An Overview Of Our Solution
WW! provides low maintenance wastewater treatment solutions using natural microbial processes. Our original designs improve human health and aquatic ecosystems, create new local jobs and use urine as organic fertilizer and fecal waste as a soil supplement. Our focus is on sanitation in challenging environments where pit latrines and septic tanks are inappropriate usually due to high water, such as floating villages, floodplains, mangroves, sandy beaches, impermeable clay soils and remote ecotourist sites. We have developed a unique simple technology, the HandyPod, and a behavior change program to promote sustainable market-driven scale-up by local people.
WW! presently works at two World Heritage/Ramsar lake sites in Cambodia and Myanmar with a total floating and floodplain population of 1.23 million people.
- Population Impacted: 11569
- Continent: Asia
30,000 people live in our Cambodian focus area of floating fishing villages and 1.2 million live in the floodplain’s seasonally inundated stilt houses. People here live on the margin of poverty where $0.25 per day makes a big difference. 72% of all households earn less than $1000 USD annually. Schools are barebone, lacking supplies, electricity and hand washing hygiene. No viable medical facilities exist. Child mortality is over 6% higher than elsewhere, and survivors of inflamed gut syndrome suffer stunting and poor health.
Houses literally float in black, odorus septic water while neighborhood poop floats by their porch. In floating and floodplain villages there’s never been an appropriate alternative to open water defecation. Until the HandyPod. Also, we have created a behavior change program wherein poor people are willing to pay for it even though the alternative has always been ‘free’.
The HandyPod tech is a 3-container anaerobic microbial biofilm treatment system installed near water level on the side of a floating house. It can also be installed on land-based houses. Each additional waste input and pour flush, moves the ‘black water’ by gravity flow from a ceramic pan through 3 Pods or containers to a final discharge in ambient water. The 1st container is basically a septic tank for fecal biomass retention and fecal sludge management (FSM) every 4-6 years. The next 2 containers have significant surface area for biofilm growth that breakdown and recombine organic molecules and reduce pathogens. For a stilted house during the dry season, nutrient-rich discharge can also water a family garden’s fruiting crops, or go into a soak-away gravel pit. No inputs other than wastewater (no chemicals, no electricity, etc.); no moving parts; no maintenance other than our FSM protocol; no odor; local materials, local construction/installation by WW-trained local entrepreneurs.
The HandyPod tech was designed iteratively over 6 years in a 35 HH floating village with step-by-step community feedback on materials, structural installation, child safety, odor, comfort, attractive/aspirational features, and seasonal hazards.
7-step process: gov’t & civic leader support; then comm awareness & sanitation demand: w/ school program w/ brochure distrib; selection and training LBO; Sanitation Raffle w/ hse to hse talk and ticket sales for raffle, w boat advertising, then raffle event w 7 out of 100 HHs win HPods and sanitation bucket prizes; installation & Qual Control and LBO business support.
After WW teacher and student engagement and initial LBO training, student take-home brochures described benefits of sanitation and HPod. Next, talks held between LBO and each floating house family to describe sanitation program and sell a ticket ($0.50 equivalent) with a logo-cup for a raffle lucky-draw chance to win a HPod. For several days, early morning or evening a boat with sanitation banners and music or speaker moves through village promoting Sanitation Raffle event -- an educational & celebratory event where village chief draws winning tickets from a hat. 7 of every 100 HH wins a HPod and 20 tickets win buckets of sanitation products (tooth paste & brush, soap, shampoo, face cloth, comb/mirror. LBO installs HPods with WW oversight. Villagers see HPods in community and awareness and demand grows. LBOs promote sanmark with oversight by WW.
Key success factors:
- Awareness campaign with fun sanitation raffle event
- Product has many benefits and is cost appropriate
The most significant obstacle came in 2016 when SE Asia experienced a dramatic drought and lake water was shallow. It was the first time in history when most all floating houses were on mud flats. Our HandyPod design consisted of two “Pods” - an anaerobic septic tank and an aerobic floating hyacinth Pod with pin holes in the bottom to maintain water exchange. Yet, water did not remain in the hyacinth Pod -- the Pod itself became foul and the plants died. What to do when we had already scaled-up 25 such HandyPods in the 35 family village?
