The beginnings of a promising faecal sludge management system
Bangladesh ranks seven in the list of countries most vulnerable to the climate crisis. When flooding occurs, poorly contained human waste seeps into the streets of Bangladesh, enters homes, harms livelihoods, and pollutes the country’s major rivers. There is an urgent need for increased global attention to the safe management of faecal sludge as a climate mitigation strategy. Bangladesh is aware of this and is exploring Jhenaidah’s faecal sludge management services as one blueprint for potential nationwide replication.
The reality is few faecal sludge management (FSM) services in Bangladesh equal those offered by the Jhenaidah municipality. FSM services in Jhenaidah are a well-planned, integrated business model, which places a high value on service accountability and transparency.
A sanitation system that has grown out of a partnership
Built in 2012 by the national government’s Department of Public Health Engineering (DPHE), Jhenaidah’s Faecal Sludge Treatment Plant has been under the care of the Jhenaidah municipality for over a decade.
In 2014, the municipality partnered with SNV and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in two consecutive sanitation projects. Over this period, the partners took steps to contribute to the co-creation of a robust sanitation system. Together, they developed Jhenaidah municipality’s strategy for achieving Sustainable Development Goals 6.2 and 6B, the city’s sanitation plan, and a service management model that assigned the responsibility for emptying services to Aid Foundation, a private entity, following government public procurement rules.
What began as a three-year lease with Aid Foundation in December 2017 evolved into a ten-year Public-Private Partnership arrangement. SNV and the foundation collaborated throughout the leasing time to improve the foundation's administration and service delivery capabilities.
Mutual accountability to reinforce the sanitation system
Capacity strengthening, coupled with mutually agreed enforcement procedures, makes a good system.
The Municipality-Aid Foundation's 10-year agreement included a target for Faecal Sludge Collection Ratio (FSCR). Among other things, the FSCR made sure that both partners stayed responsible for their respective responsibilities in the system. For example,
a failure by the Aid Foundation to meet its minimum FSCR target (e.g., 15% for year one) would compel the foundation to add 5% to its annual royalty payment to the municipal.
should the municipal fail to facilitate safe disposal at the faecal sludge treatment plant, the municipality would receive 5% less than the agreed royalty payment until the time it can fulfil its responsibility.
The agreement included the FSCR as well as additional mandated performance monitoring indicators with associated financial penalties for non-compliance (including the possibility of contract cancellation). These comprised indicators for workers’ occupational health and safety, operations and maintenance, safe removal or disposal of faecal sludge, and effluent quality testing and treatment in accordance with government standards.
Technologies for transparency
The Jhenaidah municipality adopted the Integrated Municipal Information System (IMIS), a tool that aids in the delivery of efficient services and transparent governance. Aid Foundation has been utilising IMIS since 2021, with assistance from SNV, in order to improve customer service (such as application processing, payments, and client feedback) and produce service reports based on performance monitoring indicators.
On the other hand, the municipality uses the extensive data from IMIS to enhance the responsiveness of municipal services and their accountability to city dwellers. As well as to arrive at sound investment decisions based on data and evidence.
Efficient data management systems and quality FSM services delivery had not gone unnoticed. In 2020, Jhenaidah received ISO 9001:2015 certification, raising the service’s credibility.
A model to follow
Today, the good reputation of Jhenaidah’s faecal sludge management services is reaching many Water and WASH stakeholders in Bangladesh at national and internal levels. Among those that had taken notice is the multi-million-dollar Bangladesh City Inclusive Sanitation Project in 25 towns supported by the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).
Recently, the Government formed a three-member committee headed by the Joint Secretary of the Local Government Division’s Planning Wing. The committee is tasked to dialogue with stakeholders in Jhenaidah to learn about the system.
The team’s findings in Jhenaidah are expected to put forward recommendations in, (i) infrastructure operations and maintenance, (ii) entrepreneur capacity strengthening, (iii) decent work conditions for emptiers, and (iv) how to incorporate the Jhenaidah FSM model in the project documents for replication in all 25 GOB-AIIB project sites.
Indeed, the Government’s interest in Jhenaidah is yet another stamp of approval to the years of partnership investment in the municipality’s faecal sludge management system.
Equally important, the team is helping take lessons and processes to scale, equipping Bangladesh towns with the knowledge and skills to meet – with greater speed – the debilitating but preventable effects of the climate crisis.
Contributors: SNV in Bangladesh team - Shahidul Islam (WASH Advisor), Ismène Stalpers (Country Director), and Plaban Gongopaddhay (Knowledge Management and Communications Advisor)
Contact Shahidul Islam by email for more information.