Ensuring Equitable Access to Water and Sanitation for all

The recognition of access to clean water and to sanitation as human rights by the United Nations General Assembly and the UN Human Rights Council in 2010 has been undoubtedly a major milestone towards ensuring sustainable delivery of these basic services. The resolutions confirmed the obligation of governments to ensure that water and sanitation services are available, physically accessible, of good quality and safe, acceptable in terms of dignity and privacy and affordable for all. Governments therefore have to take concrete steps towards ensuring access to safe water and sanitation for all, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations. Some components of the right to water and sanitation are deemed subject to progressive realization, by firstly extending access to the unserved, secondly improving service levels, and thirdly progressively eliminating inequalities in access. Other obligations such as that of non-discrimination are of immediate effect.

A focus on improving service levels and eliminating inequalities is particularly important in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, in order to ensure that the targets included in Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG6) on water and sanitation are relevant to all member states:
– Target 6.1. By 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all.
– Target 6.2. By 2030, achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations.






















In this context, the UNECE – WHO Protocol on Water and Health provides a powerful framework to promote and operationalize equitable access to water and sanitation for all. In particular, the publication “No One Left Behind: Good practices to ensure equitable access to water and sanitation in the pan-European region” presents good practices and lessons learned from the pan-European region on the policies and measures to be enacted to provide equitable access to water and sanitation. And the analytic tool Equitable Access Score-card supports governments and other stakeholders to establish a baseline measure of the equity of access through a self-assessment process, identify priorities and discuss further actions to be taken to address equity gaps.

In two studies led by Agustí Pérez Foguet, these tools were applied at the local level in urban contexts to identify the critical factors in ensuring equitable access to water and sanitation. The approach adopted was based on a participatory diagnosis to produce evidence among local stakeholders on the distributional consequences of water and sanitation services policies on the population, with an emphasis on the level of service supplied to vulnerable groups. In Castelló de la Plana, Assessing access to water and sanitation services of vulnerable stakeholder groups: The case of Castellón (Spain), a two-day workshop allowed for in-depth discussions on the city’s service delivery from the HRtWS perspective. Shortcomings and challenges of equitable access to water and sanitation were identified. For example, in terms of affordability, participants recognized the willingness of Castello’s City Council to promote policies that ensured affordable water and sanitation services for all but highlighted the lack of public information and knowledge about the implementation of tariff and social protection measures. In Lima, Participatory diagnosis of access to water and sanitation services of vulnerable stakeholder groups: the case of Lima, the goal of the diagnosis was to raise awareness on certain data dimensions of access to and quality of water services that are often overlooked in aggregated data at metropolitan scale (i.e. data by neighbourhood). The assessment was based on the 5 components of Human Right to Water and Sanitation (availability, accessibility, quality and safety, affordability, and acceptability).

Both assessments have helped to get a clearer understanding of the gaps in access to water and sanitation and, in turn, to translate the priorities identified into actions to address the equity gaps and in financing the necessary measures to advance towards universal access.

Support to SMEs in the bioenergy sector

As solid biomass remains the main resource in Europe’s growing energy production from biomaterials, our team is working towards the promotion of sustainable bioenergy solutions by offering a comprehensive Innovation Mentoring Package to small and medium enterprises (SME).

Project SECURECHAIN (HORIZON 2020, www.securechain.eu ) is taking place in 6 different regions all around Europe, and UPC, together with “Centre Tecnològic Forestal de Catalunya” (CTFC), is responsible for the Catalan region.

The first step was an open Innovation Voucher Competition, in order to identify trendsetting local bioenergy projects.

