Since January 2009, Sarar Transformación has been providing improved access to safe water and sustainable sanitation to approximately 2000 students and teachers in 17 pre-school, primary and secondary schools in the upper Copalita watershed, Oaxaca, Mexico. Drawing from its extensive experience with the SARAR participatory education methodology -and the related PHAST approach-, the program involves the entire school community in the assessment process, choice of technical options, and trains students, teachers and parents in the use and maintenanceof the facilities, as well as proper hygiene. Through such training, Sarar-T has introduced and fostered the uptake of alternative dry sanitation facilities, a previously uncommon technology in schools of the region, which conserve water and keep waste out of waterways.
SARAR, capacity building, schools, nutrient recovery, reclaimed water, rainwater, greywater, hygiene, decentralized sanitation, closed-loop
Since January 2009, Sarar Transformación has been providing improved access to safe water and sustainable sanitation to approximately 2000 students and teachers in 17 pre-school, primary and secondary schools in the upper Copalita watershed, Oaxaca, Mexico. Drawing from its extensive experience with the SARAR participatory education methodology -and the related PHAST approach-, the program involves the entire school community in the assessment process, choice of technical options, and trains students,teachers and parents in the use and maintenanceof the facilities, as well as proper hygiene. Through such training, Sarar-T has introduced and fostered the uptake of alternative dry sanitation facilities, a previously uncommon technology in schools of the region, which conserve water and keep waste out of waterways.
One of the underlying principles and focus of the program from the outset has been to ensure that the school WASH systems are both culturally appropriate and environmentally friendly. The full participation of the schoolcommunitiesin each of the phases of the program has been critical to its success. The adaptation of the time-tested SARAR/PHASTparticipatory methodology to the SWASH+ program has been a major achievement.
Through the initial assessment, it was seen that there could be a much greater possibility of collective learning, community impact and replicability by adopting a geographic cluster strategy involving all of the schools within the 3 program communities. In other words, the program identified the schools as a strategic entry point and catalytic element within a broader holistic vision of the community as a resilient organic unit. By involving the full school community as well as local authorities—the Sarar-TSWASH+ programproposes to generate a future scenario of a critical mass who can adapt and use environmentally friendly, closed-loop sanitation facilities within theircollective and household environment.
Upper Copalita watershed, Sierra Sur of Oaxaca State, Mexico. All the schools in 3 indigenous municipal rural mountainous towns (San Miguel Suchixtepec, San Pedro el Alto, San Marcial Ozolotepec), including preschool, elementary, secondary, technical high school, and boarding facilities.
Increasing water scarcity, environmental degradation and the H1N1 influenza pandemic in 2009, were major drivers of the SWASH program in Mexico.
Sarar Transformación initiated this 3-year SWASH+ Program in 2009 under the auspices of Global Water Challenge – GWC/GETF, (with funding from Coca-Cola Foundation, Atlanta), and in collaboration with World Wildlife FundMexico (WWF), through its Integrated Watershed Conservation Program. WWF has been a strategic partner given their broader role within the communities of the Copalita-Zimatán-Huatulco watersheds.
Special effort has been made from Sarar-T´s key staff to transfer social and technical knowledge to young local professionals (as well as international environmental engineering volunteers), builders, plumbers and agricultural technicians.Their direct involvement has developed their capacities in water and sanitation issues and raised awareness on strategies for building more robust communities.Parent´s committees, school directors and teachers have been critical in reinforcing behavioral change and hygiene promotion in each school.
Global Water Challenge and the Coca Cola Foundation are seeking committed to find ways to continue to support and scale-up the SararT SWASH+ approach in Mexico.
The primary goal of the Project extension is to assure that what has been done so far is sustainable, and devise strategies for replication and scaling-up of the SARAR SWASH+ Model.
- To consolidate the SWASH+ Model in the three localities assuring the longer-term sustainability of the activities, systems and behavior improvement;
- In collaboration with GWC and associates, to identify, document and disseminate lessons learned from the experience; and
- To engage with local, state and federal authorities to refine strategies for leveraging resources from federal school WASH programs, in particular the 350 Million USD loan from IDB.
