German connections in India
German connections in India How does it happen, that people from South and Southeast Asia, who have studied or researched in Germany, meet in Kochi, India in October to learn and discuss issues related to water management and technologies? And then visit a leading environmental technologies trade fair in Mumbai, India, organized by a German trade fair company? The answer is another German organisation, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).
The DAAD supports such professionals from developing countries with a programme called Alumni Special Projects. First, they receive further training from a German university on various topics. Then they attend a trade fair, a conference or congress, where they get to know new technologies and developments, meet companies and experts and extend they networks. These projects do not only take place in Germany, but also in countries, where trade fairs are organised by German trade fair companies.
This was the case with the International DAAD Alumni Expert Seminar 2019 on Environmental Strategies and Water Technologies organized by the University of Siegen, in cooperation with SCMS School of Engineering and Technology in India. Eighteen Germany alumni participated at this seminar, followed by a visit at IFAT India in Mumbai, India’s Leading Trade Fair for Water, Sewage, Solid Waste and Recycling organised by Messe München. In order to promote the next generation of scientists and to provide them with an insight into future fields of employment two alumni got the opportunity to bring with them three of their current students to the fair.
Ratchada Arpornsilp, a Germany alumna, who holds a M.Sc. degree in environmental governance from Albert-Ludwigs University of Freiburg, and a former DAAD scholarship holder, was one of the participants. We asked her to share her impressions and experiences from this project. She talked to other alumni and experts trying to find out how water technologies and science can be useful for local beneficiaries. Read her blog below:
Technologies for sustainable water management
The power of a decentralized technology approach to sustainable water management in local communities
Having landed at Cochin International Airport, which is the only airport in the world completely powered by solar energy and won the United Nation’s Champions of the Earth Award for Entrepreneurial Vision in 2018, I learned that in the same year the airport was shut down for almost two weeks due to the Kerala flood. My quest to learn about environmental management in this part of coastal India is inspired by this amazing and bold effort to highlight alternative possibilities amid increasing social and natural challenges.
I attended this seminar and IFAT with a specific question in mind: How can water technologies and science be useful for local beneficiaries, particularly those living in poverty and deprivation? The most common theme that emerged from several presentations and discussions is the adoption of a decentralized water technology approach. I took the opportunity to converse with several alumni experts in search of answers.
First, I asked what decentralized water technology looks like.
Dr Soundharajan Bankaru Swamy (India): “Mainly the decentralized system we are looking at is easy to expand and frugal, so it can be adapted to any situation. Most communities can manage that. It is not a high technology. Only initial investment is needed from the government, the rest can be managed by the community.”
Ratchada Arpornsilp: How is the decentralized technology different from centralized systems?
Soundharajan: “The centralized approach needs a lot of initial investment, though it perhaps involves lower operational costs. But nobody is ready to provide that much of a budget for a centralized water supply, particularly when cities are expanding. The decen-tralized option with partial funding from the government and the remaining funding provided by the respective local committee is what we should look into. Decentralized technology can also enable innovative methods of water management such as rainwater harvesting with groundwater recharge or water recycling.”
That sounds very promising, but in what context does the decentralized model work well and when does it not?
Mr Vinay Sharma (India): “It should work well where there are no facilities, for instance in areas where new development is taking place or in developing countries, even if the area has long been settled. The infrastructure is absent due to several problems – shortage of funds, lack of know-how or technical issues. In such contexts it is worth looking into the decentralized system, which operates on a small scale and allows for significant community participation. It should definitely resolve problems actively faced by people living near that location, so the communities are motivated to get involved in designing a technology that better meets their needs.” The decentralized form of technology seems to empower local people to participate, making it more sustainable for them. When government or international development agencies introduce new technologies and practices, why are some adopted or accepted but not others?
The decentralized form of technology seems to empower local people to participate, making it more sustainable for them. When government or international development agencies introduce new technologies and practices, why are some adopted or accepted but not others?
