples’ everyday life so I hope it will work as well as a means to insure the infrastructure at Emem. Whether this turns out to be right we will find out in due course!

During the project we were in contact with the Kwahu South District Assembly, which carries out the work of the C.W.S.A. in this area. They were interested in the project and were able to give a lot of useful input through their experience with water and sanitation projects. You may be right that they are the logical people to deliver engineering skills in Ghana. Nevertheless, many developing countries do not have the structure in place and overall there are not enough engineers. The engineers I met in Ghana were probably as foreign to the rural communities as a Western engineer. I don’t know the statistics but it would be interesting to know how many Ewe engineers there are for example. I think all the engineers I met were Akan.

There was no NGO involved in the day to day running of the project as such. The project was largely carried out by a group of volunteers from Original Volunteers Ghana. We did the project management and engineering design ourselves.

Does that answer your question?
Thank-you for your replies, they are extremely interesting.

Using the cows as a form of insurance seems a great idea to me, but how were the running costs (such as petrol) covered? Also where were the cows kept? Surely if they were kept with the water treatment system there was the risk of damage to the system/faecal contamination of water? If kept else where does this lead to extra costs due to having to buy/rent other land?

It's interesting to hear about engineers from the same country being foreign to the local community in the same way that engineers from overseas were. Does anyone else have any examples of this being the case in other parts of the world?

I would also like to ask about Bunclark's paper on rainwater harvesting for poverty reduction: Rainwater harvesting has the potential to improve crop yields, given appropriate soil conditions. But how can we determine if this will lead to greater income? Is there a risk that increasing crop yields will lead to a decrease in local food prices, which may make other local farmers (who do not benefit from the irrigation) poorer? If the system is to be effective at reducing poverty, might it encourage the farming of cash crops such as coffee, perhaps at the expense of food crops, leading to food shortage problems?

With regard to Le Gouais' paper on rural water supply in Benin, it is said that "water is commonly bought at handpumps, tapstands and private water points". I assume these are all forms of extracting groundwater? I was just wondering why there is not more use of river water or rainwater harvesting? I was in Kenya this summer and my experience there was that almost everyone seemed to use rainwater during most of the year, and river water during the very driest months. Might rainwater harvesting be a way for people in Benin to avoid having to pay to use the pumps, or is the rainfall too rare?
Theoretically the running costs are to be paid for from money raised through the communal farm and fish farms. The project is still underway though and these aspects are not fully up and running yet. I’ve left some money to pay for part of the petrol for the time I’m away until we can get this all finished. I go back to Ghana after Easter. Everyone in the village has been contributing a little and some of the more wealthy members of the village have been adding a bit extra when needed.

There are chickens and goats that have free range on the village so the water sources have to be protected anyway. The cows are to be kept a bit further away from the village and there is no shortage of land in this area. Some members of the village have owned cows previously and it is not necessary to rent land as such. The land is controlled and organised by the chiefs and elders in the area.
Rainwater harvesting is done in Benin, however, it's not recognised as a potable water source in the national strategy. It is still used by many people during the rainy season (although maybe more commonly for washing rather than drinking, but not necessarily), although of course it can't be used during the dry season.

River water is used where there aren't any handpumps, tapstands or wells, but there are quite major health risks with that (e.g. occational outbreaks of cholera) and rivers may also be quite far away making collection inconvient and time consuming. Household wells are quite common in some areas, but people generally understand the health risks with using these as drinking water sources and are generally prepared to pay for cleaner water from a handpump or tapstand for drinking (groundwater sources), even if they use the well water for other things.

