Recognising excellence in sanitation


Seven sanitation ‘champions’ were celebrated at the Water and Development Congress & Exhibition, as part of IWA’s Inclusive Urban Sanitation initiative. Here we share their stories of excellence and innovation.

Delivering Inclusive Urban Sanitation (IUS) in low- and middle-income countries requires determination, innovation, and smart methods of working that push boundaries. To recognise excellence in this field, IWA has established the IUS Champions Programme, which recently announced the winners of its inaugural awards.

The IUS Programme highlights the crucial role played by individuals, teams and organisations in contributing towards this ambitious and essential goal of sanitation and hygiene. In particular, IWA’s Sanitation Champions serve to highlight the significance of inclusive, sustainable sanitation practices that go beyond traditional infrastructure development.

This first edition of the IUS Champions Programme received an overwhelming response, with a total of 106 submissions from 21 countries. An esteemed 13-member, expert jury meticulously evaluated the submissions, recognising the outstanding efforts and initiatives that contribute to the advancement of sustainable and inclusive sanitation practices. The programme thus emerges as a beacon to promote and acknowledge global best practices in sanitation, and engage and expand the community of practice to transform urban sanitation landscapes.

The programme features seven distinct categories, each showcasing excellence and innovation in urban sanitation service provision.

IUS Champion for Service Delivery, Containment Systems, Fresh Life, Kenya

Fresh Life pioneers a revolutionary approach to sanitation, providing secure and efficient, dry, container-based toilets and waste removal services tailored for low-income residents living in rapidly urbanising cities. Through a circular economy model, Fresh Life is addressing unique challenges faced by communities, offering a life-centred approach to sustainable sanitation. The impact on public health, environmental sustainability, and the economic development of the community has been profound.

As urbanisation escalates, the expense of providing safe sanitation for city dwellers increases. Fresh Life presents a cost-effective solution, currently accounting for just 44% of the public sector’s expenditure on traditional sewers.

They currently serve more than 290,000 people daily (with a network of more than 7,500 toilets) and safely remove more than 20,000 metric tonnes of sanitation waste annually – thus curbing environmental pollution, climate impacts, and health risks, such as the spread of cholera and diarrhoeal diseases.

Additionally, the sanitation waste in Fresh Life toilets is safely held in shallow containers, creating an aerobic environment that reduces methane production. This waste is treated and upcycled into agricultural inputs, offsetting 24,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year.

Fresh Life is dedicated to providing equitable access to safe sanitation for vulnerable populations, including women, children, people with disabilities, and the urban poor. Its toilets are strategically placed in residential or school compounds that offer women and girls private and secure spaces, enhancing their dignity during menstruation and reducing the risk of gender-based violence. This also positively impacts female school enrolment and retention rates within the communities that Fresh Life serves.

IUS Champion for Service Delivery, Emptying and Transport Systems: Kampala Capital City Authority, Uganda

Kampala Capital City Authority received the 2023 IWA IUS Champion award in recognition of its groundbreaking work with the Weyonje mobile application, aimed at revolutionising sanitation pit emptying services in Kampala.

Weyonje is a word that in local dialect means ‘clean yourself’. The Weyonje application is an innovative solution addressing challenges such as environmental discharge, collection efficiency, and unregulated pit emptying services.

Citizens in Kampala sign up to the Weyonje Client App and request pit emptying services using their phones, creating a user experience similar to ride ordering platforms such as Uber. For those without smartphones, particularly the urban poor in informal settlements, Village Health Team (VHT) personnel are available to make an emptying request on their behalf using the Weyonje VHT App.

When a client requests an emptying service, the available service provider receives the request through the Weyonje Demand App, which is designed to enable licensed toilet waste emptying service providers in Kampala City to manage and track job orders efficiently.

Emphasising inclusivity, the app boasts a user-friendly interface, accommodating local languages and literacy levels, ensuring accessibility for all residents.

The application’s positive impact extends beyond convenience. Weyonje actively involves communities in the sanitation process. This approach has led to improved health outcomes, with a significant reduction in waterborne diseases attributed to enhanced waste management and hygiene practices. The systematic monitoring facilitated by Weyonje has contributed to a cleaner environment, positively impacting ecosystems surrounding these communities.

