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Garnet symbol (Global Applied Research Network)
Working Paper 3

Priority Areas for Applied Research
Author: Roland Schertenlieb, SANDEC.

Contents:

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introduction;

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general purpose and character of research activities;

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the different subsectors of the WSS sector;

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priority research areas in the past; present knowledge;

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obstacles and constraints to expanded and sustainable systems; and

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needs for future research.


Introduction
This chapter identifies the main areas where more applied research is needed if the water and sanitation sector is to meet the goal of expanded and sustainable water supply, sanitation and solid waste services in developing countries. It shall discuss general research areas deserving special attention in future research activities. However, since there is no one best way of organising and ranking appropriate research, it is not intended to provide an exhaustive list of specific research topics and activities with given priorities.

The list of priority research areas recommended in this chapter is intended to set the tone for future applied research and to assist research organisations in developing their individual research programmes for the 1990s. It will also help External Support Agencies (ESAs) in the formulation and implementation of their policies with regard to the funding of research activities. The target audience is therefore policy makers, external support agencies, decision makers in research organisations and individual researchers.

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General purpose and character of research activities
The most important purpose of conducting applied research in the water and sanitation sector is to find new approaches and solutions to problems and obstacles which prevent those active in the sector, including the beneficiaries, from achieving the goal of expanded and sustainable water supply, sanitation and solid waste services especially for the poor. In other words, applied research is the application of research techniques to questions of current concern for practitioners in the area of water supply, sanitation and water resource management. Applied research can involve the investigation of a single limited issue as well as the investigation of multi-aspect problems. It also includes operational research investigating special issues and/or problems in the context of an implementation project.

In water supply, sanitation and hygiene, men and women often have different tasks, responsibilities and authority, and benefit differently from projects. Research projects will have to take such gender differences into account. Not every research will have a specific gender angle, but this possibility should always be examined. This means that awareness of gender issues should be present among those formulating, funding and reviewing research projects.

Finally, in any research effort, the direct outcome and the obtained results are obviously of prime importance. However, building up and strengthening national research capacities in developing countries is yet another very important factor in conducting applied and operational research. This aspect should never be neglected when designing, assessing and funding research activities.

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The different subsectors of the WSS sector
The water and sanitation sector can be divided into the following subsectors:

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Water Supply;

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Hygiene Behaviour/Hygiene Education;

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Sanitation; and

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Water Resource Management.


3.1. Water Supply
This subsector includes the withdrawal, collection, storage, treatment and distribution of drinking water.

3.2. Hygiene Behaviour / Hygiene Education:
To regard 'hygiene behaviour/education' as a subsector of the water and sanitation sector is rather unusual. However, several health impact studies have clearly established that the improvement of water supply and sanitation alone is usually necessary but not sufficient to achieve broad health impacts if personal and domestic hygiene are not given equal emphasis. This is the reason why it is suggested to regard hygiene behaviour/education as a subsector where specific research needs can and should be identified. Hygiene behaviour/education is rather different to the previous sub-sector in that technology plays only a minor role.

3.3. Sanitation
This subsector is further subdivided into:

Excreta and..
Wastewater..
Management:..

including the collection, (treatment), and disposal/reuse of liquid waste as well as the management of such systems. It is beyond the scope of this report to address the specific problems and issues with regard to the management of industrial wastewater;

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Solid Waste..
Management:..

including the collection, treatment and disposal/reuse of municipal solid waste and the management of solid waste services. Again, it is beyond the scope of this report to address the specific problems and issues related to the management of industrial and hazardous solid waste;

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Stormwater..
Drainage:..

including the collection of stormwater and the management of stormwater systems. The lack of proper stormwater drainage particularly affects the urban poor as they often have little alternative to living in poorly drained and flood prone areas. Water supply and excreta disposal are in fact practically impossible to implement in areas subject to frequent flooding and/or landslides. In addition, the stormwater drainage systems are very often used for the collection and disposal of domestic wastewater. This leads to great adverse epidemiological problems related to the spread of malaria and other vectorial diseases. Indeed, many of the urban poor in the developing countries would probably rate stormwater drainage more highly than water supply if consulted about their relative importance.


3.4. Water Resource Management
This subsector deals with aspects of water demand management. There is a growing competition between the domestic, agricultural and industrial use of water sources. However, shortage in domestic and industrial water supply has adverse consequences for both economic development and poverty alleviation.

All of these subsectors are of course somewhat related to each other. A common denominator of the subsectors is the fact that the existing problems in each subsector are to a greater or lesser degree related to technical, institutional, socio-cultural, and financial issues. It is also important to keep in mind, that the needs and problems are quite different in rural and urban areas, particularly in the subsectors water supply and sanitation. Solid waste management and stormwater drainage problems, however, are typically related to urban areas only and this report, therefore, focuses in solid waste management and stormwater drainage on the needs of peri-urban and urban areas.