Undoubtedly one of the great challenges of the 21st century is to shift the momentum of the water and sanitation sector, which is currently driven by linear, end-of-pipe unisectoral thinking, into a more holistic and sustainable perspective. It is becoming increasingly evident that conventional centralized top-down approaches are, in many cases, not only inadequate for achieving the MDGs, but, moreover, are inappropriate for addressing the critical challenges of whole population/communities to use and maintain appropriate sanitary toilets. But probably one of the strongest barriers to W&S sustainabilityis the general lack of awareness and information about medium and long-term effects of present trends of conventional practices and knowledge of alternative, affordable, environmentally friendly approaches.
Through its integrated sustainable sanitation strategy, this SWASH+ program has reached over 2,500 persons per year to share information, demonstrate alternative systems and promote behavioral change that has resulted in more robust, coherent, sustainable sanitation practices for the future of the towns of the Sierra Sur watershed in Oaxaca.
By installing decentralized, closed-loop sanitation systems, such as earth-composting and UDDTs, we estimate that 600kg nitrogen, 75kg Ph0sporous& 140kg potassium/yr are recovered as valuable nutrients, a resource to soil ecosystems. Apart from application in school’ ornamental gardens, part of the treated urine isapplied as a renewable liquid fertilizer in a tree nursery, destined for WWF reforestation projects.Since 87% of the excreted nitrogen is contained in urine, from a climate protection point of view, concentrating on the recovery and reuse of urine represents the most efficient means of emission reduction through nutrient recovery. [SuSanA]As strategies for adaptation to seasonal water scarcity, we introduced rainwater catchment; by adopting dry sanitation systems, we estimate2,800m3 of water/yr is conserved, an important implication in terms of unnecessary wastewater generated; through greywater management, we estimate 1,500m3 is reclaimed water for irrigation.
SararT developed a comprehensive SWASH+ information kit in Spanish, including posters, manuals, O+M sheets and checklists, case studies and technical data sheets. The investment level per student/yr is 65USD in the pilot phase.
Several schools have decided to retrofit or cancel their existing conventional toilet facilities, which demonstrates the cultural acceptance of dry sanitation systems, as long as they are aesthetic, functional, hygienic and user-friendly.The inappropriateness of most conventional waterborne sanitation systems is especially felt during the dry season; or whenever the poorly built and maintained septic tanks are filled up.
The program has increased access to sustainable safe water; improved hygiene behaviors, particularly handwashing; increased access to improved sanitation facilities; increased demand for sanitation in the communities where the schools are located; raised awareness to problems associated with WASH through diverse assessment, education, communication, monitoring and training activities; actively involved students and teachers responsible in activities related to the Program; and finally, built capacity leading to the use of sustainable sanitation practices that allow for closing nutrient loops, decreased water consumption and stimulated grey water reuse.
In spite of our concerns for the sustainability at the local level, the SWASH+ Program model that has evolved in Oaxaca has already had a significant influence in other programs in Mexico and beyond. Based on our experience, Sarar-T conducted several socio-technical assessments and provided training supportto the UN Joint Program in the states of Chiapas and Veracruz (OPAS 1816: Fortalecer la Gestión Efectiva y Democrática de Agua y Saneamiento en México para el Apoyo al Logro de los ODM). During 2010, Sarar-T was invited to work with the IDB and SEP (Mexican Ministry of Education) to design a WASH in schools program for all of Mexico. The first loan, for $350 million, will finance the Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene in Basic Education Program, an initiative that will combine improvements in the physical infrastructure of 20,000 schools with a comprehensive program of hygiene education and infrastructure maintenance. The loan was approved and signed in early 2011.
The relative autonomy of local schools has also provided an opportunity to develop demonstration models that we hope can subsequently impact on institutional thinking and policy, and, in turn, ultimately leverage funding for more sustainable W&S approaches on a broader scale.
