Health and wellbeing though universal WASH services

WASH diagram

The  big challenges that we are addressing are: (1) many rural communities in semi-arid areas experience highly seasonal rainfall which is mostly lost as run-off.  As the dry season progresses their water sources dry up and they have to travel further to collect water which often has poor water quality. We are seeking to improve rural water supply. (2) In many dense urban environments, there is no sewage infrastructure and the management of on-site sanitation is inadequate. New urban sanitation technologies and business models are required, but we also need to answer the wider question of whether advanced technology can be appropriate in these settings. 

This is exacerbated by (1) climate change which has serious implications for the livelihoods of the global poor, particularly affecting their water security. Communities are already innovating and adapting, but these actions can be poorly coordinated. (2) urbanisation is changing the way that services need to be delivered. Dense environments mean that at least some centralisation is required and poor services can have a wide reaching impact.

Our approach is firstly to understand today; we want to measure and evaluate. We need to understand the hazards faced by communities. The sanitation development imperative is predicated in part upon the rational hypothesis that a safely managed sanitation system will substantially reduce exposure to human faecal pathogens and therefore will reduce excreta-related disease.  In practice quantifiable health impact resulting from sanitation interventions is elusive, probably because of incomplete achievement of a hygienic living environment in most low income community settings, in particular where livestock share domestic space. We are also looking to understand emerging contaminants and how behaviour and practices influences communities’ exposure and ability to mitigate the effects. Conventional indicators can sometimes fail to capture the reality of accessing water and sanitation, especially for vulnerable populations. This results in programmes that can be insensitive to the needs of certain users. Through examining the links between wellbeing and water, we are developing new ways of measuring the success of water projects that better reflect the needs of all users. The sustainable provision of water and sanitation services requires effective institutional systems that facilitate on-going service delivery, management and financing at appropriate scales. We are seeking to better understand the characteristics of such systems, and examine how and why they may emerge in particular operating contexts. Overall we seek to leave our discipline siloes and avoid a naïve approach. 

Then we can transform tomorrow through innovative systems and products. We believe it is important to understand how these technologies work on a fundamental level, and apply rigorous scientific testing to analyse how different factors influence the underlying biological, chemical and physical processes. We are applying this across the spectrum of challenges including (1) the development of components in the sanitation value chain for proper faecal sludge management, as well as complete solutions (2) structures that retain water and encourage aquifer recharge so that water sources can remain sustainable throughout the dry season.  (3) products which will help mothers keep their children healthy in unhygienic environments.

Our areas of work

Urban sanitation
In many dense urban environments, there is no sewage infrastructure and the management of on-site sanitation is inadequate.   New technologies are required, but they must be adapted to the social, environmental, financial and institutional context.   We are addressing this challenge by supporting the development of new technologies and answering the wider question of whether advanced technology can be appropriate in these settings.
 
Enhancing groundwater for the dry season
Many rural communities in semi-arid areas experience highly seasonal rainfall which is mostly lost as run-off.   As the dry season progresses their water sources dry up and they have to travel further to collect water which often has poor water quality.   By retaining water and encouraging aquifer recharge, water sources can remain sustainable throughout the dry season.   We are seeking to understand the water balance and quality implications of these systems.

Finding better ways to measure success
Conventional indicators can sometimes fail to capture the reality of accessing water and sanitation, especially for vulnerable populations. This results in programmes that can be insensitive to the needs of certain users. Through examining the links between wellbeing and water, we are developing new ways of measuring the success of water projects that better reflect the needs of all users.
 
Improving the institutional functioning of the sector
The sustainable provision of water and sanitation services require effective institutional systems that facilitate on-going service delivery, management and financing at appropriate scales. We are seeking to better understand the characteristics of such systems, and examine how and why they may emerge in particular operating contexts.

Reducing exposure to faecal pathogens
The sanitation development imperative is predicated in part upon the rational hypothesis that a safely managed sanitation system will substantially reduce exposure to human faecal pathogens and therefore will reduce excreta-related disease.  In practice quantifiable health impact resulting from sanitation interventions is elusive, probably because of incomplete achievement of a hygienic living environment in most low income community settings, in particular where livestock share domestic space.  We are interested in the development of new, practical tools and products which will, at a household level, help mothers keep their children healthy but at a higher level will help decision-makers with the identification of hot spots of faecal contamination in neighbourhoods as a precursor to prioritised decision-making.

Using fundamental research to inform development of new and existing Sanitation Technologies
To further develop new and existing sanitation technologies it is important to understand how these technologies work on a fundamental level. We are applying rigorous scientific testing to analyse how different factors influences the underlying biological, chemical and physical processes in sanitation systems. This knowledge is used to inform technology development.