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Priority research areas in the past; present knowledge
4.1. Water Supply
The problems of inadequate water supplies in developing countries have already been addressed by researchers for quite some time. However, until recently they were mainly regarded as technical and/or economic problems. Up to the 1980s, not only urban water supplies, which are indeed susceptible to engineering solutions, but also rural water supplies were frequently dealt with from a purely engineering point of view, with only a mere reference to social or institutional aspects. Therefore, although a considerable amount of research has been carried out in the field of water supply, many of the efforts concentrated on technical issues. Consequently, the general technical know-how with regard to the design and construction of water supply installations is relatively high and certainly not the main factor limiting the extension and sustainability of water supply systems. In contrast, little is known still today on the planning and implementing of a water supply system that can be maintained and operated in the long run.

4.2. Hygiene Behaviour / Hygiene Education
Only very recently have research activities on non-technical issues been given greater attention. A distinction between the roles of men and women, and their changes and impacts are even more recent. Therefore, comparatively little is known how the socio-economic and cultural influences affect hygiene behaviour and why in many cases only a small percentage of the target population is actually using newly installed water supply and sanitation systems.

4.3. Sanitation
For a long time, excreta and wastewater management has been largely neglected. Since urban sanitation was usually understood to mean sewerage, the middle and low-income populations of most cities in developing countries, for whom conventional sewerage is neither feasible nor affordable, were automatically excluded. Until the 1980s, with the exception of the work of a few pioneers, no serious research efforts went into the question of finding and testing feasible technical solutions for the problem of excreta disposal in the great mass of overcrowded slums and shanty towns of developing countries. In rural areas, the promotion of sanitation was largely neglected and usually had a much lower priority than improving water supply. Only during the International Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation Decade (1980-1990) has the importance of excreta and wastewater management gained wider recognition and led to an increase in research activities in this subsector. Consequently, knowledge of sanitation options, including both on- and off-site solutions for dealing with human wastes has expanded significantly in the last 10 years. However, similarly to the water supply subsector, the past research activities in excreta and wastewater management focused mainly on technical issues. Therefore, also in this subsector, the most serious gaps in knowledge are related to non-technical (i.e.institutional, financial and socio-cultural) issues.

Compared to water supply and excreta and wastewater management, the problems related to solid waste management in developing countries have received, even during the International Water and Sanitation Decade, very little attention. This is mainly attributed to the fact that the improvement of water supply and the safe disposal of human excreta have been considered more important from a public health point of view. However, on account of rapid urbanisation taking place in Asia, Latin America and Africa, urban solid waste management is becoming one of the most immediate and serious environmental problems confronting urban governments in developing countries. Inadequate collection and disposal of solid waste is nowadays a major factor in the spread of gastrointestinal and parasitic diseases caused primarily by the proliferation of insect and rodent vectors. Nevertheless, ESAs' support to developing countries in the past was basically restricted to the financing of large numbers of expensive refuse collection vehicles and very little research has been done on the basic question of how to achieve expanded and sustainable solid waste services to lower income urban areas. In the past, solid waste was merely regarded as refuse. Today, however, it is increasingly considered as a resource, particularly by the informal sector whose role is gaining in importance.

Storm water drainage is another component of urban sanitation that was given low research priority in the past and where, therefore, little is known about alternative options to the conventional solution which is often not affordable.

4.4. Water Resource Management
The Water and Sanitation sector has, in the past, taken a relatively narrow view of the cross-sectoral issue of Water Resource Management. Major emphasis was placed on identifying sufficient water sources to meet supply requirements and very little attention was given to conservation and demand management. Although most ESAs and some developing country governments are now prepared to recognise that water is an 'economic good' and should be managed as such, very little has been done to date to internalise the actual implications of doing so for sector policy, finance, pricing, and utility management.

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Obstacles and constraints to expanded and sustainable systems
This section addresses the question: What are the main obstacles and constraints to expanded and sustainable water supply and sanitation (including solid waste management and stormwater drainage systems) ? It focuses on those areas where more research is necessary in order to overcome these obstacles and constraints and where more knowledge will produce greater impact on the implementation of expanded and sustainable water and sanitation services.

5.1. Lack of community participation/management
The role of the community in the implementation of water supply and sanitation projects has been under discussion for a long time. In the early '70s, the community was viewed primarily as a source of unskilled labour, and community participation was generally limited to its mobilisation in order to lower project costs. Most schemes were conceived, directed, and financed by central government agencies or other organisations outside the community concerned. Consequently, a considerable gap in motivation has quite often been observed between those who finance and construct water supply and sanitation projects and those who profit from them in the village and/or in peri-urban areas. Any changes/improvements are often not given high priority especially if additional financial input is required by the people. As the Decade progressed, it became increasingly clear that project success, particularly in rural and peri-urban areas, is highly dependent on a higher degree of community participation and responsibility for continued operation. It is now evident that the full participation of the community and enhanced women's involvement are critical elements in providing safe drinking water supply to rural and peri-urban areas on a sustainable basis.