In summary, people are prepared to pay for water and are willing to pay more for a better service (e.g. villagers using a handpump want to upgrade to get a tapstand even if it costs slightly more). Of course there will be a minority who are too poor to pay, but there just needs to be a mechanism for them to also gain access to clean water, whilst the majority who can afford it do pay, which provides funds for longer term operation, maintenance, repair and upgrading.
A brief summary of today’s discussion:

Firstly Alison Furber described how in Ghana, cows increase substantially in value as they mature, and thus they may be used as an income source to maintain water supply systems (they are commonly used as a form of personal insurance in Ghana). In addition, fish farms and a community farm may provide a steadier income to help with running costs (such as petrol). We also heard how a lack of fully qualified engineers in Sub-Saharan Africa limits the technologies implemented, in particular leading to excessive borehole projects (which presumably causes the water table to fall?). Anna Le Gouais was in agreement that there is potentially a role for foreign engineers to play in training local engineers, through the District Water and Sanitation Teams. Alison Furber also highlighted how Ghanaian engineers may be as foreign to the rural communities as people from overseas, many of them being Akan as opposed to Ewe.

Anna Le Gouais asked about NGO involvement in the running of the water system, to which Alison replied that the project was carried out by a group of volunteers. The project management and engineering design was carried out by Alison and her colleagues (volunteers with Engineers without Borders?).

Later we heard how there are already animals living freely in the village in Ghana so the cows do not pose any additional problems in terms of contaminating the water. There was space for the cows, away from the village. This land is controlled by the chiefs and elders, so with their approval, cows can be kept here.

Then Anna Le Gouais discussed different forms of water supply in Benin: Rainwater harvesting is not generally used for drinking. River water is used where there are no other sources are available, but its use is associated with cholera outbreaks (as well as being time-consuming if the river is far away). This is understood by people, who want to use groundwater sources for drinking. Generally people are prepared to pay for better water provision, allowing maintenance of water supply systems, although a minority will not be able to pay, and their access to potable water must be maintained (presumably for ethical as well as public health reasons?)

I thank everyone for your involvement today, and I encourage you to continue discussing these issues tomorrow.
Hello Jack,

Thanks for reading the Barrie / McBride / Antizar-Ladislao paper. I'm pleased you agree that there a decision support system could potentially increase efficiency.

Regarding your comments about chlorine vs boiling water. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, and it is unclear which is better. Boiling is possibly better at destroying pathogens but chlorine tablets do provide residual protection, which is possible very beneficial. Boiling requires the collection or purchase of fuel, has possible smoke inhilation health issues, is time consuming and you end up with hot water, something not always popular. It also necessarily be done in fields or at work. Chlorine gives water a funny taste is consumable, requiring re-purchase, it also takes a while to clean the water.
Both are good, neither is perfect and it is not a simple choice between them, or indeed any other treatment method.

I think increasing education about water safety is crucial, if people know their water is unsafe then they will act to ensure they have a clean supply. If there is demand for water treament, then supply will follow.
Having said that, commerical projects need some regulation. For example mineral pot filters are very popular in Vietnam, but are of questionable effectiveness.

It really isn't simple, and that's why a tool that learns from experience collected from many different source could be very useful.

Angus, thank-you for your reply. I completely agree that both have advantages and disadvantages, making each more appropriate in different situations. I agree that smoke inhalation is a big problem in development, but I think this problem has the potential to remain with chlorine tablets, since people will still be cooking food. I asked about boiling water because I spent last summer in Kenya, and my experience was that many people didn’t treat the water at all (which was collected from roofs), while those who did treat water boiled it. I didn’t encounter any Kenyans using chlorine, perhaps due to the taste or the cost. Generally the water was then used to make chai so the hot temperature was a bonus in this context!

On the subject of filters, what do people think of hand-held filter systems such as the lifestraw?


The article quotes a spokesman from WaterAid as being very sceptical, due to the high cost. Is there not also a risk that it might increase water-borne infections such as bilharzia? On the other hand is it possible that donors are happier to see their money spent on what should be a permanent device (as opposed to a consumable such as chlorine), this increase in donations increasing the lifestaw’s potential?

Also, Alison would it be possible please to describe the multi filtration system used to treat the water at Emem?
Good morning!

