Tag archives: research

#WEDC41 Part 5: Be the change you want to see

In July, I spent two weeks in Kenya at the WEDC conference in Nakuru and visiting sanitation companies, Sanergy and Sanivation, and the newly-established sanitation research group at Meru University of Science and Technology. This is the last in a five-part series of blogs about that conference and those visits. You can see the earlier posts about (the lack of) government support for container-based sanitation businesses here, about WASH failures here, about behaviour change toolkits here, and about systems mapping and the role of religion here.

Sometimes you meet a person who you know is going to make big changes to the world around them. Joy Riungu, the Dean of Engineering and Architecture at Meru University of Science and Technology (MUST) is one of those people.

Meru, like any other town in East Africa, has its fair share of sanitation challenges. The sewerage system left behind by the British colonialists covers a small area of the town centre and is overloaded. Some of the septic tankers that serve those not connected to the sewerage system empty at the sewage treatment works but it is just as likely that they will empty into a storm water drain or a river. Many people’s only access to sanitation is a stinking pit latrine that seeps away into the nearest undergrowth or watercourse. Others have no option but to defecate in the open.

Joy wants to see all of that change. Her new research group, which includes microbiologists, engineers, economists, and agriculturalists, is determined that the work they do should lead to real changes to sanitation for Meru. Already, they are working with a local school to provide container-based toilets that separate urine and faeces and will not be affected by flooding when the heavy rains come. The waste from those toilets will be treated at a new black soldier fly larvae treatment facility on the university campus alongside food waste from the local market. The aim is a system with no waste products. The black soldier fly larvae are pasteurised to kill any pathogens and then fed to chickens, the residue from the treatment process is turned into a fertiliser and the urine will also be treated to produce a liquid fertiliser.

Joy recognises the challenges that Meru faces but sees them as opportunities. Across Kenya, if engineers are exposed to any form of wastewater treatment training during their degree, it is heavily focused on sewered sanitation. Joy sees a huge opportunity for MUST to become the first training centre for on-site sanitation engineers in Kenya. The people of Meru have a preference for the “flush and forget” approach of sewered sanitation but know that it isn’t an option for everyone. Joy is determined to ensure that the community understand that faecal sludge treatment and reuse can be a more cost-effective and sustainable option for their town.

Joy wants the research that her team does to have a direct impact on the communities around her and she recognises that Meru Water and Sewerage Services (MEWASS) are a critical stakeholder in that. For now, the MEWASS management won’t let her in to visit the sewage treatment works as they know the system does not operate well. However, when she took us to peer over the fence, one of the operators came to say hello. He was a former student and was pleased to see Joy and the rest of the team’s interest in improving the operation of the works. He promised to stay in touch. It is these little encounters that make you realise that where others only see challenges, Joy sees opportunities.

The enthusiasm and determination of Joy and her team is infectious. It is hard to look around the site when they are planning a faecal sludge laboratory, treatment facilities and agricultural field trials and not see the impact they are going to have on their town, their county, their country and beyond. Remember these names, and watch this space!

#WDP36 – More than a popularity contest…

In 2015, the first Women in Global Health list was published. It was a list of 100 leading women working in global health, and it has since grown to include more notable women in the field. It was started by Ilona Kickbusch, Director of the Global Health Programme at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva. She was bored of attending conferences and panels where she was the only woman speaker. She decided that she needed to showcase women in global health and asked her Twitter followers to nominate women to the list. The idea caught on and the list grew.

At the World Conference on Drowning Prevention 2017 in Vancouver, Canada, a similar Twitter campaign was run using #WDP36 to find a list of 36 leading women in drowning prevention. Why 36? Because some amazing women work to prevent 360,000 drowning deaths every year and that’s something to shout about. Women were nominated on Twitter with the only criteria being that they play an active role at the forefront of drowning prevention. The aim of the list is increase visibility of women working in drowning prevention, highlight the contribution of women in advancing both research and practice and to offer role models to young women. Women are listed alphabetically by surname. Like the Women in Global Health list, the Women in Drowning Prevention can grow with time. This is only the beginning…

Women in drowning prevention WCDP17

Caroline Lukaszyk, Tessa Clemens, Alison Mahoney and Amy Peden were the four presenters in the Non-Fatal Drowning Data session at WCDP2017

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Development research: Access all areas?

Alexandra Elbakyan is in hiding, possibly in Russia. Elsevier, the publishing giant, have filed a legal case against her for sharing millions of academic journal papers on the internet. Her actions are a protest against the paywalls that so many scholarly articles are hidden behind.

If you work in a research environment, these paywalls are all too common in your daily work. When looking for journal articles about international development sanitation earlier this week, I was dismayed to discover that the vast majority were locked away behind pay walls. Having working in research for a number of years, I am familiar with the frustration of finding what looks from the abstract like it might be exactly the paper you have been searching for, only to discover that to access the full text you will need to fork out an extortionate sum because it is published in a journal that your institution does not have a subscription for.
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