A radically new design was called for -- new technology, new materials, new installation design, etc. In a 1-week turn-around WW developed the present HPod design and set about improving it iteratively with the villagers. It is significantly more robust and versatile, and now appropriate for challenging environments on land -- like floodplains, mangroves, beaches, impermeable clay soils, etc. It’s long-lived, easier to make and provides excellent treatment, too. In short, WW's Handy Pod program improved in response to the drought emergency.
Another obstacle, among many, worth noting is finding that our survey responses taken by internationals and urban nationals contained distorted information. Surveys are best done by local/regional people and the question format needs to be as value-free and short as possible.
Finally, we find through experience with our gifted HandyPod school sanitation program that little is valued if it is costless to the recipient. WW was not funded for long term follow-up and support of our pilot demonstration in 10 villages. Yet, even with a maintenance contract signed by the school principals, the program may not be successful long term with unrepaired broken doors, disappearing water buckets and scoops and broken pipes can be the outcome. Some payment is needed to create a sense of vestment and maintenance responsibility.
WW started in 2008. Tonle Sap Lake’s sanitation challenge was identified in 2009 when WW Director Taber Hand began working for Conservation International as freshwater programs advisor. Dr. Hand’s 35-year background of wetland science and management initiated the process to reach an iterative HandyPod technical solution. WW’s creative treatment solutions have started from Taber’s experience. Numerous graduate interns- both national and international, fellowships, and talented employees have provided the follow-through to develop WW’s programs. Mr. Puthea Khon, who has been with WW from the beginning - other than taking a grad degree in Water Management in Australia, 2016 & 2017 - is our National Programs Manager. Before COVID-19, WW’s teaching laboratories were at Royal Uni. of Phnom Penh and Pannasastra Univ. of Cambodia, with a local field research site at Royal Univ. of Agriculture. We look forward to staffing up and developing new opportunities once travel is possible.
WW is a long term and prominent member of Ministry Rural Development’s (MRD) WATSAN Council, serving as lead org for their SCE (San. Challenging Environments) Technical Committee. We work closely w/ the Ministry’s Dept of Rural Health Care and have helped draft language for SCE’s smart subsidy program. Similarly, WW works with each Provincial Dept Rural Devel. of the MRD in our active locations.
Commune and village leadership is always actively engaged as a partner, too.
For school programming, we have certifications from Ministry of Education’s Commune School Councils. And each school principal signs a contract to maintain clean latrines refurbished by WW.
Civic leadership within villages are most helpful as partners; they help us ID potential LBO participants and actively support community scale-up. Monks at a local wat (temple) have actively supported community scale-up, especially in Myanmar.
Our early proof of concept work was supported by The Gates Foundation; the pilot demonstration of sanitation marketing/behavior change work was supported by Canada’s Grand Challenges in Global Health; scale-up on Tonle Sap is supported by European Union; and scale-up on Lake Indawgyi, Myanmar is supported by a Darwin Award managed by partner Flora and Fauna Int’l.
Other lake sanitation partners include WaterAid Cambodia and Plan International, Save the Children/World Bank and UNDP.
Community baseline surveys were made on both lakes. Post awareness interviews on sanitation and HandyPod interest and expected cost estimates were made, as was the number of sanitation raffle tickets purchased in each village. An outside field evaluation consultant reported at end of project for school sanitation program and pilot demonstration of sanitation marketing with LBOs.
We have found cultural differences in adoption interest.
Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia:
- low interest from Vietnamese pop due to distrust of Cambodian government and NGO programs
- high interest from Cham (Muslim)
- high interest from Khmer
Indawgyi Lake, Myanmar:
- very high interest from Shan-ni in Myanmar
WW monitored ambient village water for E. coli over a two year period of wet and dry seasons as a baseline for future monitoring of scale-up.
Most of WW’s attention at Tonle Sap Lake is on pathogens. Pathogen treatment, measured by E. coli from a certified laboratory, is a minimum reduction of 4-6 log-orders from septic tank to discharge. This results in non-contact recreational discharge water; in the ambient water it's contact recreational standard.
Pollution impacts also include removal of fecal biomass stored in 1st Pod until FSM protocol done in dry season soils for pathogen reduction; can be measured by ambient water BOD tests yet unavailable in Cambodia.
Now we plan to decrease nitrogen discharge on tropical island HPods to remove 90+% of N - as demonstrated in our lab bench scale research.
