Low-cost sanitation improvements in poor communities : conditions for physical sustainability
During the last decades of the twentieth century, alternative solutions for provision of sanitation were put into practice in Brazil. These unconventional programmes, which embrace not only innovative technologies but also new social approaches, raised concerns about community/institution participation in both the implementation and the operation & maintenance (O&M) of low-cost sanitation systems. The aim of the study reported herein was to identify and assess factors likely to influence the long-term sustainability of these low-cost sanitation programmes. For this, six sanitation programmes were studied regarding: the selection and design of the systems technologies; affordability and participation of the institutions on the management of the programme; acceptability/satisfaction of the users; and, possible social/healthi mprovementsb rought to the communities. Data on these parameters were obtained by studying the documentation of the programmes, via interviews with stakeholders, observation of the systems' O&M schemes, technical inspection of the units and household questionnaire surveys. The capacity of institutions in complying with the O&M requirements of the sanitation technologies was of major importance for the sustainability of the programmes. As to the strategies for O&M, the six case studies provided a rich scenario with different administrative levels (community or state companies) and maintenance schemes( centralised,d ecentralisedo r participatory). Regardless of the solution adopted, the lack of commitment of the institutions involved in the O&M scheme was among the main factors negatively influencing the sustainability of the programmes. The four case studies based on condominial sewerage showed that enough experience had been accumulated for the reliable implementation of this technology. However, two important aspects of vulnerabilities were the lack of efficacy of the O&M schemes and deficiencies in users' awareness for the adequate utilisation of the systems. Educational programmes are essential for the process of implementation of the sanitation systems, and these were included in all programmes studied. Nevertheless, the continuity in the delivery of educational messages was frequently neglected, in spite of its importance for both the maintenance of the implemented systems and the improvements in the social and health conditions of the poor communities.