A total of 10 different SMEs presented their business plans to this competition, and the following four where selected:


Example of forest works. Source: www.agro90.com

  • La Fageda Fundació-Wattia-Aiguasol
    This project comprises three main players:
    – La Fageda Fundació: A Catalan non-profit social initiative created in the city of Olot (La Garrotxa county, located about 150km. north of Barcelona) in 1982. Its aim is to facilitate the integration and job creation for mentally impaired citizens or suffering from severe mental illness. Their main productive activity consists in the elaboration and commercialisation of dairy products, ice cream, jam and marmalade, gardening and cow farm.
    – Wattia Innova SL: Company focused on energy efficiency for industry and tertiary sectors.
    – Aiguasol: Cooperative SME founded in 1999, groups a multidisciplinary team focused on advanced energy efficiency and renewable energy engineering, technical and scientific consultancy.

    The goal of this pilot project is to provide employment and social integration for vulnerable workers (unskilled, mentally impaired or young unemployed) by scaling up a recently started business line based on wood chipping from local forests, wood chip own consumption, wood chip sales to industrial and public consumers and eventually energy services under an ESCO approach.



Novalia Sinergie’s final product. Source: http://www.grouprenerbio.com/novalia-sinergie/

  • Novalia Sinergie SL
    Novalia Sinergie SL is a filial company from RENERBIO Group. Its main activities are:
    – Forest management
    – Drying of woodchips and sawdust
    – Production of pellets and other products
    The project aims to develop an industrial model which allows the reduction of the final product’s cost (the final unit cost decreases as the production increases). This will allow an expansion of the distribution area, from domestic to international.



Commercializing final products: wood chip and pellet. Source: http://perthshirebiofuels.co.uk/

  • Probiomassa
    Probiomassa Producció S.L., part of the Electra Caldense group, is a company dedicated to biomass management for energy purposes, and was born from the union of the forest world and the energy world. The aim is to use the knowledge from these two areas in order to develop energy projects, from the forest to the use of thermal energy. The goal is to offer to clients an overall energy management, both domestic and industrial, transforming the forest biomass and promoting the installation of biomass stoves and boilers.
    The goal of this pilot project is to scale up their current pellet distribution business, in both ways of the bioenergy supply chain (Upstream and Downstream).
    The specific target is to mobilize at least 10kton/year of wood chips (50% for pellet production, 50% as chips).




  • Sala Forestal LTD
    Sala Forestal is a company located in Girona, mainly dedicated to the logging and forest wood commercialization throughout Catalonia.The business proposal by SALA FORESTAL intends to cover the biomass fuel supply to biomass boilers which need quality wood chip, well-sieved, with a low ash content, high calorific value, homogeneous particle size and low humidity.The project focuses on scaling up the company’s current wood chip production and enlarge supply chain to biomass boilers.
    Once the selection of the different business plans was done, UPC has done a market segmentation of all the different SMEs that have won the competition in their region.This market segmentation takes into account the information presented by the companies to the open call, the Regional Leader Partners progress reports and other outcomes from each region.The main purpose of this market segmentation is to face one of the major barriers that SMEs find when assessing potential bioenergy operations, which is finding adequate financing.


Building up the critical skills of EU engineering students for sustainable development


2nd European Award for Best GDEE Practices Ceremony at Barcelona, Spain (2015). Source: EScGD

Engineering is no longer only about “structures, machines, apparatus, or manufacturing processes” (Wikipedia dixit). Growth for a minority has triggered a plethora of global issues – e.g. the energy crisis or climate change, to name but a few – that the engineering students of today will inexorably face as professionals, yet also as citizens. As their educators, we are acutely aware that societies are asking for progressive technical fixes as part of the political response to global concerns. Accordingly, since many years ago our teaching methods reflect a concern to help both under- and postgraduates cultivating their critical competences. Our teaching methods thus build upon our original know-how, but also upon innovative experiences appropriated from communities of learning set up by academic peers in Technology Studies.


