Faecal Sludge Management
"Faecal Sludge Management (FSM) refers to the safe containment, collection, transportation, treatment, and reuse of fecal sludge from pit latrines, septic tanks, or other onsite sanitation systems. "
The UN General Assembly recognizes safe sanitation as a basic human right. It is essential for a healthy and dignified life. However, according to the JMP report released by WHO in 2023, 3.4 billion people lack access to safely managed sanitation. This represents close to 40% of the world’s population. The majority of this population resides in the Global South, including parts of Asia, South America, and Africa. In simple terms, the human excreta from this population remains exposed, posing potential environmental contamination and public health challenges.
According to a 2012 study by the WHO, economic losses caused by poor water and sanitation could reach up to 1.3% of GDP in 135 countries. The UNICEF-WHO State of Sanitation report for 2020 states that inadequate sanitation directly or indirectly contributes to over 49 million Disability Adjusted Life Years from diarrheal diseases and other conditions, including soil-transmitted helminth infections, malnutrition, and problems related to inadequate wastewater management practices.
Issues with the traditional approach to safe and managed sanitation.
The traditional sanitation method connects toilets with sewer networks that transport waste for treatment.
However, this approach is not feasible in many areas of the Global South due to limited water supply, low incomes, and lack of investments. As a result, about 90% of households in the Global South rely on Onsite Sanitation Systems, including both urban and rural areas. Even in the Global North, rural areas with sparse populations depend on Onsite Sanitation Systems, such as prefabricated systems like Johkhasau in Japan.
Urban areas will heavily rely on Onsite Sanitation Systems in the future. This is because most Urban growth will occur in the Global South. The goal is to have 100% sewer connections, but these countries struggle with population growth. It is unrealistic to expect them to win this race with their current resources and skills. As cities expand without proper planning, Onsite Sanitation Systems will be the default investments, especially in Informal settlements.
The FSM Challenge in the Global South.
Faecal Sludge Management (FSM) involves handling and processing faecal sludge from pit latrines and septic tanks. FSM is crucial for meeting Sustainable Development Goals, particularly SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation for All) and SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities).
Why is Faecal Sludge Management a Challenge in the Global South? The Global North has managed the situation with many Onsite sanitation systems. However, most Onsite sanitation systems in the Global South are not designed according to standards. They are either too small or too big, which affects bacterial activity. As a result, the effluent from these systems contaminates water resources by percolating into groundwater or entering stormwater. This contamination seriously threatens water security, especially in a world already facing climate change impacts. According to the WHO-UNICEJMP 2023 report, 1.9 billion people live in fragile contexts, and more than 25% of the world’s population is likely to face threats to essential water, sanitation, and hygiene services due to worsening climate change impacts.
Pits, on the other hand, are generally unlined. They are also not dislodged regularly. More importantly, they are often built in areas where the percolate from the pits may mix and contaminate the groundwater. Peri-urban and rural regions of the Global South primarily rely on groundwater for potable water needs. Thus, Contamination of Groundwater/Surface water becomes commonplace in such scenarios.
All of this, combined, leads to a public health challenge. In the context of poor hygiene behaviors prevalent among low-income groups – vector and water-borne diseases become a norm. Unsafe disposal into agricultural fields could lead to food chain contamination – again having a debilitating effect on the consumers of food grown through untreated FS.
Thus Poor/Marginalized communities become more vulnerable as a result. There is a need to build resilience amongst the communities to cope with the vagaries of climate change.
Last but not least, lack of FSM results in the Breakage of the nutrient loop. Faecal Sludge is rich in Nitrogen Phosphorous Potassium (NPK) which is helpful for soil nourishment Lack of FSM breaks the nutrient chain, and NPK doesn't go back to the soil and eventually to food production. Expensive and unsustainable chemical fertilizers get applied to the soil as a result. On the one hand, the nutrient loop is not closed; on the other, environmentally harmful chemical fertilizers are deployed on a significant scale. Treated FS presents a much better and more sustainable alternative to chemical fertilizers.
The standard method for FSM involves regular emptying of Onsite Sanitation Systems and safe treatment of the contents. Professionals in developed countries commonly do this. However, in the Global South, the sector is largely unorganized. Due to the negative consequences of improper design and implementation of onsite sanitation systems, various activities must be undertaken throughout the value chain. This includes addressing issues with toilets, onsite sanitation systems, trucks, treatment systems, and reuse options. Multiple stakeholders must be engaged, such as truck emptiers, masons, farmers, and treatment plant operators.
CDD India’s FSM Solutions
- We conducted a thorough 6-month study in Sircilla to document the sludge accumulation rate in onsite sanitation systems. This research earned us a Global Award for the best paper in the sector by IHE-Delft.
- CDD India recognized the need to handle Faecal Sludge from onsite sanitation systems. It was being disposed of improperly in water bodies and drains. In Devanahalli (Bangalore, India), we established the first FST (Faecal Sludge Treatment Plant). We pioneered low-cost Nature Based Solutions to reuse treated Faecal Sludge safely. Faecal Sludge contains essential nutrients for food security. The best way to manage it is to remove pathogens and safely reuse it for agriculture.
- The business models are being demonstrated in the towns of Devanahalli and Dhenkanal to ensure sustainable service delivery for safely managed sanitation.
- The use of filter media is being explored to decrease emissions from onsite sanitation systems.
- This study aims to assess the influence of enzymes on the acceleration or absence thereof in the anaerobic digestion process within Onsite Sanitation Systems.
- In addition to treatment, our work has been comprehensive throughout the value chain, resulting in many notable accomplishments.
- We are actively collaborating with different stakeholders and working across the value chain to support the achievement of SDG 6.
Following the implementation of the Swachh Bharat Mission in India, the Devanahalli FSTP sparked a significant growth of Faecal Sludge Treatment Systems throughout India. As of 2023, over 400 treatment systems in India that address faecal sludge utilize technologies developed by CDD India. CDD India has also directly contributed to over 50 projects in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Tanzania.