How Do You Deal with Waste in Areas of a City That Lack Sewers?

Editors Note: This post discusses the work of Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP) in Zambia to improve sanitation in low-income communities by trialing a pit-emptying service operated by a community-based organization. This post originally appeared on WSUP's blog, to view the original post please click here.

Providing sanitation services to unsewered parts of a city is complex. The challenge goes way beyond simply building toilets – its about finding financially viable ways to collect, treat, and dispose of waste.

WSUP’s new film tells the story of our work in Lusaka, Zambia, to improve sanitation in low-income communities by working closely with the utility, micro-enterprises, residents, and community-based organisations.

Because sewers haven’t been built where they live, low-income residents have to dig a pit for the waste from the toilet. When the pit fills up, residents have to dig another pit or empty the waste out by hand, sometimes dumping it illegally. This is clearly an unsustainable practice, made worse by the fact that in the rainy season, many of the pits flood – spreading faecal waste across the residential area.

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So to tackle this, in Lusaka we’ve been trialing a pit-emptying service for low-income customers, operated by a community-based organisation, the Kanyama Water Trust in partnership with the Lusaka Water & Sewerage Company. The service enables customers to have the sludge from their pits safely transported to a treatment facility, where it is processed and safely disposed of or resold as a soil conditioner and fertiliser.

So far, the scheme has benefited 25,000 people, such as Shawa Margarete, who lives in Kanyama, one of the pilot communities. Shawa (pictured below) says in the film that she is positive about the benefits that the service brings: “The service is worth the money that we pay for it”, she says. Mbewe Brown agrees: “This has really made our lives easier, because we had a really big problem and now, with the pit emptiers we have a service which is easily available,” he says.

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But the model still needs work. The service is generating income, but is not yet covering costs of collection, treatment and disposal. This is vital to achieve if the service is to be expanded to other urban communities in the country.

“Our priority at WSUP now is to see how this current model can be improved so that it can become more financially viable – because when it does so, we will be able to recommend it for scale up to other low-income communities,” says Reuben Sipuma, WSUP Zambia country programme manager.

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This film was produced in partnership with Sandec, the Department of Sanitation, Water and Solid Waste for Development at Eawag. It will feature in Eawag’s new online course on Planning and design of sanitation systems and technologies. To sign up for the course, click here.