Resource recovery from wastewater in the Americas – Assessing the Water-Soil-Waste Nexus (SludgeTec)

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    Project Manager :
    Angela Hahn

    Many infrastructural projects in the field of water supply and wastewater treatment in the developing world, including the Americas, have been undertaken with private sector participation in the past four decades. The success of these often large-scale, centralised infrastructures in providing access to clean water and sanitation, in particular to the poor, is strongly contested. Providing clean water and access to safe sanitation for all is one of the targets (6.2) agreed upon by the global community within the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Centralised Wastewater Treatment Plants (WWTP) satisfy the demand of highly populated areas, but they do not fit with the new standards concerning water recycling and reuse, as well as nutrient recovery, as targeted inSDG 6.3 or the New Urban Agenda adopted at the latest UN-Habitat Conference – Habtitat III. In Latin America and the Caribbean more than half the region’s urban population lives in cities with less than one million people. What is urgently needed are appropriate and locally accepted technical options for wastewater treatment that come with respective management of faecal sludge for small- to medium-sized cities.

    The overall goal of SludgeTec is to bring together international experts and local stakeholders to co-design a sustainable wastewater treatment and management system for two pilot areas in the Americas. A particular emphasis will be placed on understanding the social aspects of the pilot sites with medium to small volumes of wastewater. The two pilot areas were determined in collaboration with local project partners Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala (USAC), and Fideocomiso de Infraestructura Ambiental de los Valles de Hidalgo, Mexico (FIAVHI).

    The concept of co-design has re-surfaced in the discourse around product development. The basic idea is to give the consumer or user of a product more say in its design, since this is the actor who will ultimately buy it. Here, the role of the researchers in the production of relevant knowledge in the interface between science and the public is at the forefront, with a clear emphasis on the creation of an area of interaction between those two spheres. Understanding (a) power relations, (b) different perspectives of the issue at hand, and (c) political directions are critical for the relative roles researchers play within the projects. Their behaviour can range from a reflective expert to a facilitator of a co-design process. We intend to use the SludgeTec project as a testing bed to expand the above methodologies of participation and co-design/co-production within the Water- Soil- Waste Nexus to the area of wastewater treatment as a new product and wastewater management as a new interface between science and public.

    Technical solutions often fail to deliver the desired solutions because technical experts do not consider the intricate and delicate governance structures of local communities. Governance is more than just legal hierarchies of official institutions; it is also the local traditional leaders, the religious groups, or the status of gender, for example. UNU-FLORES, with the support of the knowledge of the local partners, will conduct a preliminary stakeholder analysis, and assess the power relations. In addition to the identification of stakeholders and understanding relationships between actors, existing policies will be analysed. 

  • Kirschke, Sabrina, Tamara Avellán, Lucía Benavides, Serena Caucci, Angela Hahn, Andrea Müller, and Claudia Beatriz Rubio Giraldo. 2022. “Results-based management of wicked problems? Indicators and comparative evidence from Latin America.” Environmental Policy and Governance114.