Welcome to another Open Access Ambassador Spotlight Blog!

Our OA Ambassadors raise awareness in their local communities about global OA movements as well as related opportunities through IWA Publishing. They are representatives of both the International Water Association and IWA Publishing and our joint goals to empower the next generation of water leaders and to shape the future of the water sector. These blog posts highlight their specialty and research focus, as well as emphasising the importance of Open Access publishing. 

The latest blog is written by Abdurrahman Aliyu, an MSc student at the Pan-African University Institute for Water and Energy Sciences, whose research covers the recovery of resources from wastewater, rainwater harvesting, and nature-based solutions. Connect with Abdurrahman on LinkedIn.

In the face of significant strides in recent years, a staggering 2.6 billion people worldwide still grapple with the absence of improved sanitation facilities. Disturbingly, UNICEF reported in 2020 that almost three-quarters of Africa's population lacked access to safely managed sanitation. This not only poses a severe threat to public health but also hampers sustainable development efforts.

Many developing nations, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, grapple with the limitations of centralized sewerage and wastewater treatment systems, which often only cover specific sections of larger urban areas and are quite costly to maintain. Smaller towns and densely populated, low-income areas are frequently left without proper sanitation infrastructure. Consequently, billions of individuals are compelled to rely on on-site sanitation solutions like septic tanks and pit latrines. However, these solutions can prove inadequate and even harmful due to the contamination of groundwater in densely populated regions or areas with limited land availability.

In the pursuit of bridging this sanitation gap, community-managed Decentralized Wastewater Treatment Systems (DEWATS) have emerged as a promising solution in developing countries. DEWATS represent small-scale, decentralized wastewater treatment systems that communities can construct and operate themselves. These systems often present a more cost-effective alternative to centralized ones and can prove highly efficient in treating wastewater in densely populated areas. Decentralized systems also bring about a reduction in the carbon footprint of residents of around 20% depending on the technology considered.

The key to the success of DEWATS lies in community management, where user communities actively take on the responsibility of routine operation and maintenance. It is estimated that the operational and maintenance costs are reduced by about 60% in decentralized systems compared to that of centralized. Simultaneously, local governments and their partners could provide crucial technical and non-technical support, fostering a collaborative approach that recognizes the interdependence of various stakeholders in ensuring sustained sanitation success.

The feat of community-managed DEWATS can be attributed to their foundational principles. These systems operate on the premise of minimal maintenance, ensuring that essential components function without continuous technical energy inputs and cannot be intentionally switched off. This inherent resilience positions DEWATS as an attractive solution, particularly in regions where consistent technical support may be challenging. Moreover, DEWATS applications provide innovative technology at affordable prices by utilizing locally available materials for construction. This not only minimizes costs but also maintains the efficiency and effectiveness of the system. The emphasis on affordability ensures that DEWATS are not only financially accessible but also align with the sustainability of these systems in diverse socio-economic contexts.

Several decentralized systems contribute to the success of DEWATS. At the domestic level, engineered septic tanks, which are lined at the bottom to prevent the leaching of wastewater into the groundwater, offer a practical and individualized approach to wastewater treatment. However, waste stabilization ponds, comprising facultative lagoons and maturation lagoons, provide a natural and cost-effective means of treating wastewater in decentralized settings. Anaerobic treatments like Upflow Anaerobic Sludge Blanket (UASB) and anaerobic baffle reactor combined with other post-treatment steps such as constructed wetlands, reed-bed, sludge drying bed, and trickling filters, contribute to wide-ranging wastewater treatment solutions.

Aside from the immediate advantages of effective wastewater management, these decentralized systems open up additional benefits. They enable the reuse of treated water for agriculture and support biogas production as a renewable energy source. The biogas generated becomes a valuable alternative energy resource and the sludge produced during wastewater treatment serves the purpose of organic fertilizer for agriculture.

To conclude, community-managed DEWATS present a sustainable and cost-effective solution to bridge the sanitation gap in developing countries. Empowering local communities to take an active role in the management and maintenance of these systems will foster a sense of ownership from the community, and will go a long way in contributing to the overall well-being of the population while promoting environmental sustainability. As we continue to strive for global access to improved sanitation, embracing decentralized solutions becomes crucial in achieving a healthier and more sustainable future for all.

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