Hazard Assessment and WaSH Technologies
Key questions to understand the risks of current practices and new technologies can help us to design better to meet today’s challenges and to withstand those likely from climate and global change. We need not only to identify and understand the dynamics and effects of challenges such as emerging contaminants of concern but also how does behaviour and practices influences our exposure and ability to mitigate the effects. We are therefore interested in developing novel methods and conceptual framework for assessing environmental sustainability and resilience in WaSH programmes.

Improving livelihood resilience to climate change
Climate change has serious implications for the livelihoods of rural subsistence farmers, particularly water security. Mapping vulnerability and novel pathways of innovation with water use among households is fundamental to improving the resilience of communities to climate risk and to inform adaptive policies and practice within the water sector. 

Recent projects with research impact

The next generation toilet?

A CWSI concept known as the Nano Membrane Toilet was recently selected by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as a winner in its ‘Reinvent the Toilet Challenge Round 2’. The Nano Membrane Toilet aims to treat human waste without external energy or water and uses a combination of innovative nano and advanced water treatment technologies and Cranfield University’s specialist design skills. The concept works by reducing the water content of the sludge through membranes that allow extraction of water as a vapour, using a mechanism powered by the user. The resulting sludge moves downwards under gravity and is encapsulated in briquette form, with the potential for reuse in combusting or applying to land as a fertiliser.

Solving water and sanitation problems in Sub Saharan Africa

Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) technologies have potential to meet the needs of populations in Sub-Saharan Africa and other developing countries but few have actually been scaled-up and integrated into country development strategies. With support from the European Commission 7th Framework Program and in collaboration with development partners from Europe and Africa, CWSI have developed a range of tools to aid WASH technology assessment and scale-up. The project, known as WASHTech, employed an action research methodology within three participant countries; Burkina Faso, Ghana and Uganda. The tools are now in the public domain and being used via the Rural Water Supply Network.

Recent relevant publications

Taylor, S., Asimah, S.A., Buamah, R., Nyarko, K., Sekuma, S.P, Coulibaly, Y.N., Wozuame, A., Jeffrey, P., Parker, A.H., Towards sustainable water sanitation and hygiene technology use in Water Sanitation and Hygiene in sub-Saharan Africa: the Learning Alliance approach, Water Policy, in press 

Nussbaumer,D., Sutton, I., Parker, A. (2016) Groundwater Data Management by Water Service Providers in Peri-Urban Areas of Lusaka, Water 8(4), 135Parker AH & Summerill C. (2013) Water Safety Plans in East Africa, Motivations and barriers. Waterlines, 32(2): 11 - 124.

Hutchings, P, Parker, A.H., Jeffrey, P (2016) The political risks of technological determinism in rural water supply: a case study from Bihar, India, Journal of Rural Studies 45, 252-259

Hutchings, P., Chan, M. Y., Cuadrado, L., Ezbakhe, F., Mesa, B., Tamekawa, C., & Franceys, R. (2015). A systematic review of success factors in the community management of rural water supplies over the past 30 years. Water Policy, 17(5), 963

Rose, C., Parker A., Jefferson, B, Cartmell E. (2015) The characterization of faeces and urine; a review of the literature to inform advanced treatment technology, (2015) Critical Reviews in Environmental Science and Technology 45, 1-53

Elster, D., Holman, I.P.*, Parker, A., Rudge, L., (2014) An investigation of the basement complex aquifer system in Lofa county, Liberia, for the purpose of siting boreholes, Quarterly Journal of Engineering Geology & Hydrogeology 47, 159-167

Parker A.H., Smith J, Verdemato T, Cooke J, Webster J, Carter RC, (2014) Menstrual management: a neglected aspect of hygiene interventions, Disaster Prevention and Management 23(4) 437-454

Chakava, Y., Parker, A.H., Franceys, R.W.A.*, (2014) Private Boreholes for Nairobi's Urban Poor: The stop-gap or the solution? Habitat International, 43, 108-116, 2014

Jimenez R, Parker A.H.*, Jeffrey P. (2014) Factors influencing the uptake of household water connections in peri-urban Maputo, Mozambique, Utilities Policy 28, 22-27 

Parker A, Cruddas P, Rowe N, Carter R & Webster J. (2013) Tank costs for domestic rainwater harvesting in East Africa. Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers: Water Management, 166 (10): 536 - 545.

Moriarty P, Smits S, Butterworth J & Franceys R. (2013) Trends in rural water supply: Towards a service delivery approach. Water Alternatives, 6(3): 329 – 349.

Taylor S & Parker A. (2013) Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Technologies Project End of Project Impact Assessment (WASHTech Deliverable 7.3) [online] The Hague: WASHTech c/o IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre.





Jan Hennings

The CWSI had been on my radar since I became interested in water treatment during my bachelor's studies, and after my master's I knew I wanted to work in WASH. Being part of the NMT-project allows me to do that on a scale of potentially global impact, while working with people doing all sorts of exciting water-related research.

Jan Hennings, Current PhD student