Sanitation systems are often extraordinary complex and their sustainability is neither easy to plan nor to achieve.

The concept of sustainable sanitation refers to decision-making that considers health, environment, technology, finance, and sociocultural aspects.

The main objective of a sustainable sanitation system is to protect and promote human health by providing a clean environment and breaking the cycle of disease. To be sustainable, a sanitation system must be economically viable, socially acceptable, and technically and institutionally appropriate, while also protecting the environment and natural resources.

Sustainable systems always consider the following:

  • Health. This includes risk of exposure to pathogens and hazardous substances that originate from the sanitation system (from the toilet through the collection and treatment system to the point of reuse or disposal).
  • Environment and natural resources. This involves considering the required energy, water, and other natural resources for construction, operation, and maintenance of the system, as well as the potential emissions to the environment resulting from use. It also includes possible outputs, such as reuse of nutrients in agriculture and production of renewable energy.
  • Technology and operation. These aspects reflect the functionality, resilience, and the ease with which the system can be constructed, operated, and monitored using the available human resources (e.g. the local community, technical team of the local utility).
  • Financial and economic issues. These relate to the capacity of households and communities to pay for sanitation, including the construction, maintenance, and depreciation of the system, as well as the potential economic benefits resulting from it. 
  • Sociocultural and institutional aspects. Such aspects evaluate, among others, the acceptance and appropriateness of the system by and for the community: its convenience, perceptions of the system, gender issues, and impact on human dignity.

Few systems can fulfil all these criteria of sustainability from the beginning and over time. A careful evaluation that considers the above-mentioned points, however, will support to a great extent the sustainability of a sanitation system.

The Sustainable Sanitation Alliance (SuSanA ), is a worldwide network of more than 130 partner organizations, including WSSCC, who share a common vision on sustainable sanitation. Initiated in 2007, SuSanA acts as a platform to coordinate actions, repository of knowledge and information, and a place to contribute to the policy dialogue on sustainable sanitation. Currently GTZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit) hosts its secretariat.  

Last updated: Mon, 11/22/2010 - 15:12
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