Our methods distil a wealth of experiences in teaching undergraduate students at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya – Barcelona Tech (UPC), a practice that gained us the 9th University Teaching Quality Award. The idea grew in the late 1990s out of lecturers and students themselves encountering in the NGO Engineering Without Borders, and was subsequently adopted by UPC and Generalitat de Catalunya. Therefore, EScGD was amongst the pioneers in the introduction of development education in Spanish Technical Universities, a move later replicated across the country. A result of the latter is that over the last decade university lecturers associated to EScGD from a variety of disciplines – ranging from civil engineering to chemistry, and from mathematics to project management – have incorporated development education to the syllabi of their elective subjects.
Moreover, researchers associated to EScGD have imparted ten postgraduate courses in the online MSc in Engineering for Development Cooperation at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya. They have also supervised a number of doctoral dissertations, some of them successfully contesting national academic awards for thesis about sustainable human development, to be added to the awards of our under- and postgraduate students. Last but not least, we have facilitated elaborating guides and creating the spaces to train other lecturers – as reflected in this book co-edited with Intermón Oxfam.

Such a wealth of resources have been made public to the benefit of lecturers all over the world. EScGD has set up a consortium of European higher education centers in order to systematize existing resources for teaching in technical schools. Thus, the Global Dimension for Engineering Education (GDEE) project, completed in late 2014s, is a common undertaking of five universities and four NGOs concerned with advancing a more comprehensive engineering education. The GDEE project is but the latest of a series of combined efforts between Spanish universities. Thus, for instance, the six conferences about University and Development Cooperation convened since 2004 to gather Spanish and worldwide scholars from the field of development studies.

Today, we continue to integrate engineering sciences and sustainable human development in our daily teaching at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya – Barcelona Tech. By sharing our own experiences and learning from our colleagues, we refine and test new methodologies that are appreciated by our students, and help them build the competences that our societies desperately need for progressive change.

Operationalizing metrics towards the Human Right to Water and Sanitation in Nicaragua


Researchers from UPC, UPM and UNAM at Matagalpa, Nicaragua (2012). Source: EScGD

Can compliance with human rights be measured? When in July 2010 the UN General Assembly solemnly proclaimed the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation, it set researchers worldwide a demanding task: namely, monitoring progress on compliance of normative dimensions by right-holders, as it is perceived by duty-bearers. Rising to the challenge, a stream of research of EScGD – led by Óscar Flores – is working towards a set of indicators and methodologies suited to capture the messy intricacies of the human right to water and sanitation.

Our set of indicators stems from research that combines surveys carried out in Nicaragua and a comparative analysis of the work undertaken by other research groups worldwide. We initially developed our indicators upon a campaign carried out in 2009 across Jinotega and Matagalpa by the Coalición de Organizaciones por el Derecho al Agua (CODA). This project yielded a first operationalization of scientific metrics for the human right to water. To do so we built upon our prior research in Kenya and Tanzania. Accordingly, we parameterized a set of indicators for each of the dimensions singled out by the United Nations. The indicators constituted the basis for a composite index for each dimension. The index is premised upon multiplicative aggregation to account for the interdependence and implicit compensability of the different components.

Our set of indicators provides a concise yet penetrative picture of the fulfillment of the right to water in a cross-section of Nicaraguan communities. It reveals the critical condition of affordability, non-discrimination and participation, as well as relatively minor concerns with availability, physical accessibility and quality appear. Our study, for instance, emphasizes the extent to which participation may be suffering from the implicit and explicit barriers faced by the most destitute to take part in managing communitarian resources. The same citizens who see their participation curtailed often lack access to water, even when their communities benefit from a water supply system. Our analysis also unveils the difficulties lurking behind the operationalization of the human right to drinking water. Thus, for instance, without a minimum standard of water accessibility – which the UN has failed to agree upon – it becomes difficult to measure the relative progress towards availability. Moreover, continuity of supply needs to be factored in, albeit no consensus has been reached around a working definition. Last but not least, affordability is also hard to measure, given the reluctance of families to speak openly – or, even, to estimate – their own income.


