ADB, Gates Foundation partner for sanitation innovation in Asia

The lives of Vasanthi and Gopal have been transformed because of the low-cost toilet provided under Asian Development Bank's Karnataka Urban Development and Coastal Environmental Management Project in India. The ADB and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are partnering for sanitation innovation in Asia. Photo by: ADB

As the world’s most populous region continues to grow, innovative solutions to on sanitation are more needed than even before in Asia, where many governments still don’t see this Millennium Development Goal as a priority.

To address this issue, the Asian Development Bank is now partnering with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for programs to be implemented over the next few years in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

The new partnership, announced on Monday, seeks to expand and speed up access to safe sanitation in Asia-Pacific by engaging both the public and the private sector and civil society leaders in efforts to advance innovative thinking and practice, Brian Arbogast, the foundation’s water, sanitation and hygiene team director, told Devex.

Arbogast added the Gates Foundation will invest will invest $15 million into a trust fund focusing on non-sewered sanitation expansions and septage management solutions, which will be complemented by a further $28 million investment from ADB up to 2017.

“ADB approached Gates to explore possible partnership knowing that their focus on sanitation is in line with ADB’s thrust of expanding sanitation,” Amy Leung, the bank’s head of urban development and water division in Southeast Asia, told Devex.

NGO, private sector for quality control

According to ADB’s 2013 Asian Water Development Outlook, around 1.74 billion people in the region have no access to adequate sanitation, while over 792 million people are still practicing open defecation.

ADB plans to reduce this number to a specific ratio while increasing the bank’s investments on sanitation and septage projects by 655 percent by 2017 using the 2012 figure as a baseline, said Leung.

Some of the innovations that will be tested and installed will include:

  • Technology that retains solids in the septic tanks so that only the water (supernatant) is pumped out.

  • Improving design of simple septic tanks for better efficiency, specifically to treat more kilograms of biochemical oxygen demand per unit.

  • Modifications to septage trucks for better on-site dewatering.

  • Lower cost off-site dewatering technologies.

  • Sludge composting and/or waste-to-energy initiatives.

Regarding implementation and the process of providing the technology, Leung noted the bank may tap private companies and NGOs on a “competitive basis” to ensure quality and expertise.

“Implementation of specific projects will follow competitive selection process and may involve companies or NGOs depending on the nature and specific need of the projects,” she explained.

Off-track MDG

The trust fund for sanitation innovation in Asia is in line with the Millennium Development Goal focused on reducing the number of people without access to improved sanitation by half.

Just a year and a half away from the 2015 deadline, the target sanitation coverage of 62 percent will not likely be met, according to the ADB study, with only 58 percent of people having access to improved sanitation in 2010. The report does however mention several bright spots on sanitation in the region.

Despite the continued steps being taken in addressing this issue, ADB and other top donors are still wary of certain challenges in implementing this initiative.

“The challenge is to convince our client governments to include sanitation in their development priorities and to expand their budget envelop to invest more because the sanitation coverage gap is still quite huge and we are off-track in meeting the MDG target,” Leung said.

Reporting by Lean Santos

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About the author

  • Carlos Santamaria

    Carlos is a former associate editor for breaking news in Devex's Manila-based news team. He joined Devex after a decade working for international wire services Reuters, AP, Xinhua, EFE ,and Philippine social news network Rappler in Madrid, Beijing, Manila, New York, and Bangkok. During that time, he also covered natural disasters on the ground in Myanmar and Japan.