The SSWM Toolbox
logo_sswm.jpgPromoting a more holistic approach to capacity development in the water and sanitation sector

By Andrea Pain and Dorothee Spuhler, seecon international gmbh

Water resources are under increasing pressure due to factors such as population growth and urbanisation, rapid industrialisation, expanding and intensifying agricultural production and changing consumption pattern. In the future, climate change will only exacerbate the problem. This development leads to water scarcity and conflicts worldwide and seriously undermines progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

However, though water is scarce, it is often used in an unsustainable way: different stakeholders (agriculture, industry, households, water suppliers, sewage managers, etc.) fulfil their needs frequently without taking into account the impact on others. This lack of coordination causes overexploitation and wastage of resources. Once used, proper treatment and reuse of wastewater is worldwide more of an exception than the norm. Essentially, this leads to the contamination of ecosystems, a lack of nutrients and soil degradation in agriculture, and negatively influences food security. However, single sector approaches such as wastewater treatment or river basin management are too limited. To save and recycle water, regain resources and protect ecosystems, the whole water cycle needs to be considered in an integrated, holistic approach. Linking up reuse-oriented sanitation with water resources management and agriculture maybe one approach to achieve this.

Sustainable Sanitation and Water Management - SSWM

Though IWRM takes into consideration the entire water cycle from source to sea, and recognizes that the different uses of water are interdependent, it is often looked at on a scale that local actors cannot influence. Moreover, at this overarching scale, wastewater management and sanitation are often not given enough importance. On the other hand, approaches on the local level for water and sanitation are often sectoral in nature, and frequently lack the synergies and efficiency of holistic approaches that try to consider the water cycle as a whole. Hence, the general approach of IWRM needs to be transferred down to the local level and has to be brought in relation to other sectors such as sanitation, agriculture or energy. Focusing on the human influences on the whole water and nutrient cycle, Sustainable Sanitation and Water Management (SSWM) breaks down IWRM to the local level and links it up with sustainable sanitation and food or energy security.

The SSWM Toolbox

Even though there exist dozens of behavioural change approaches, hundreds of technological solutions, and thousands of good publications and practice examples, an important part of the world population still does not have access to improved sanitation or sources of drinking water. The SSWM Toolbox is an online, open-source capacity development support tool developed for promoting a more holistic approach to capacity development in the water and sanitation sector and to raise awareness on SSWM among different sectors. The Toolbox provides help in both planning and implementation and gives an overview on existing approaches, software (behavioural change) and hardware (technical solutions) and related further readings, case studies, etc. available in the sector. It structures the 'the best of' in a comprehensive but manageable format that allows users to find the information they need for a more holistic planning and implementation of water and sanitation interventions. Currently, the SSWM Toolbox is the most comprehensive open source local-level capacity development tool accessible online and offline.

The participatory project planning and process cycle (top) and the water and nutrient cycle at the global and local level (bottom). The two graphs illustrate the entry pages of the Planning and Process and the Implementation Toolbox, respectively. The user can enter the different chapters (e.g., Exploring, Demand Creation, etct.; or Water Source, Purification, Use, etc.) by clicking the titles and, for each section, access a comprehensible but manageable collection of factsheets on the most relevant tools available in the sector. Source: seecon (2010)

More than 300'000 visitors and still counting

The Toolbox is used a learning, training and knowledge management tool, and besides strengthening the skills for a more sustainable planning and implementation on the local level, it also contributes to the overall awareness on SSWM in the sector up to the policy dialogue. The SSWM Toolbox is particularly useful for practitioners working with water, sanitation and agriculture, but it is also used as a comprehensive pool of information for students or decision makers, and as a training tool for lecturers or other trainers involved in capacity development or higher education. After the launch of the Toolbox in Stockholm 2 years ago, the SSWM Toolbox has seen a steadily growing use, with over 300,000 visits from around the world. A recent user monitoring study has shown that main user groups are students, NGOs, public authorities, private consultants, and scientists and lecturers. The majority of visits are from regions where partners have carried out SSWM capacity development, namely East and South Asia, Europe and Northern America, with a lower but increasing use in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Not a reinvention of the wheel, but rather an easily accessible overview
The Toolbox does not aim at reinventing the wheel, but rather at giving an easily accessible overview on existing approaches and available resources. The collection and compilation of the material is made possible through the conceptual and content-wise input of many partners from the North and the South, each having their specific expertise in one of the fields covered by SSWM. These partnerships are fundamental to the practical application of the SSWM Toolbox. By working closely with partners who apply the approach of the SSWM Toolbox in the field through implementing sustainable water and sanitation measures, the Toolbox constantly receives feedback in order to update its contents based on the needs and experiences of users. As such, the Toolbox represents a tool that fundamentally integrates the approach of sustainable sanitation and water management with practical application through the development of strong partnerships.

The SSWM Toolbox - A living instrument for capacity development

One such partner is the Xavier Sustainable Sanitation (SuSan) Center in Cagayan de Oro, Philippines. Working closely with the SSWM Toolbox, the SuSan Center has recently used the expertise within the Toolbox to conduct a training on the critical role of SSWM in emergency preparedness and response (EP&R). The training was organised in collaboration with seecon gmbh and Xavier University. Besides lectures, group works etc., the training also included hands-on training at Xavier Ecoville (XE). XE is a relocation site for 550 families, who were victims of the typhoon WASHI that hit Cagayan de Oro in December 2011. It is a being constructed on an approximately 5-hectare land donated by Xavier University (XU). XE is designed as a model community for the Philippines and around the globe, where SSWM planning and implementation approaches are applied from the beginning. Thereby, the Xavier Ecoville Community is assisted in becoming cohesive and self-reliant, and capable of initiating and sustaining projects or activities which respond to family and community needs through effective mobilisation and utilisation of resources.

During a SSWM Training Course at Xavier University: Working on the SSWM Concept of Xavier's Ecoville, a relocation site for the victims of typhoon WASHI which has hit Cagayan de Oro in December 2011. Photo: Spuhler (2012)

Fostering not only knowledge, but also implementation skills

The SSWM Training conducted by SuSan Centre enabled the participants to understand the importance of SSWM's role and its significant correlation with the EP&R cycle in order to reduce risks during disasters or emergency situations. The hands-on training in XE allowed the participants to gain experience in understanding, defining and optimising the local water and sanitation system. The very essential output of the training was the group works generated the participants, wherein each cluster developed a first draft for future projects on how to optimise SSWM for Xavier Ecoville permanent site. These concepts will be integrated in the work of SuSan Centre, in charge of all WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) components in Ecoville temporary and permanent resettlement. Thus, this training not only catalised new ideas on how to optimise the system in the future permanent site being currently constructed, but also fostered new partnerships supporting the implementation of the drafted ideas in the close future. By continuing to work with local partners implementing the principles of SSWM, the SSWM Toolbox represents a unique and effective tool to bring the approach of SSWM down to the local level and put into practice.

Vermicomposting of faecal sludge at Xavier's Ecoville. Photo: Spuhler (2012)

Promoting a more holistic approach to capacity development in the water and sanitation sector

As an approach that encourages the implementation of environmentally and socially sustainable solutions for water and sanitation, the SSWM Toolbox is a promising vehicle to increase awareness and encourage the application of sustainability and ecological engineering projects for water and sanitation around the globe.

Vegetable garden at Xavier's Ecoville, Philippines. Photo: Spuhler (2012)


Andrea Pain and Dorothee Spuhler
seecon international gmbh
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Last Updated ( Tuesday, 12 November 2013 )