IUS Champion for Service Delivery, Treatment Systems, Abdullah Al-Muyeed, Bangladesh

Abdullah Al-Muyeed is chief operating officer of the CWIS-FSM Support Cell, Department of Public Health Engineering, under the Local Government Division, Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development and Co-operatives of the Government of Bangladesh. Since 2014, he has transformed the sanitation and waste management of the municipality of Sakhipur, built on the principles of the circular economy. His innovative model for non-sewered citywide integrated sanitation, demonstrated in Sakhipur, is now being implemented in many municipalities by the Department of Public Health Engineering of Bangladesh.

Sakhipur’s Circular Economy Integrated Waste Management System integrates faecal sludge and organic solid waste, generating agriculturally beneficial products and thereby closing the loop on the sanitation value chain. This pioneering system hinges on a robust co-composting procedure, whereby desiccated faecal sludge is blended with organic waste and sawdust in a scientifically prescribed 3:1:1 ratio. This subsequently undergoes a managed aerobic decomposition process, facilitated by a modified hydraulic turner, ensuring the optimisation of aeration and microbial activity.

A distinctive hallmark of this system lies in the post-maturation hot air treatment, which subjects the compost to an intensive 48-72 hour thermal regimen, guaranteeing that the final product adheres to stringent hygiene and safety standards, rendering it suitable for agricultural applications.

This transition has prompted farmers – in a country known for its agriculture – to move away from chemical fertilisers to this cost-effective alternative that improves soil health. The success of this initiative has garnered recognition at a national level, with Bangladesh’s eighth five-year plan embracing it as a benchmark for replication throughout the country.

IUS Champion for Service Delivery, Disposal and Reuse, Sinnar Municipal Council, Maharashtra, India

Sinnar is a medium-sized town in Maharashtra, India, that is representative of many cities across Asia and Africa.

To help improve its citywide sanitation, Sinnar has received technical support from the Center for Water and Sanitation (CWAS) at CRDF, CEPT University, India, since 2013.

The city treats septage collected from its onsite sanitation systems and reuses its greywater to increase the green coverage of the municipality.

Like many other cities in India, Sinnar faced issues of infrequent cleaning of septic tanks and waste being dumped without treatment, leading to widespread pollution. To address this, Sinnar Municipal Council (SMC), with the support of CWAS, implemented an innovative ‘scheduled septic tank desludging service’ and constructed a dedicated solar-powered faecal sludge treatment plant (FSTP) from its own funds. Sinnar has also piloted a solar greywater treatment plant (GWTP) at one of its public gardens, which treats greywater from bathrooms and kitchens.

To efficiently reuse the treated water, SMC developed a garden and urban forest over an area of 8000 m2 near the FSTP. The treated water from the GWTP is used for watering a garden spread over an area of 2000 m2. Altogether, more than 46.5 million litres of treated water have been reused to maintain the gardens and urban forest.

The work to operate the GWTP and reuse the water from both plants has been given to self-help groups (SHG) for local women.

The urban forest and the garden at the FSTP help in sequestering carbon by up to 98 tonnes per annum. The on- and off-grid solar units of 7.5 KVA and 7 KVA respectively, at the FSTP and the GWTP, have helped the treatment plants become energy neutral and contribute to a carbon dioxide reduction of 9.8 tonnes per annum. The formal engagement of the SHGs has provided them with a regular source of income, empowering them financially.

IUS Champion for Communication, Tamil Nadu Urban Sanitation Support Programme, India

The IIHS-led Tamil Nadu Urban Sanitation Support Programme (TNUSSP) is an important programme dedicated to localising SDG 6 and testing innovations across the sanitation chain. Since 2016, it has been scaling across 649 towns and cities, impacting a population of 30 million people.

Communication initiatives are an integral part of the programme, with a focus on a wide range of concepts and issues, across the full sanitation chain. The programme includes two innovative campaigns – We Speak Too (WST) and Women in Sanitation (WIS).

WIS, an online video campaign, sheds light on the often unnoticed contributions of women professionals in the sanitation chain. Featuring more than 50 cis-women and transgender professionals, it has garnered more than 150,000 global views.