Ms Erna Megawati Manna (Indonesia): “It depends on the planning process at the outset. When local people are invited to participate, they know what to expect. In public participation and focus group discussions we need to ask what they really need and introduce them to what we will deliver. This should already be incorporated into viability studies with the communities. In addition, we usually collaborate with various stakeholders to introduce new technologies. Through capacity building, the local communities know how the new sanitation facility will be beneficial to their health and so they get involved.”
What form exactly can decentralized water technologies take on the ground?
Ms Sarita Shrestha (Nepal): “From my experience rebuilding after the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, I implemented and found that gravity water-sourced technology was the best. This is because it requires less investment in electricity and manpower. Gravity technology is suitable where the water source is uphill, but people are living downstream, so the water can be distributed directly by gravity.”
Ratchada: How can this technology empower local communities?
Ms Sarita Shrestha: “It promotes empowerment because the local communities can use low technology which does not require electricity. Maintenance and operation are also easier and cheaper for gravity technology than for pumping technology. Also, water tariff collection for operation and maintenance can be handled by a users’ committee - 30% of whom must be women.”
If water technology is designed to support the empowerment of local people it can specifically address the plight of vulnerable groups such as tribal women. How does it bring about change in gender power dynamics?
Ms Ha Thuy Nguyen (Vietnam): “Different water technologies are applied and installed in mountainous areas of Vietnam. The best technology is the one that can connect directly to each household so that women can save the time needed to fetch water from sources far away from home. They can then spend this time on learning or social activities such as commune meetings that normally only men are available to attend. Given their presence, women can participate in the decision-making process regarding water tariff levels and be part of the operation & management team for the water scheme. Women can generate more income from providing these services. Gender dimension and participation of women are key indicators of water technology design.”
Despite all these benefits, the decentralized technology is also faced with a key challenge.
Prof Dr Anupam Kumar Singh (India): “Decentralized technology in India is coming up more in academic debate as well as field-level implementation. It has its own advantages of small size, easy operation and maintenance, and collection of funds for sustainability by local people. Nonetheless, challenges remain as the promoters of this approach are mostly local governments with small budget allocations for such technical developments in water supply and sanitation. When national government allocates money, it is inadequate for all local authorities. Financial sustainability is the prime challenge. ”
The lack of additional funding does not mean engineers and scientists like us have no other means of incorporating and putting decentralized technology in place. What should engineers take into consideration?
Prof Dr Johannes Fritsch (Germany): “The technology must be adapted to local conditions – climate as well as social and cultural conditions. We must take these into account. Depending on the scale of operation, decentralized plants can be simpler or more sophisticated. But the most important thing is that they can be operated over a long period of time by local people given their acceptance of this technology. We have to integrate their indigenous knowledge into the discussion and planning process as early as possible.
Nonetheless the technology must be designed by us, with their contributions. It is a technical challenge to design adaptive technology with a complicated system that is simple enough to be operated by people who may not be able to read or write. We also must note that a decentralized plant should not rely only on one person to operate it. It will be more successful if it is run by a users’ group.”
In addition to these conversations we held intensive discussions in our presentations of different case studies and simulation exercises relating to water technology design. We carried those thoughts into IFAT India in Mumbai. Interestingly, the message resonated clearly in the opening remarks by Mr Shri Suresh Prabhu, former Union Minister for Commerce and Industry, Government of India.
He applauded the success of 100% decentralized sewage treatment in urban areas of Mumbai and Delhi as seen in the homogeneity of collected waste, ownership by local people, and the innovative business model for managing these resources. The decentralized approach may be in its early days, but with more committed support it can provide the power to access and manage water in a sustainable and empowering manner for local people in need.
Alumni Special Projects
In the Alumni Special Projects programme professionals from developing countries who have been trained in Germany have the opportunity to come into contact with German representatives from academia and business at important trade fairs and conferences.
Are you, too, keen to further your knowledge in your specialist field? Discover the multitude of Alumni Special Projects.