“Wastewater has featured heavily in the discussions on the Post-2015 Development Agenda,” Michel Jarraud, Chair of UN-Water.
Stories of access to drinking water still dominate the water sector’s news coverage and sanitation often feels like the forgotten, and less sexy, ‘s’ in wash. Unlike access to water, the Millennium Development Goal on Sanitation has not, and will not, be met this year. In real terms this means some 2.4 billion people are still without access to a decent toilet, equivalent to twice the population of India.
The good news is that countries are starting to realize that truly sustainable economic growth must be accompanied by a well-managed water cycle, from resource management to water quality and wastewater treatment.
During the 3rd Global WOPs Congress in Barcelona, a thematic session will be dedicated to sanitation and wastewater and the actors that provide this essential service. The session is co-organized by GWOPA and SIAAP, and will feature prominent actors and sanitation operators to discuss the challenges and prospects in the Post-2015 period and highlight the potential for WOPs. This session, along with the other thematic and plenary session will raise the following questions with actors on the ground and other stakeholders.
- What are the challenges of providing sanitation services?
- Does urbanization raise new challenges and opportunities for operators?
- Can WOPs or SWOPs (sanitation WOPs) help?
History of urban sanitation
As early as the Roman times some sanitation systems were already in place. This allowed for large numbers of people to safely live in cities established accross the empire but most clearly seen in Rome, where some of the structures are still visible today.
As one of the first countries to experience rapid industrialization, the United Kingdom experienced the disastrous combination of urbanization and inadequate water treatment systems. The results were various cholera epidemics and what came to be known as the ‘Great Stink’ of 1858, an unpleasant and dangerous period where the principle waste disposal route, the Themes, was overflowing with human waste.
Sanitation and Cities
Today, our cities generate over 2 billion tons of municipal waste; this is predicted to double over the next 15 years according to UN-Habitat's Solid Waste Management in the World’s Cities. Disposing of this waste is a challenge but also a opportunity and there are already innovative operators using waste to create energy.
Sanitation is not only strongly linked to questions of public health but also education, climate change adaptation and gender equity. As we have seen recently in Nepal and Haiti, in the wake of natural disasters, ensuring sanitation is essential to avoid the spread of disease.