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Swiss strive to ensure safe sanitation for all

Peruvian women work on a drinking water pipeline Keystone Archive

Efforts to provide safe sewage systems for people in developing countries are being hampered by rapid population growth.

This content was published on March 14, 2003 - 18:02

At present more than two billion people are estimated to have no sewage system at all.

The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) says that although it has been working to improve waste systems in developing countries since the 1980s, it is fighting an uphill struggle against overwhelming demand.

The SDC has been involved in water aid projects since the 1950s. It currently earmarks ten per cent of its annual budget - or SFr1.2 billion ($880 million) - for water projects.

The agency focuses its work mainly on Latin America, Africa and South Asia.

When the SDC started its work on water systems, its main priority was providing clean drinking water.

But officials came to realise during a decade-long focus on sewage projects (between 1981 and 1990) that the need for proper sewage systems was becoming increasingly urgent.

Water projects

Armon Hartmann, who is in charge of the SDC's water projects, said the exercise showed that the agency's commitment to sewage was far from sufficient.

"We built a lot during these years," he told swissinfo. "We also learnt a lot."

Hartmann said the decade-long focus on sanitation projects forced the agency to rethink its goals for the developing world.

"We had to admit that not every country in the world could have a water system as sophisticated as we have in Switzerland."

As a result, the SDC adapted its projects to suit the financial restrictions faced by the communities it was working with.

Local communities

The SDC works principally at a local level, in direct contact with the communities affected by their work, most of which are in rural areas.

One of the main challenges for the agency is to help people adapt to their new roles as owners of the water systems being set up.

"For decades now the management of water systems has been increasingly passed from the government into the hands of the public," said Hartmann. "We therefore need to show communities how to take responsibility for these systems."

The SDC has also learnt the importance of respecting local cultures and beliefs when setting up sanitation systems.

The SDC works closely with global organisations, such as the World Water Council and the Global Water Partnership, the organisers of this year's Kyoto Summit, which will launch the International Year of Water.

swissinfo, Marc-André Miserez

Key facts

Some two billion people currently have no access to a sewage system.
The SDC earmarks ten per cent of its annual budget - or SFr1.2 billion - for water projects.
The SDC works mainly in Latin America, Africa and South Asia.

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