In Myanmar we’re trialing urine use for organic farming fertilizer w/ a collection program using HPod urine diversion (men), family payment and resale to organic farmers assoc.
- People, esp. the poor, now have an appropriate sanitation alternative in challenging environs.
- WW encourages female empowerment. Floating village savings and loan programs are run by women. Village sanitation financing may provide women an empowering community role. Also, we find female LBO leadership best for handling money and marketing a product. Men in LBO may be best for making and installing HPods.
- HPods support women and girls with improved ease to maintain personal hygiene (home and school), and sanitation dignity with privacy and physical security.
- Women provide food prep and their WASH practices may determine family health through food contact. With sanitation fewer pathogens are in ambient water used for food preparation, and sanitation may improve in utero, neonatal and early childhood health.
- Promotion of school-based WASH and MHM also informs families; this can support confidence in schoolgirls and supports attendance when safe school sanitation is available
- Women’s savings group -- interest expressed to market HPods as own profit business
- Enables female dignity, privacy and security during hygiene practice
- Potential to raise community pride with cleaner ambient water; may also dovetail with solid waste management (esp. plastics)
- Ecotourism benefits -- big negative when travelers realize their poop going into the water surrounding them
- More productive community fisheries in village area-Creates local employment (LBO)
- Fish larval recruitment -- better survival and enables river/lake spawning passage. Potential for significantly improved larval fish recruitment as creeks and river mouths are where villages are sited and where water has no oxygen for fish survival (making an anoxic plug!)
- Improved biodiversity from increased O2 in water
Tonle Sap Lake:
- SDG 6.2: challenging environs unaddressed in SDG program
- Economically sustainable LBOs created w/ WW sufficient oversight time to ensure Quality Control and professional mgmt-Local materials use limits less sustainable sourcing
- Wastewater treatment enables/promotes sustainable ecotourism
- WW’s FSM protocol uses sludge as a soil supplement ‘product’ after 1 year -- improving floodplain home agriculture w/ soil moisture retention, soil aeration and plant productivity
Initiating sanitation awareness and developing trained local business operators (LBO) requires grant funding. Scale-up of HandyPod fabrication, sales and fecal sludge mgmt becomes sustainable once a 4-person LBO is professionally stable and has market-based revenue. This may require 2 years of oversight/support.
‘ID Poor’ households may require some % of subsidy toward the <$150 HandyPod cost. While gov’t smart subsidies are appropriate, it’s essential a disadvantaged household pays >25% in order to feel a vested ownership and to practice good sanitation hygiene.
In Cambodia a 2020 survey of 30 households found all wanted a HandyPod; 17 said they would pay full price; 9 said they would pay $80; 4 said they could not afford one.
Our pilot in 10 Cambodia floating villages cost ~$200,000 USD. Market-based scale-up programming to reach 1.2 million people is ~$1.3M USD. In Myanmar the cost is less as people are already aware and receptive to sanitation, so it’s more about training and oversight of the LBOs.
WW is now starting a major scale-up program on Tonle Sap Lake wherein future ROI benefits may be measurable:
- Health changes: less inflamed gut/child stunting
- Improved lifetime income
- Fewer costs: 1 annual illness at provincial hospital is ~$250
- Increased biodiversity and larval fish recruitment due to more O2 in water.
- Improved community pride & incentive for solid waste mgmt (plastics), creating potential for ecotourism opportunities.
WW’s sanitation behavior change demonstration took place in 2015-17 in 10 floating villages. Scale-up work in both lake sites is funded, as listed below.
WW seeks projects in floodplain, mangrove, high groundwater and impermeable clay soil areas, as well as tropical beaches and ecotourist sites.
- Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia: sanmark pilot demonstrations 2015-17 reached 12,000 people; 2021-2023 EU funded program will reach 72,000 people in 73 floating and floodplain villages. $300,000 USD
- Indawgyi Lake, Myanmar scale-up in 3 villages (800 families) in ongoing Darwin program w/ FFI; plans for all 13 villages: 1st stage training/oversight of LBO, $30,000 USD
- Lake Inle, Myanmar planning stage, w/ circular econ. to collect urine for floating agri fertilizer to reduce eutrophication and pathogen problem. ~$200,000 estimate
- Koh Rong Samloem Is. beach pilot demonstration to eliminate nitrogen from discharge for nearshore coral biodivo and groundwater pollution $30,000 estimate