I think that a Participatory Approach is better for NGO policy and good for engineering design. I would like to ask Jack how adoption percentage could be the technology/initiative?
I really appreciate your point of view and it will be more useful if many NGOs manager can get it.

Jack Grimes, let me know the place of the participatory approach in NGOs management policies in the field of sanitation or water supply???
Nguelo Colince,

Thank-you for your question. My view is that a participatory approach is one of the best ways to ensure the sustainability of a water/sanitation project.

There is a risk of NGOs investing in competing projects, and communication between different NGOs, and between NGOs and beneficiaries is a way of fighting this risk. Also, NGOs must be cautious about other groups who may be affected by the project. For instance, what is in the interests of people such as NGO employees, or donors, may go against the interests of the intended beneficiaries of the project.

I think the beneficiaries and co-sponsors (as opposed to the donor) should own (where possible), or at least feel they own a project. Otherwise, there is a risk that if the donor stops funding, the project can fall into disrepair, not just due to the financial reasons but also due to a lack of coordination, and a lack of clear roles for people. If members of the community can be given the responsibilities for maintenance of the system at the start of the project, the project will be less vulnerable to problems such as these.

I think this is particularly important in water and sanitation, where systems are often heavily reliant on specific technical parts, such as pumps and filters, which may be difficult and expensive to get hold of if the NGO doesn’t assist the community by helping to assign roles and informing people where they would get these parts, for instance.

As for adoption percentage, I think that this is an important measure of the success of projects, but in order to be successful in the long run, projects must be sustainable, and I think the participatory approach helps with this.

These are my views, I would be interest to hear other people's.
Thank you Jack Grimes ! Your answer is interesting! To stress your point of view, I think that Participatory approach must take into account many things; from my experience, Participatory Approach must be in term of Methods and Authors.....
-Methods= NGOs may use different methods depending on the specifics characteristics of the region (for instance, a project of water supply can have one pump in a part of the system and also a gravity water supply without a pump), etc..
-Stakeholders = NGOs must decide together with Government (including strategic water/sanitation country policies, environmental impacts assessment, development plan of the locality, etc.), water and sanitation users, others organizations/NGOs, different technicians, researchers, etc...

Another important and obligatory barrier to take into account before commencing the sanitation and water supply project for large/small communities is Cultural Barrier.
Could any other person appreciate our view? Please, should like know any point of view concerning cultural barrier in projects???
I'd like to make a point supporting Nguelo's comment that it's really important that "NGOs must decide together with Government" about water systems. Very often NGOs involve the community, which of course brings benefits, but it's not enough and systems still breakdown. It's been seen over and over again that communities alone (when the NGO has left) can't ensure sustainable operation of the water system in the long run as they can't cope with major repair requirements (plus there are risks with other management issues, including financial) - they need external assistance and government is best placed to work with them to provide this.
United Kingdom
As I said, I'm no expert but do tend to accept advice from primary sources.
If they tell me that the sun can sterilise waterand is used by thousands of people, I believe it
Have a look at


In response to your question about sterilisation boiling is often used as it is difficult to know when something has reached 82 deg C but certainly, as for milk pasteurisation kills the bacteria which will cause stomach upsets and diarrhoea. Most bacteria is de-naturised at around 40 deg C, however some of the nastier more resilient strains can survive to higher temperatures. However in water where there is severe degrees of flocculation, bacteria trapped inside floccs may survive to higher temperatures.

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Brian Reed,

Thank-you for these technical briefs. They demonstrate the wide range of techniques available for household water treatment.

It's interesting to see the possibility of using just exposing water to sunlight, expecting the UV light to kill most of the pathogens (although presumably this does nothing to aid the taste and appearance of water?).

I would be interested to hear people's experiences of the implementation of different water treatment technologies, since some technologies (particularly the removal of metals) seem fairly expensive and time consuming (although of course very important if water is contaminated with toxic levels of metals).

How much time and money are people happy to spend treating water before they take the risk of drinking it without treating it first?

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