Integrating the sanitation sector to build the city of tomorrow

World Water Day, on 22 March, is devoted to wastewater this year. A great initiative! The question of sanitation, long-forgotten in public policies on water, is now at the heart of environmental and development issues.

In the course of the Sustainable Development Summits - Rio de Janeiro in 1992, Johannesburg in 2002, Rio + 20 in 2012, Veolia has been advocating for sanitation to be considered a crucial issue, both for the environment and in terms of public health. Access to sanitation was added to the UN action plan in 2002 and was included in 2015 as one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

This represents a victory. For many years the subject of sanitation was driven by the meaning of the English word "sanitation" - and concentrated mainly on the issue of access to individual toilets, essential for people’s human dignity. Now, the issue of wastewater is being considered as a sector, incorporating the collection, treatment but also the re-use of wastewater.

 

80% of wastewater is not treated

Only urban sanitation can reduce the threat of uncontrolled discharges of effluent. The lack of wastewater collection and treatment in large cities, especially those in the southern hemisphere, are health time bombs for these territories. 2.5 billion people still do not have access to a basic system. In addition, 80% of the world's wastewater is released directly into the natural environment without any treatment – rising to 90% in developing countries as well as around the Mediterranean - making environmental degradation a major challenge.

 

Climate - awareness accelerator

Durban

Climate and urban development challenges are accelerating the process of considering sanitation, in terms of both risks - the treatment of storm water has taken root in the debate as a result of extreme phenomena - and opportunities - transforming wastewater into a resource in places where there is water stress. In the space of the last ten years, wastewater reuse has increased fourfold worldwide. 

This is what Veolia is doing in Windhoek, Namibia, where the population consumes recycled water. In Durban, South Africa, recycled wastewater is used as process water for local industries. In Ajman, United Arab Emirates, the city's wastewater is treated and then recycled for municipal use (watering green or leisure areas) and industrial use. Not to mention the environmental performance achieved in the water management of industrial companies such as L'Oréal and Danone.

 

Wastewater, a source of energy

Hong Kong

Veolia's approach as a center of expertise on cities’ issues, in particular in terms of local resource management, promotes the challenges of the circular economy. Sanitation comes back into the public debate in a very circular logic of the continuity of the water cycle from the collection of wastewater from homes, to its treatment and direct re-use as a natural resource. To the extent of designing a wastewater treatment plant that generates new resources, among which are sources of energy, by recovering and recycling sludge. With its bio-refineries of the future - in Billund in Denmark, with T-Park in Hong Kong and soon in Borås, Sweden - Veolia demonstrates it on a large scale.

This recognition of sanitation as a sector by the international community demonstrates that beyond purely technical issues, wastewater management is an integral tool for urban planning and contributes to building the safe and humanitarian cities that we want.