Posts tagged “water”

India is building millions of toilets, but that's the easy part

Rama Lakshmi, in the Washington Post, on the push for many, many more toilets throughout India:

Modi has made toilet-building and sanitation a rallying cry since October. He has enlisted large companies to help. In the past year, his government has built more than 5.8 million toilets — up from 4.9 million the previous year. But reports show that many of them are unused or that they are being used to store grain, clothes or to tether goats, thwarting Modi’s sanitation revolution.

“Even as we accelerate toilet construction now, much more needs to be done to persuade people to use them,” said Chaudhary Birender Singh, India’s minister for rural development, sanitation and drinking water. “For long, we assumed that if the toilets are built, people will automatically use it. But we have to diligently monitor the use over a period of time and reward them with cash incentives to the village councils at every stage. Only then will it become a daily habit.”

This all sounds really familiar.

Alamere Falls redux

Beth and I took off on Saturday morning for a hike to and from Alamere Falls via the Palomarin trail. This walk is one of our favorites, meandering through a range of terrains, passing a few small lakes, and then descending down to a beautiful, secluded beach where the falls crash into the ocean. A magical place.

The drive to the trailhead was remarkably quick. When we arrived, we were greeted by a surprising sight: a line of cars stretching back around a half mile from the trailhead. Beth and I have done the hike probably a dozen times in total between us, but had never encountered that volume of traffic in the parking lot or on the trail. Made some sense: it was a beautiful, warm, even hot Saturday morning. Everyone was out.

I’ve been a bit conflicted about what I saw on the trail. Getting people outdoors is a good way to get them to think about open space preservation and may spark some environmentalism. That said, I was dismayed by the amount of trash I saw on the trail, ranging from toilet paper to Clif Bar wrappers to empty bottles. Beyond litter, there was a remarkable lack of trail etiquette - a fair amount of wandering off trail, loud music and shouting, flower picking, and a seeming lack of awareness of one’s surroundings. This all sounds a bit curmudgeonly — perhaps it is — but I think it points toward a renewed need for some “trail manners” literature, discussion, and signage. A small thing, but an important one as social media and the internet continue to highlight the outstanding outdoor opportunities in the Bay Area.

Assessing Willingness to Pay for Environmental Health Interventions

Attended a great lecture today by Isha Ray and Jack Colford as part of a new BERC IdeaWorks series. It was a discussion of "Water resources for sustainability and health", focusing mainly on water quality issues in the developing world. A number of interesting studies were described (amazingly clearly, given the complexity of them on the ground) by Dr. Ray and Dr. Colford - both masterful professors. Dr. Colford's undertaking a multi-country assessment of water, sanitation, and hygiene interventions (individually and combined) to see their effects on height, weight, diarrhea. The challenge of doing this kind of randomized trial is not to be underestimated; they plan a year of pilots before the full study begins. A heady undertaking.

Dr. Ray described a couple studies that try to understand how people use these services, how they pay for them, and how they weigh options for water and sanitation. The most striking example she gave is a study kicking off shortly in Tanzania. Her research team is assessing how willing people are to use and pay for six commercially available point-of-use water treatments (like chlorine, a safe-water bucket, a UV filter, a biosand filter, etc). Her approach is novel. As with all studies of this sort, intervention devices will be given to participants. At the end of the study, she'll try one of the following two things: (1) randomly give participants an envelope with a cash amount her team will pay to buy back the point-of-use device or (2) plan the study so that at its conclusion all devices are returned to the researchers; participants are given the option to buy the device back, again at a randomized price. Its an elegant solution to figuring out how much a person would be willing to pay for a technology that is available on the local market.

Our work in the stove world needs to look towards these kinds of assessments to help us frame the issue of poor uptake and compliance of cookstove usage. Both of these types of environmental health interventions often run into the same issues - the technology is poorly designed for the target population, or the population doesn't perceive a need for it. Trying out locally available technologies and helping NGOs and governments figure out which ones people are willing to pay for -- which we hope is a proxy for willing to use -- is one step in the right direction.

This discussion ignores the impact of the devices on the market -- it assumes they work. That's a second, additional wrinkle that plays into the technology adoption.

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