Methodology. Source: Flores, O. et al. (2013)

Given the difficulties found in our first attempt at operationalization, from March to September 2012 we undertook a pilot yet comprehensive survey of the San Sebastián de Yalí municipality in collaboration with ONGAWA (a Spanish NGDO) and local authorities. The municipality, located in the central northern department of Jinotega, comprises 75 rural communities. Some difficulties arise from the fact that the Municipal Water and Sanitation Unit of San Sebastián de Yalí is manned by two specialists who must serve 22,500 people strewn over 402 km2.. We sought to underscore the contrasts between households served by CAPS-managed water supply systems and households that rely on self-provision. By doing so, we were in a position to reveal inequities in the different dimensions of the right to water. With this study, we learnt that:

– A basic service level is not enough, and thus, a multidimensional approach to evaluate progress is required.

– Our methodology is able to single out pockets within rural communities that do not benefit from the same services as the rest of the community. This is particularly useful for resource allocation towards improving the conditions of those minorities.

– Standards adapted to local conditions for the operationalization of the right to water are needed, even in the absence of a consensus amongst experts. It is crucial that such standard indicators are developed by means of thorough research attuned to local conditions.

We perceive an opportunity to ameliorate mainstream methodologies. Thus, on the one hand, we acknowledge the need to rely on outcome indicators – as provided by the updated Joint Monitoring Programme -, as well as of structural and process indicators for the obligations of duty bearers – as offered by the Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking-Water. On the other hand, nonetheless, we posit an approach that aims to be more comprehensive and looks beyond right holders.

Equipped with such methods, we believe we can help setting up a more ambitious post-2015 development agenda as regards to access to safe water and sanitation. We recommend to do so by incorporating additional measurements, such as the proportion of households that have been disconnected from water supply at least once a year, acceptability elements, or the regulatory and policy frameworks to control the pollution of water sources. One way forward would be to carry out such a kind of analysis at different scales, looking for the implications for monitoring systems both at national and local level.


Indicators. Source: Flores, O. et al. (2013)

Beyond Water Point Mapping: getting the picture right for public decision-making in Kenya


Density and year round and functional improved waterpoints at Homa Bay. Source: Giné, R. et al. (2013)

EScGD is assisting Local Government Authorities (LGAs) in Kenya in their efforts to improve access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). Our approach rests upon two methodologies: first, we adopt the much-credited Water Point Mapping (WPM), yet we extend it further. Thus, our team of researchers – led by Ricard Giné, Alejandro Jiménez and Agustí Pérez-Foguet – assesses not only how many water points are operative; we also look at the bacteriological quality of the water, the capacities of the communities for operation and maintenance, and the practices of sanitation and hygene around the water points – we randomly select a reduced sample of households for this purpose -. Second, we transform our datasets into synthetic indexes, such as the WASH Poverty Index, and district-level water-poverty maps. Put together, both tools allow local and national policymakers to prioritize and develop the best strategies to redress the low levels of access. Lack of access to WASH in the vicinities of lakes in Kenya stems from different factors. In the first place, traditional water sources cannot cope to sustain pastoralist and peasant communities. However, a dearth of community-operated water points is hardly able to represent an alternative. Thus, in Lake Turkana water points beset by decades of governmental neglect are strained by the growing pressures of cattle rearing and human settlements. Around Lake Victoria, the situation appears only slightly different. As a consequence, lacustrine dwellers across Kenya see themselves compelled to craft innovative coping strategies to preserve their health.


WASH PI results for all 21 surveyed districts (in separate map, Kenya’s provinces). Source: Giné, R. et al. (2012)

It is imperative that policymakers get the picture right. This principle has guided our work in Kenya since 2010. In that year, EScGD provided technical assistance to UNICEF in the implementation of a baseline survey for the Dutch funded WASH programme in 22 rural districts. The survey was mainly household-based (5,050 households surveyed in 301 clusters), and sampling design was coherent with methodological principles implemented in similar surveys (e.g. the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, MICS, proposed by UNICEF). In every visited household, service level was captured through a structured questionnaire administered to primiry care-givers and direct observation.


