Water Week Blog: Exploring the Circular Economy, CLTS and Solutions to Leave No One Behind

Date: 6th September 2017

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By Carolien van der Voorden, Senior Programme Officer, WSSCC

I left Stockholm World Water Week this year with a sense of excitement, and the feeling that the sector might be at somewhat of a tipping point. Four thematic conversations excited me:

The Toilet Board Coalition (TBC) meetings and discussions on sanitation in the circular economy
Whereas many progressive thinkers in the sanitation sector have been saying for years – some even decades – that the sector needs to move away from water-based sanitation systems and that waste is actually a resource, concrete innovations in recent years (helped certainly by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Reinvent the Toilet Challenge) and the rise of successful business models have meant some big steps forward in this space, particularly in the urban sphere.

Photo: Our programme manager in Nigeria, Nanpet Chuktu, shared inspiring reflections on equality and non-discrimination during the side event, ‘Reaching Scale with Equity: Innovations and Early Learnings’. Credit: WSSCC

Discussions touched upon the potential of container-based sanitation systems, innovations in use of toilet resources and other biological waste to produce compost, fuel, clean water and even high-protein products, the engagement of large multi-nationals who see potential in these solutions, and a range of inspirational businesses supported by the TBC. A recently released study on the commercial viability of circular economy solutions found that, among others, the circular economy could transform sanitation from a costly service to a self-sustaining, value adding system of resources, and identified at least three circular economy opportunity cycles for sanitation.

For now, subsidies are still required and a huge shift is necessary to overcome the strong preference for water-based systems and to make waterless, circular economy solutions truly aspirational. But the vision of how these solutions can push forward safe, affordable sanitation at scale is becoming more and more concrete, and widely-shared. The TBC and its strongly engaged members and partners can be credited for some of that.

Conversations around Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS)

While for years it felt that people were either in the ‘love it’ or ‘hate it’ camp, there is now much more nuance, with recognition of the landmark shift in rural sanitation programming caused by CLTS over the last 10 years on one hand, and more acknowledgement of its challenges or potential shortfalls on the other. Discussions touched particularly on strategies to pro-actively engage and support potentially disadvantaged people and households, and sustainability issues linked to, among other aspects, the quality of toilets and safely managed sanitation.

The Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Partnerships and Learning for Sustainability (WASHPaLS) side event helped to further sharpen some of the key research questions around CLTS and market-based solutions, and the links between the two. Among other aspects, conversations touched upon the analysis of CLTS performance factors, the need to better understand sequencing of market-based approaches so as to not contaminate the behavioural progress achieved through CLTS, and whether and how to bring subsidies ‘back into the game’ to support, in particular, the most vulnerable communities, households and individuals to climb the sanitation ladder.

Conversations around Equality and Non-Discrimination (EQND)

Not only did WSSCC launch its new report on the Global Sanitation Fund’s (GSF) approach to EQND, it is clear that all sector organizations are working hard to better understand, and address, the Sustainable Development Goal commitment to universality, and the need to adjust programming to put the last first. Highlights included the launch of the CLTS Knowledge Hub’s Frontiers Issue 10, based on the GSF EQND study, and the launch of the World Bank’s new report, Reducing Inequalities in Water Supply, Sanitation, and Hygiene in the Era of the Sustainable Development Goals, under the WASH Poverty Diagnostics initiative. While language and emphasis may differ, the intent on truly addressing EQND was unanimous.

Conversations about civil society
Conversations revolved around the role of civil society and the continued need to support an organized voice; the watchdog role that is increasingly important in the era of the Sustainable Development Goals and the big commitments made by governments; and the struggles that many civil society networks – such as NEWSAN in Nigeria, the WASH Ethiopia Movement, WESNET in Malawi, and Diorano WASH in Madagascar – face to ensure they are sufficiently resourced and well-positioned to make a difference. It is important for WSSCC and its partners to pick up the conversation on how these organizations and the wider WASH sector can best structure its support to and engagement with these networks. Civil society has a key role to play in the concerted partnership that will see us all, jointly, achieve Goal 6 of the SDGs.

Food for thought and inspiration.

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