Joining the dots of water wisdom at FSM4 in Chennai

Aiming to share and brainstorm potential solutions, formulate policy recommendations that promote best practices, and identify lessons learned in how to make Faecal Sludge Management (FSM) an integral part of sanitation service delivery, around 1,500 participants convened for the fourth International Faecal Sludge Management Conference (FSM4) in Chennai, India in February 2017.

FSM4 was an opportunity to bring together professionals working in the sector – including utilities, service providers, local authorities, government officials, academicians, scientists, consultants, donors, and industries – to support the global initiative of disseminating sustainable solutions for FSM. The conference focused on innovative and practical solutions that can be scaled up and included mostly in three tracks – research, case studies, and industry and exhibition.

Photo Credit: WaterAid/ V R Raman

The broad reach of FSM

FSM is not only a technical issue; it also involves several other sectors and authority levels. This is particularly important if the technology and process are aimed to be sustainable and affordable for the people. The potential benefits of these sustainable sanitation systems to health, livelihoods, environment protection, water saving, nutrient recovery, and energy saving need to be conveyed to all the stakeholders. Capacity development is the core value that links these benefits together. Most of the FSM4 participants agreed that institutional capacity development is a much-needed component of FSM triggering to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG6) aimed at ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

WaterAid at the FSM4 conference

WaterAid Bangladesh showcased two posters:

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I also presented The Chronicle of FSM  at the open exchange forum in the 23rd SuSanA meeting, focusing on how WaterAid Bangladesh systematically develops each component of FSM, and how this is influencing policy-makers in enabling FSM contributors in Bangladesh.

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Prior to the main event, WaterAid India took the opportunity to strengthen cross learning and sharing by organising ‘Exchanges of Faecal Sludge Management Coalitions’ workshop on 19 February 2017. In this workshop, WaterAid and Alliances shared various FSM practices, problems, ideas and innovations from across the world. This will pave the way for further collaboration between the countries across continents.

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WaterAid India also displayed stories of sanitation successes, learning materials, and the conceptual development of Delhi Savda Ghevra project funded by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

 Few thoughts

  • We witnessed a sudden increase of interest among organisations to work on FSM. Though this is a positive move towards closing the sanitation cycle, we need to be careful about our journey for ensuring quality output
  • There exists a big grey area on how to integrate and apply the existing knowledge on FSM. SuSanA is equipped with more than 2,200 publications but it needs to be presented in a user-friendly manner
  • FSM4 was aimed at addressing sanitation gaps existing across the world. But, in my opinion, there was too much emphasis on India specific problems. FSM5 in 2019 is expected to be held in Africa and we are hoping that the learnings will be more balanced and representative of the entire world
  • The FSM conference is an opportunity to strengthen alliances like SACOSAN to work together with SuSanA for increasing the awareness on critical issues related to sanitation

What I learned: joining the dots of water wisdom

80% of the water we use is discharged in the form of wastewater and sewage. Our water bodies are getting polluted day by day as we are dumping wastewater into them. Building underground sewerage network and ensuring its maintenance is expensive. Very few countries in the developing world have more than 20% coverage of underground sewerage network, which is often decades old. By the time we intend to reconstruct sewerage networks, our rivers and water bodies will die due to increased pollution levels. Thus, we need to connect the dots by re-engineering our environmental system and using the water wisdom. On-site sanitation systems and citywide FSM are the major contributors for this improved approach.

The FSM4 conference was an attempt to make those connections, and it is now time to work together in a more integrated way. The challenge for WASH sector professionals now remains on how to integrate and work collectively in a strategic manner.

Which platform do you suggest to use for such integration? SuSanA?

All photos: WaterAid/ V R Raman

For any queries, write to the author at Abdullahal-Muyeed@wateraid.org

Abdullah Al-Muyeed is Technical Adviser- WASH at WaterAid Bangladesh.

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