Access to improved sanitation (% of HH), at district level. Source: Giné, R. et al. (2013)

A methodological improvement in data collection consisted of the combination of an enhanced Water Point Mapping with a Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), which provided a more complete picture of WASH issues at community level. Equipped with this tool in 2011 we assisted UNICEF in estimating the condition of WASH in the Homa Bay and Suma districts. 1,157 households were interviewed and 187 improved waterpoints audited throughout Homa Bay; in the Suba District, the sample included 1,215 households and 241 water sources. We were able to achieve representative estimates at the lowest administrative level (location) by using stratified sampling – i.e. selecting the sample of households from each stratum – instead of cluster sampling – i.e. selecting the sample from a reduced number of strata. Additionally, we also represented necessities in the area in an array of maps put at the disposition of District Water Officers and UNICEF experts.

Our late development is the multidimensional WASH Poverty Index – superseding our own previous proposal, the Enhanced Water Poverty Index. The WASH Poverty Index builds upon five dimensions of the Water Poverty Index created by Sullivan – i.e. physical availability, access, capacity to sustain, uses, and environmental factors – in order to elaborate three not-aggregated composites – i.e. Water Supply Index, Hygiene Index, and Sanitation Poverty Index. Whilst drawing inspiration from widespread methodologies, we also developed an index that offers a precise picture of WASH requirements with simple and cost-effective methods.

In the present, we continue to refine the WASH Poverty Index by integrating a rights perspective when defining the water, sanitation and hygiene dimensions. By developing a syncretic index we hope to contribute to equip the often under-resourced local authorities with simple yet powerful representations of the needs in their districts.

Innovating in the management of decentralized electric services in West Africa


Optimum networks configuration for the selected criteria. Source: Pérez-Fortes, M. et al. (2012)


Traditional cooking, Ghana (2013). Source: EScGD

Mini-grids are gradually being mainstreamed as a fix toward access to electricity services across sub-Saharan Africa. The process has been boosted by technological breakthroughs as well as by higher awareness about the relevance of proper management architectures, and is providing the stepping stone from which funding for decentralized rural electrification is growing. The dismal condition of electrification across West Africa, for instance, reflects the fact that centralized generation has so far failed to deliver lighting, cooling and cooking services outside towns. Even in Ghana, which features an impressive 72 per cent electrification rate, large dams and high-voltage transmission grids have been deployed to the advantage of industries and urban dwellers. Rural areas, by contrast, have been largely bypassed, due mostly to the lack of political will; the problem is compounded by low monetary incomes, limited educational levels and challenges to access information. The chief constraints, however, are not technical, but stem from institutions that are insufficiently coordinated and rarely plan for the long term. Hence the need for fresh innovative approaches.


Village assembly and official launch at Nassian and Sominasé, Cote d’Ivoire (2012). Source: Azimut 360

Amongst those fresh approaches is the Energy for All 2030 project, funded by the European Union, that convened EScGD and three other European partners to explore cost-effective and environmentally friendly decentralized technical solutions to accessing electricity services. The project was outlined upon a unique twofold approach: 1) the need to identify the roles and responsibilities required to set up and operate mini-grids; and 2) a will to explore the factors that shape their financial, social and environmental sustainability. Three years after its kick-off, the project has unveiled the existence of inevitable trade-offs between social development, organizational empowerment, technical reliability, and economic viability. It has also unearthed the intricacies associated to harmonizing the diverging roles and responsibilities of the up to 17 actors involved in developing gasifier-fed electric mini-grids. And, most important, it has strengthened our belief that technical fixes must be capable of fulfilling both social needs and productive uses.

