BARCELONA, Spain – 14 November 2018: While water security is high on any government’s agenda, funding sustainable projects remains a challenge, with many nations encouraging decentralized solutions.
In the MENA region, several wastewater solution providers have lobbied for well-managed sanitation systems, with large associations successfully reaching out to locals with new technologies.
We spoke to two international organizations currently working to provide sanitation solutions in the Middle East.
Christoph Sodemann, head of PR at BORDA association - courtesy of Sodemann
What is BORDA and what do you do?
BORDA stands for Bremen Overseas research and development association. We started as a very small association of a few people 40 years ago, with members of civil society and 400 experts from 25 countries. We are mainly active in the sanitation sector.
Twenty years ago, we realized that sanitation is becoming a bigger problem related to rapid development of cities all over the world, and city sanitation planning being uncoordinated, besides the presence of informal areas. We found an enormous need for a sanitation system in place as half of the world’s population has no access to planned sanitation systems. It is one of the main reasons people get sick and infected; about 2,000 people die every day due to contracting such diseases.
Tell us about your technology
We focus strongly on a decentralized solution, which is very easy to maintain with only one person to take care of and even not on a daily basis. It does not need extra energy and saves resources; we can even create energy through our biogas digester that can be used for a small shop, or a school kitchen for cooking. Then we have anaerobic reactors to clear the water that goes through filters, and at the end we have water that can be used for irrigation and agriculture, and can be combined with fecal sludge to create fertilizers. The filtered water cannot be used as drinking water, as it needs further treatment.
Where can this technology be implemented efficiently?
We normally adopt the technology where there is no sewage system available so that you can connect it to any other systems. It is adaptable in cities and in the countryside as well; it can be applied in urban and informal areas, in small houses, schools, hospitals, or to connect a bunch of houses in a neighborhood to one treatment plant.
How does your project differ from other treatment plants?
Our systems work in a way that there is no external odor, as we understand that in very dense populated areas, people do not want to be living next to stinky treatment plants. The system also does not look ugly but rather features a good design.
Indonesian engineer during desludging process - courtesy of Sodemann
Tell us about the Honey Suckers and why they are important
Indians like to give [cute] names to ugly jobs, so honey suckers are the guys who come with trucks and de-sludge household septic tanks. The Fecal Sludge Management (FSM) comprises the whole process of collecting, transporting and treating sludge. But it is not a coordinated effort, so sometimes residents do not have time to pay the honey suckers, and leave their sludge as is.
How does your system provide a valuable chain of FSM?
What we try to do is that municipalities impose fees on the landowners so they pay for the de-sludging services, and then the collected sludge should be transported safely to the treatment plant and not discharged into rivers or lakes. At the end, we have water for irrigation and fertilizers. The whole process is FSM.
How much does your system cost?
It is not very expensive, talking about the small treatment plant for households, it might cost $10,000 to $30,000, while a plant for a small neighborhood is about $100,000; it is kind of affordable. It is not comparable to treatment plants installed in a town in Germany or Europe, where you are talking about $200 million.
Desludging process in Darelsalam
Where did you apply your system?
We have constructed around 3,500 decentralized wastewater treatment plants that serve 1 million people, mainly in Asia. The Indonesian government has adopted our technology, and they themselves constructed 5,000 to 10,000 small plants across the country.
MENA is a new region for BORDA, we have a big project now in Jordan, which is a small-scale treatment system in remote areas, and the main focus is to keep the water in the region on communal levels to use it in irrigation, given the tremendous water shortage crisis.
How do you coordinate in each country?
In Jordan, we coordinate with the government, which approves everything, and we have connections with municipalities and local partners as well. Our projects in Jordan are financed by Switzerland.
Our role is to start the pilot project, demonstrate the technology, establish context to local partners and work with them on concept and then we normally do the technical construction and supervising. The manufacturing and other related coordination like carrying the septic tanks are carried out by local partners.
Marc Aoun, co-founder of Compost Baladi enterprise in Lebanon - courtesy of Aoun
Tell us about Compost Baladi
We are a social enterprise specializing in decentralized wastewater and solid waste management, we mostly focus on organic waste, and we use low-tech and low-cost approaches to be applied in rural areas throughout the Arab region. This is our second year in operation.
What is the focus of your enterprise?
Our main focus is always how to take waste, and create a resource from it that is a fertilizer, water for irrigation or energy. Most of our projects are about producing fertilizers from organic waste, but the project we have with SwitchMed is a decentralized wastewater treatment system that is installed instead of the septic tanks in rural households.
It allows people to recover one hour of gas for daily cooking, 2kg of compost weekly and one cubic meter of water for irrigation daily. Also, it allows them to divert from the landfill about 3 kg of organic waste on a daily basis.
Earth Cupe project part of Compost Baladi enterprise in Lebanon - courtesy of Aoun
CubeX project part of Compost Baladi enterprise in Lebanon - courtesy of Aoun
Who do you target through your technology?
We work on four levels, so our biggest target client is residential; those usually are household individuals who want to take action in both urban and rural areas. We also work with municipalities in rural areas to help them build and operate wastewater management systems. Our markets expand to commercial agro manufacturers who produce lots of organic waste, and we help them turn it into fertilizers. We also work with academic institutions that want to educate the youth about the technology.
Where did you apply your technology?
We work in the Lebanese territory, many of our projects are in quite a rural area, in a huge valley in Lebanon, where there is a lot of need for development, and the financial capacity is low and hence you need innovative approaches to be affordable in that sense.
In the north of Lebanon, we focus on where sorting and sourcing solid waste are promoted so organic waste can be recovered.
Earth Cupe project part of Compost Baladi enterprise in Lebanon - courtesy of Aoun
What kind of challenges do you face in the MENA region?
The predominant challenge that we face is the lack of regulation, and in case regulation does exist, it is the lack of implementation of regulation. So, we, as a company that trusts sustainable solutions, find a struggle to compete because there is no regulation that forces people to treat their waste.
We go around basic mechanisms to create new alternative ways that are more effective in a place where there is no effective regulation. This means creating valuable resources of the waste treated so people are encouraged to invest in them.
What are the financial sources of applying your technology?
There is usually a fund from a development agency that goes to a municipality or a central fund in an area, which then installs the systems in households. In return, the resident pays the municipality a monthly fee to make sure the system is being maintained, and this guarantees the municipality will continue having money to install more systems.
Will you apply your systems outside Lebanon?
The primary interest for us now as a way forward is Jordan, as we find Jordan has an effective regulation, has more interest in water saving and seeks sustainable solutions given its water scarcity issue.
The end goal is to drive the price of our systems to become affordable for users in the MENA region.