WASH United, the international social impact organization that “combines the power of sports superstars, interactive games and positive communication to excite people about sanitation and practicing good hygiene” just wrapped up its 28-day campaign dedicated to shedding more light on menstruation and Menstrual Hygiene Mangement (MHM):


May #MENSTRAVAGANZA Day 28: BIG NEWS! Today wraps up our 28-day campaign dedicated to shedding more light on menstruation & MHM. THANKS FOR ALL YOUR SUPPORT! WASH United, together with amazing global partners, announces that it will make May 28th a globally-recognised Menstrual Hygiene Day. Will you join us in supporting #MHDay?

(src: WASH United FB page)

Yes, of course! MHM is such an important and often still neglected hygiene issue that we urgently need to keep the conversations going – beyond this 28-day campaign. Online and offline.

Please also be reminded that the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance (SuSanA) dedicated a category on its forum to this matter where professional conversations on everything around MHM are already taking place. A few scientists and activists exchanging ideas online certainly won’t be enough, which is why this idea of celebrating May 28th as an international Menstravangaza Day is a smart move.

What I really like about WASH United (the link opens their very active Facebook group) and why their work matters to me: our target group (the people) usually doesn’t pay attention to scientists, but they do hear what superstars say. Remember Angelina Jolie’s preventive double mastectomy? Right. Now, if we can achieve a similar open conversation on MHM the way we are now already talking about (the lack of decent) toilets or mastectomy, then we may have achieved more than what could probably be done via the usual top-down approaches in dev aid.

Let’s put the “men” in Menstravaganza!

P.S.: Did you know there’s an online museum on Menstruation? It’s called “Museum of Menstruation & Women’s Health“. Oh, and the Menstrupedia is also very informative!

Caution: Cholera!

The following post by guest blogger Thilo Panzerbieter of the German Toilet Organization (GTO) refers to the GTO activities during WWD2013:


On this year’s World Water Day, 200 school pupils from five schools assembled at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate and confronted Germany’s Federal Minister of Development, Dirk Niebel, with “dirty water”, placards and various other diplays. This provocative gesture intended to remind Niebel that 783 million people still live without access to clean water and 2.5 billion have no adequate sanitation.

The school children highlighted that the consumption of contaminated water causes more than 3.4 million annual deaths and demanded more prioritisation of the topic. Beside causing cholera, typhoid and other diarrheal diseases, insufficient water, sanitation and hygiene results in children missing 443 million school days per year, according to UNDP.


Federal Minister Niebel thanked the students for their creative presentations and agreed that water is the most valuable good, which cannot be replaced by anything else, and which is not available in sufficient quality for most poor people. He stressed that he is also working for improved water and sanitation, despite the taboos associated with “toilets”.

In order to show solidarity with the many children that have to carry water over great distances in other countries, the pupils in Berlin continued on a public demonstration through the governing quarter of Berlin – making lots of noise for an issue which causes way too many silent deaths world over.

WASH karma score

Just as a quick hit and food for thought: in a recent e-mail exchange with WASH colleagues regarding online participation, I came to realize that it would be great to have some sort of (transferable) WASH karma for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) experts.

I have a friend who is an expert in the open-source server-side scripting language PHP. Being a programmer by profession, he often contributes to – a Q&A site for IT people. Questions and answers are rated and get voted up and down. His karma or online reputation is based on the quality of his answers. There is a direct relation between his expert knowledge, his willigness to share it with others, the resulting karma / online reputation and new contracts. Because, hey, wouldn’t you want to hire experts only? Right.

Microthrix parvicella An unrelated, but still interesting photo to attract the reader’s visual attention: Microthrix Parvicella, a family of bacteria the author of this blog encountered while working on a waste water treatment plant back in the days.


The International Water and Sanitation Centre (IRC) is currently also prototyping a website (under the interim name “Knowledge Point”) that is based around the same software that powers Stackoverflow (StackExchange). I support this cause and believe that it will be great.

I have been thinking about the forum of the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance and other interactive websites that facilitate the exchange of expert knowledge online. As far as I see it, there are at least two main criteria that play a role when it comes to engaging experts in online conversations:

Motivation: Why should I contribute my knowledge/expertise to a forum/website/group? Can I do this during office hours? What if my competitors read up on my entries and copy from me? Will I get paid?