A mixed approach is therefore crucial, yet proper management architectures and methodologies are decisive, too. In our case, the latter have ranged from ex-ante project assessment – e.g. the Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) underpinning our interventions – to analysing biomass supply chains using multi-objective mixed integer linear programming in rural Ghana. The analysis of supply chains revealed, for instance, that financial viability is enhanced if a certain degree of centralization is adopted in the pre-treatment of biomass. Similarly, the use of project assessment methodology has reinforced out confidence in concepts such as Pareto Frontiers. Equipped with that tool, we have improved to state-of-the-art methods maximizing Net Present Value and social return, as well minimizing environmental impacts, in rural electrification projects.


A meeting with Seneso’s community elders, Ghana (2013). Source: EScGD


Photovoltaic panel, Ghana (2006). Source: EScGD

Those projects have resulted in the setting up of a number of mini-grids in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire – often built around Multi-Functional Platforms (MFP). In Ghana, EScGD joined a consortium of the Kumasi Institute of Technology, and the Energy Centre of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology to carry out a feasibility study about using agricultural residues to run a 24h electric mini-grid in 5 MFP communities. As part of the project, from May to November 2013 120 households and 89 farmers were interviewed. For each community, researchers characterized maximum expenditure per household as well as monthly crop residue production, and characterized the potential for electric production and its feasibility. The results single out at least one community with a positive financial evaluation, even without full subsidies for upfront investment costs. Likewise, in Côte d’Ivoire we have been involved in a scheme to electrify seven rural communities. In this case, a set of management practices have proved crucial: involving users and experienced local partners, enacting a well-planned Training Plan, designing a simple and adapted mini-grid, and employing smart meters to avoid overconsumption and facilitate self-management.

The insights gained from our hands-on work in West Africa have also reached the carpeted rooms where policymakers, multilateral institutions and civil society organizations meet. Thus, on June 2013 we united forces with Practical Action to lobby Members of the European Parliament toward pushing decentralized electric services higher in the development agenda of the European Union. Our unique mix of practical efforts and research attest to what can be achieved through committed partnerships built around innovative solutions.

Informing pro-poor water management in Ethiopia


Community Led Total Sanitation Campaign, Ethiopia (2010). Source: EScGD

Decades of water resource management have convinced many about the relevance of dealing with resources from a basin-wide perspective. Coherently, Jordi Pascual, assesed by Lucila Candela and Agustí Pérez-Foguet, is working toward devising a set of tools to improving water management and decision making in the Central Rift Valley basin. His work is premised upon the notion that in water stressed contexts it is crucial to conduct equitable, effective and efficient water allocation, which, in turn, requires rigorous information as well as the local appropriation of participatory decision making process.

Ethiopia’s Central Rift Valley encompasses a chain of four large lakes – i.e. Ziway, Langano, Abyata and Shala. Though highly productive in edible fish and a wide variety of aquatic and wild life, the four lakes altogether are increasingly under degradation as a result of human activities. And albeit dwellers in the valley inhabitants seem aware of the impacts of diminishing water resources, they seem reluctant to accept that upstream water abstraction is detrimental for downstream users and ecosystems. In fact, it is not uncommon to hear lack of water stems from a reduction in rainfall – despite the available empirical evidence showing that precipitation has remained stable over the last 50 years. To further compound the problem, water resources may suffer from increased depletion in the mid-term, as the population doubles, reaching an estimate of four to five million people by 2035.