In India, where five million sanitation workers critical to service delivery remain overlooked, TNUSSP, in collaboration with the Alliance of Indian Waste Pickers (AIWP), initiated WST, a seminar series providing a platform for people in the sector, especially those in informal roles such as desludging operators and sewer cleaners. This effort empowers them to share concerns and aspirations with a wider audience through media coverage and social media.

These campaigns aim to raise awareness among policymakers and sector professionals, showcasing challenges and solutions. Campaign participants have taken part in international conferences, sharing their experiences, while videos are used to raise awareness locally about the profession’s significance. Overall, TNUSSP’s comprehensive approach addresses sectoral challenges, fosters a discourse on best practices, and elevates the visibility of sanitation workers on both national and international fronts.

IUS Champion for Youth Engagement, Global Sanitation Graduate School

The Global Sanitation Graduate School (GSGS) is the world’s largest platform for postgraduate education on Citywide Inclusive Sanitation (CWIS). It facilitates the development and empowers the dissemination of open access knowledge on urban sanitation through postgraduate programmes, online and face-to-face courses, and tailor-made training, so that sanitation challenges can be embraced with deeper insight, advanced knowledge, and greater confidence.

Since its establishment in 2017, 1009 MSc students, 283 Graduate Professional Diploma Programme participants, and 1710 short course attendees, from more than 60 low- and middle-income countries, have studied the GSGS curriculum.

Currently, the GSGS embraces 55 academic institutions, of which 47 are committed to delivering a Master’s degree in sanitation. This is the first time that a single curriculum has been adopted and adapted by such a large number of universities in a structured and collaborative manner.

The GSGS concept is unique and novel from several perspectives. First, the Delft-based Master’s curriculum on sanitation is the first of its kind, developed by the joint efforts of a large group of leading academics, scientists, and practitioners.

It includes interdisciplinary content tailored to the context of the needs of low- and middle-income countries, and covers a variety of topics – technical, technological, and operational, but also social, cultural, financial, and managerial.

All the materials and courses are open access and are available as pre-recorded video lectures that enable easy dissemination, enhance uptake, extend reach, and accelerate impact.

The Delft-based sanitation curriculum – the backbone of GSGS – embraces the CWIS approach that not only considers the city in a holistic way, but also focuses on public services in an equitable, well-planned, properly managed, safe, sustainable, responsible, accountable, and inclusive manner.

The GSGS develops future sanitation champions – benefitting individuals, institutions, and society.

IUS Champion for Policy and Regulation, Lusaka Water Supply and Sanitation Company, Zambia

Lusaka Water Supply and Sanitation Company (LWSC) provides water and sanitation services in Lusaka Province, the capital city of Zambia. Focused on innovation, LWSC’s faecal sludge management (FSM) initiative has created a model that provides subsidised sanitation services that support those living in low-income areas, and encourage private enterprise and local sludge emptying services, with sludge treated by the company’s wastewater treatment operations.

LWSC designed and rolled out improved onsite sanitation facilities in three selected low-income communities using a people-centred design approach. The improved onsite sanitation facilities have lined containment for climate proofing and an access point for safe emptying of the faecal sludge.

For Emptying and Transportation, LWSC established and implemented the first ever performance-based contracts for improved FSM in low-income areas of Lusaka. This was implemented in partnership with private operators and community-based enterprises.

To ensure safe and sustainable treatment of the collected faecal sludge, LWSC constructed two faecal sludge treatment plants, which treat the sludge based on reuse objectives. This innovative approach has gone on to inform and influence policy and regulatory development in Zambia.

Affordability and social acceptance are integral to LWSC’s initiative. The company implemented the subsidy model for pit emptying for households in low-income areas of Lusaka. This subsidy was designed with an exit strategy of reducing the subsidy amount until households start making the full contribution to pit emptying services. In addition, the urban poor were provided with improved toilets that were subsidised to make them affordable, with communities only paying 20%-25% of the total cost.

LWSC’s sanitation interventions have resulted in public health, environmental and economic benefits. Since 2019, 300,000 people have benefited from safe emptying services. The collection and treatment of faecal sludge has reduced the risk of groundwater contamination and outbreaks of waterborne diseases. •

More information

The IUS Champions Programme is part of IWA’s Inclusive Urban Sanitation initiative, which aims to reshape the global agenda on urban sanitation over the coming years and contribute to achieving inclusive, resilient, and water-wise cities.