Sustainability: Why should I keep on repeating myself online? I have already shared this knowledge/expertise in a publication. Forum ABC has similar content like forum XYZ – where will I be active? Can I import my previous posts on another forum? Can I keep my aggregated karma points? What happens to my posts when the site goes down?

There may be even more criteria that limit the interaction of experts online and this list certainly isn’t complete. It may be against this background though that many contributors probably come from the scientific sector, less from the practitioner’s or (sanitation as a) business side.

WASH karma score

So in comes the idea of a transferable WASH karma / online reputation score. Something similar to the Klout score that measures the social media influence. But while Klout is based on an unknown algorithm, the proposed WASH karma score would be open and transferable: the better your answers and interactions, the higher your ranking. Quality instead of quantity (because that’s a well-known downside with Klout). And transferable with an application programming interface (API) – similar to the “Gravatar” avatar/profile pic icons you see that come along with comments. An independent site that keeps track of your contributed WASH expertise online – so that YOU as a contributor won’t have to worry about double efforts.

Everything counts, there is no single resource online, not the one-and-only-forum that has the magic solution. Small sites, comment threads on blog posts, locked Ning networks, LinkedIn/Xing groups, Twitter, Google+, FB, YouTube, etc. – all of them matter. People who contribute to such platforms online will do so for various reasons. Their knowledge is shared via a variety of channels, but they still are individuals who often have the desire to get credit for their various activities. A specified online reputation score for the WASH sector that will come along like a Gravatar image could probably contribute to that desire.

What do you think – would it be an improvement to have such a karma score for the WASH sector?

No toilet, no wedding

Kenya-based video journalist Ruud Elmendorp recently produced this short trailer (on behalf of Waste.NL) on a young woman that refuses to marry her boyfriend – until his family builds a proper toilet:

The story is about a boy who is in love with the daughter of a school teacher. Much to the dismay of his father, she refuses because she finds their toilet unusable and refused to have to go to the bush for defecation.

The women’s group has filed a number of complaints due to poor sanitation and present this to the village chief, incidentally the uncle of the boy. He is quite amazed by this and decides to call the government sanitation adviser.

After an animated session with the villagers and the chief, many decide to go for suitable toilets. The film ends happily with the girl accepting the marriage proposal as the sanitation issues have been solved.

Ruud regularly produces interesting video material from East Africa that we have also featured on AfriGadget, btw.

Fecal Sludge Management in Africa and Asia

The following post by guest blogger Pascal Garde on behalf of Doulaye Koné of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) refers to a recently published study on Fecal Sludge Management in Africa and Asia.

Non-sewered, or “on-site sanitation” is the main technological approach used in most urban areas in Africa and Asia. Use of this technology requires regular provision of human waste collection and transportation services, which are generally unregulated and usually provided by private operators.

There are currently huge information gaps on how collection and transportation of human waste is organized. Decision makers, entrepreneurs and investors often lack important information (e.g. market size, business opportunity, profitability) to make Fecal Sludge Management (FSM) a functional component of the sanitation value chain. However, providing safe emptying, transport, and treatment of human waste is critical to ensure healthy urban environments. In order to better understand the types of FSM services offered in two different regions, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funded a study , entitled “Landscape and Business Analysis for FSM Emptying and Transportation in Africa and Asia” that analyzes these business segments in 30 cities across Africa and Asia.

The 30 cities were selected according to their size, geographic location, and the type of business models used in each. The findings of the study provide valuable insight into the urban FSM services (or lack of services) provided to over 67 million people (or over 12 million households). The comparison between the different cities was based on factors related to supply (e.g. business size, number of trucks, truck capacity), and demand for services (e.g. size of the city, household income, household occupation, etc.).

Fecal sludge emptying and transportation service providerFecal sludge emptying and transportation service provider

The information used in the study was obtained by conducting detailed surveys in 13,000 households and with 150 fecal sludge emptying and transportation service providers. The findings of the study are intended to guide donors, investors and policymakers to enhance sustainable sanitation service provision in Africa and Asia.

The study highlights common practices and interesting differences between Africa and Asia. For example, the waste transport trucks used in Africa are second-hand (sometimes more than 30 years old) and imported from Europe, whereas in Asia trucks are 5 to 10 years old on average. The cost of a truck in Africa is almost three times higher than in Asia. Thus, reducing capital investment costs is critical to ensure the profitability of FSM service business in Africa.