In order to strengthen and institutionalize the roles and responsibilities of the various local stakeholders andassure greater permanence and sustainability of the systems, the Program has formalized the handover process where the local authorities, school committees and administration agree to: oversee the correct U&M of the installed water and dry sanitation systems; and transmit knowledge and information to the incoming students, parent´s committee members, new teachers and school authorities.
Through its integrated holistic water and sustainable sanitation strategy, the SWASH+ program has demonstrated appropriation of alternative W&S systems and promoted behavioral change that has resulted in more robust, coherent, sustainable sanitation practices for the future of the towns of the Sierra Sur.Given the present level of visibility, we consider that it is important that every possible effort is made to assure that the Oaxaca SWASH+ program will continue to be a model program now and in the future.
A key lesson that has been learned, particularly in the past year, is that the SWASH+ Program in Oaxaca is indeed breaking ground by providing an alternative model to the conventional top-down infrastructure investment-oriented programs that have been the pattern in Mexico (as well as in many other developed and developing countries). Tragically, due to inappropriateness, abandonment, lack of maintenance and breakdowns, business-as-usual has not only not solved the problems and provided sustainable services, which presumably they have set out to do, but frequently create conditions that are unsafe for the users, the community and destructive to the local environment and resource base.
- It is critical to have a clear definition of roles and responsibilities of the different local stakeholders in relation to the safe water and sanitation systems.
- SWASH+ Programs must spell out and establish clear commitments with key local stakeholders to assure that they effectively transfer their information and knowledge to their replacements when they leave their positions.
- The long term impact and sustainability of the school interventions in WASH improvement depends on the degree to which the local community understands, values and assimilates them within their own family and community contexts.
- Community impact can be greatly enhanced through the involvement of parents and other community members, as well as local authorities in practical workshops and project events.
- It is essential that the school WASH systems are appropriate to the physical and cultural conditions of the local milieu and there are adequate opportunities for awareness-raising in regard to their function and possible benefits.
- Incremental interventions permit an initial awareness raising phase, then an educational (hygiene promotion, waste management) phase, a design and construction phase, and,finally, user maintenance training, which in turn helps to build trust within the community itself.
- There is increased awareness from the community that the environmental impacts of human settlement start from the top of the watersheds.
- SWASH+ programsprovide opportunities for local youth to become directly involved in work that has a direct and tangible benefit for their community, which in turn stimulates them to remain and work there, thus reducing migration.
In general, it is the sense of the project stakeholders that 3 years might be inadequate to fully achieve the project goals in terms of sustainability, institutionalization and replicability. More time is required to achieve adequate exposure with regional authorities of the technological innovations, as well as for the participatory non-formal education process.
- How to generate the adequate mechanisms for financial support to be able to extend the Program presence within the region and to focus on the social and community impact goals? Indeed, as we all know, top-down funding mechanisms with predefined targets and indicators, often pre-empt the possibility of real meaningful community involvement.
- One of the primary challenges in scaling-up, e.g. in the context of the IDB-SEP national program, will be to fuse the best elements of what has been an essentially bottom-up participatory community-based SWASH+ model, with the demands and limitations of a primarily vertical model that pervades the conventional government structures.
- Although the Program is achieving a significant level of capacity-development in the area, it is necessary to further develop the institutional and structural mechanisms that can consolidate these human and knowledge resources towards a common goal.
- SararT is exploring how to support the consolidation of service-provision micro-enterprise/social entrepreneurial structures.
- Some schools on their own initiative are beginning to replicate dry sanitation systems to further improve their W&S installations.
- Municipal presidents are applying for state-level community development funds for household-centered environmental sanitation systems.
- With social and technical input from SararT, the UN Joint Program in Chiapas, through the State Educational Infrastructure Office, is looking for mechanisms to implement sustainable WASH strategies, including rainwater a harvesting model, point-of-use drinking water systems, handwashing facilities, and biofilters for greywater treatment and reuse for 6,000 public schools.
- Global Water Challenge and the Coca Cola Foundation are seeking committed to find ways to continue to support and scale-up the SararT SWASH+ approach in Mexico.
- SararT is looking at ways to leverage funds from the IDB loan.