5.2. Institutional and managerial failures in the public sector and poor utilisation of private sector capacity
There is now overwhelming evidence of the poor performance of many agencies involved in the water and sanitation sector, especially with regard to providing expected services. It is increasingly clear that institutional and managerial failures in the public sector are often the major causes for poor performance. It is also becoming apparent that the difficulties in levying charges and collecting payments for water and waste management systems are frequently related to weak institutional systems and failure to meet users' perceived needs. Nevertheless, in the majority of cases in developing countries, water, sanitation and solid waste services have been provided exclusively through the public sector and the capacity/advantages of the private sector has been very poorly utilised.

5.3. Lack of appropriate, affordable and sustainable technologies
Water supply and sanitation schemes in rural and peri-urban areas can only be managed and operated by the community if a technology appropriate to the means and possibilities of the users is utilised, particularly as regards the technical level, the reliability as well as the financial affordability of any equipment. Although knowledge of technical options and solutions has expanded significantly in the last 10-15 years and more affordable appropriate technologies are now available, the percentage of total external sector funding for urban and rural water supply and sanitation allocated for projects utilising these technologies is still relatively small.

5.4. Lack of operation and maintenance
Inadequate operation and maintenance procedures have traditionally been a major stumbling block in sustaining water supply, sanitation and solid waste services. A major difficulty facing many countries with regard to operation and maintenance of installed systems has been their lack of financial and institutional capacity.

5.5. Lack of appropriate methods to measure impacts/benefits of water supply and sanitation schemes
Planners dealing with the allocation of resources to the water and sanitation sector have not only to decide on how resources should be allocated between WS & S programmes, on the one hand, and other development programmes (including health programmes), on the other hand, but they also have to decide on the appropriate allocations for specific water supply, sanitation, and hygiene education activities, and the levels of service to be provided. Therefore, studies designed to assess the economic, social and health impacts/benefits of WS & S are needed. In practice, however, such studies have been plagued by a variety of methodological problems. There is still a lack of methods to measure the different impacts/benefits which are adapted to the limited time and resources available.

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Needs for future research
This section will describe in general terms the suggested future priority research areas. As mentioned earlier, no exhaustive list of specific research topics and activities given priorities shall be provided.

First of all, there is a clear need for applied research to be oriented much more towards the needs of users in developing countries, rather than according to the academic interests of researchers and research institutions. It is also clear that the principal challenges of the immediate future will not be technological questions - the 'hardware' of water supplies, sanitation and waste management - but the 'software' issues: How are water, sanitation and solid waste services to be organised and financed ? How can people be trained, organised, and motivated to install, use, and maintain the facilities ? How can institutions develop the sector further and make improvements more sustainable ? How can better use be made of existing assets ? How can alternative types of systems to serve low-income neighbourhoods be provided?

In order to overcome the obstacles and constraints outlined in section 5, more applied research is needed in the following areas:

6.1 Institutional issues
There is an urgent research need to find the optimal role of the public and the private sector with regard to planning, designing, building, operating, maintaining, and monitoring water supply, sanitation and waste management schemes. The optimal 'division of labour and responsibility' certainly varies for the different subsectors considering the variations in economy of scale, economy of contingency and type of ownership.

6.2 Socio-cultural issues
Socio-cultural issues are of course closely related to all the other issues. Additional research efforts on socio-cultural aspects are mainly needed with regard to hygiene behaviour and with regard to finding appropriate ways of mobilising community support for and participation in the provision of sustainable water supply, sanitation and solid waste schemes in rural, urban fringe and slum areas. This research should not be gender-neutral, but it should look at how men and women each take part and what effects this has on the results of the project and on people's lives.

6.3. Economic and financial issues
Willingness to pay for alternative technologies and service levels are key information for setting up financially sustainable water supply, sanitation and solid waste management services. Past research efforts in developing methodologies for determining the willingness to pay for water supply has to be expanded to sanitation and solid waste services. The research on willingness to pay should also study how health and hygiene education influences the willingness to pay. Additional research efforts are also needed in studying and developing alternative cost-recovery mechanisms. This research should include investigation of alternative models for financing the sector if or when the costs cannot be covered by beneficiaries.

6.4. Technology issues
As referred to in the last section, technology issues have commanded a great deal of attention in the past and water supply has received much more attention than sanitation and solid waste management. Although there is still undoubted need for applied research on specific technological developments in water supply, the need has shifted towards the development of sanitation and waste management technologies. In sanitation, more research is needed especially on how to choose the appropriate technology-mix in urban areas with high-, middle- and low-income neighbourhoods. In all subsectors, special emphasis should be given to the development of technologies which can be managed/operated by the community of beneficiaries.

6.5
There are also research needs for the development of realistic methods and indicators for determining the impact of water and sanitation improvements (health, economic and environmental impacts).

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Maintained by f.o.odhiambo@lboro.ac.uk and j.fisher1@lboro.ac.uk

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