Waste transport truck in SenegalWaste transport truck in Senegal

The operating costs of collection and transportation business services are also three times higher in Africa than in Asia — 76% of total costs are for fuel and maintenance. This may be due to a difference in truck size — truck capacities in Asia are just over 3m³, whereas in Africa trucks have about 10m³ capacity and therefore require more fuel. Despite the higher investment costs per truck in Africa, the average annual profit per truck is US$ 12,000, twice the profit in Asia.

In contrast, in Asia, fixed costs like salaries represent the majority (62%) of costs. With regard to fees for services, the average fee charged in Africa is US$ 60, compared to US$ 28 in Asia. The annual per truck profit is also higher in Africa because operators undertake twice as many trips to dumping sites or treatment plants than Asian ones. The best performing companies showed annual revenue ranging from $40,000 up to $2,000,000 per truck per annum, and a return on investment higher than 30 % for companies operating more than 2 trucks. The overall market size for fecal sludge emptying in the majority of the capital cities studied varied from $2.5 up to $43 million.

A large number of households surveyed (34 %) still use manual emptying by family members or paid laborers. This is a common practice in poor communities in Africa and Asia and is most often used when mechanical emptying fees are too expensive for households. Pits are generally emptied several times a year, or when the sludge in the pit is too thick or dry to pump. Manual pit emptying occurs also when access to pits is too difficult for mechanical emptiers due to truck size or bad road conditions The sludge emptied manually is often dumped or buried in the vicinity of the households while mechanically emptied sludge is discharged in most cities in open fields, in bodies of water, or used untreated for fertilizer or aquaculture. Hence, the uncompleted value chain in the current FSM scheme contributes to a high toll of preventable disease in poor communities.

Mechanical emptying of sludgeMechanical emptying of sludge

Based on this analysis, the study made a number of recommendations for how to improve the business environment for FSM, including creating transfer stations across the city to lower distance and therefore lower fuel costs, which make up to 40% of the variable costs of service providers in Africa. This would also increase the number of trips per day to collect sludge from households and generate more revenue. By reducing distances, transport costs decrease and more income is generated. As an example, the map below illustrates the impact that locating disposal sites based on the viability of the service in Phnom Penh could have.

The report also recommends:

  • Encouraging formal registration, licensing and regulation of businesses by local authorities;
  • Finding ways to scale up single trucks operators;
  • Improving access to finance to purchase trucks;
  • Encouraging scheduled desludging;
  • Improving the local sourcing of trucks and the supply chain for parts and repairs;
  • Increasing the number of sludge treatment plants
  • Reducing access fees to sludge treatment plants; and
  • Establishing re-use facilities.

Fuel costs increase with distance of dumping site in Phnom Penh.Fuel costs increase with distance of dumping site in Phnom Penh.

The study demonstrates that, with the support of local authorities, the market for sludge collection and transportation has great potential for investment and development of a healthy business environment, which would also indirectly contribute to better urban health and welfare in Africa and Asia.
In response to these challenges, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is currently developing a set of technologies to make fecal sludge emptying easier and safer for operators, and increase their profitability. A technology called the omni-ingestor, is being developed to service the existing infrastructure (2.1 billion pits, cesspools, and septic tanks that require immediate servicing and/or maintenance). The Omni-ingestor will be safer, more affordable and amenable to users, and more sustainable for utilities, private companies, and municipalities by achieving the following goals:

  1. Lowering mechanical emptying prices for customers across the world to less than $5/ emptying cycle – 4 m³
  2. Improving access capabilities for mechanical emptying technologies
  3. Improving operator economics to ensure service continues and grows
  4. Reduce capital and operating cost to less or equal to current vaccuum trucks service
  5. Designing hand-operated, portable systems to provide current manual emptiers with adequate tools and the opportunity to become formal service providers

The foundation is also developing cost-effective and sustainable solutions for the processing or combined processing of fecal sludge and urban organic waste (omni-Processor). The omni-processor would support 1,000-5,000 people (or less) in an urban setting and have a capacity of 0.5-5 tons of waste per day. Ideally, processed waste will be converted into products that can be re-used such as electricity, biochar, gas, water or fertilizer and therefore generate revenue. This will offset waste collection costs, encourage technology acceptance and use, and increase the countries’ standard of living.

These types of innovations will begin to solve some of the complicated challenges that the fecal sludge management study highlights and, hopefully over time, reinvent the sanitation industry to make it more profitable for service providers and more accessible to everyone.