CRV basin. Source: EScGD


Greenhouses in Central Rift Valley, Ethiopia (2010). Source: EScGD

To address such challenges, between July and September 2009 we asked local stakeholders a number of questions: which practices underpin water management across the basin, how they perceive the policies that are being implemented, or in which ways they participate in the elaboration of public efforts to tackle water-related environmental problems. In a second stage, we gathered quantitative data and set out to characterize the basin. We did so by employing ArcSWAT software. ArcSWAT includes the SWAT model developed for the USDA Agricultural Research Service into ArcGIS (ESRI®). SWAT model is well suited to assess the impacts over long periods of time of land management practices over large complex watersheds with varying soils, land use and management conditions. According to this, ArcSWAT would be the best option for IWRM implementation in the basin. Along the process we had to overcome a set of challenges, though. To start with, the calibration of the model was not straightforward, since we were compelled to combine a variety of sources. Hence, and in order to reduce data uncertainty and model complexity, a previous hydrologic assessment of the basin based in HEC-HMS simulation was deemed crucial. HEC-HMS was developed by the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACoE) Hydrologic Engineering Center (HEC) to run precipitation-runoff simulations for a variety of applications in dendritic watershed systems. As a first approach HEC-HMS was implemented for basin modeling in order to get physical parameters of interest; the results we obtained from HEC-HMS calibration were used to setup the accuracy of the ArcSWAT numerical modelling.

Fortunately, our efforts have yielded some preliminary results. Thus, for instance, our analysis suggests that basin management would be improved if Regional Basin Organizations prioritize agreements amongst stakeholders on how to allocate water and rationalize withdrawals, and based upon criteria of accountability, equity and efficiency. The latter will only be possible, however, if at least three key aspects are thoroughly understood and assessed: (1) how water dynamics are perceived at the basin level, including the different impacts of water use; (2) how environmental services related to water and land management are valued; and (3) which are the socio-economic impacts of managing such resources.

Adapting biodigesters to impoverished high altitudes in the Peruvian Andes


Building biodigesters. Source: Ferrer, I. et al. (2008)

Biodigesters are nowadays a common feature across millions of family plots in tropical China and India. Yet, as we abandon warmer areas, and ascend to higher altitudes, they soon become a rarity. The orthodox explanation goes that low temperatures of 8-10 ºC pose an insurmountable challenge. We sustain, however, that such conventional thinking is misleading, and that the technological barriers that prevent the adoption of biodigesters in high altitudes can be overcome. Therefore, our work on biodigesters – led by Ivet Ferrer and with the participation of Enric Velo – aims to generate economically viable fuels for cooking and heating that are comparable in their performance to commercial alternatives – e.g. propane.

Safe cooking and heating pose a challenge for the communities spread over high altitudes in Jabón Mayo (Cusco Region) and Cajamarca, Peru. Both areas host populations living above 3,000 metres. Jabón Mayo, for instance, stretches over 3,800 to 4,500 metres above sea level and is home to 1,800 families strewn over eleven communities. An effect of altitude, persistent low temperatures along both the dry and the rainy season co-exist with intense solar radiation averaging 5.5 kWh/m2 per day. Under such extreme conditions, EScGD, in partnership with Instituto por una Alternativa Agraria and ITDG-Soluciones Prácticas is analyzing how to raise the efficiency of high-altitude manure-fed low-temperature gasification by means of the installation of 20 pilot biodigesters.

Our results so far are encouraging, suggesting that improved technical performance will in a not so distant future lead to further dissemination. Thus, even under very low temperatures, a 5-m3 biodigester fed with cow manure allows 3-4 hours of cooking. To achieve design temperatures between 20 and 25 ºC the biodigester is placed inside a greenhouse. Under such conditions, the biogas generated can replace half of the previous consumption of conventional fuels – commonly firewood or dried manure. Moneywise, upfront investments are recovered over an average of 2 years and 8 months if replacing commercial fuels – and also when biogas is also used to elaborate foodstuff such as cheese, marmalade or yoghourt. Costing about 40 euros each, biodigesters are affordable for significant sections of the population. Furthermore, biodigesters can be made even more affordable if fed from a domestic pit latrine and adapted to produce fertilizer – i.e. biol – for nearby fields.


Schematic diagram of a low-cost plastic tubular digester. Source: Ferrer, I. et al. (2011)

Auspiciously, the performance observed in the laboratory is remarkable, too. The tests that we have carried out in two pilot digesters –subsequently contrasted in two representative rural digesters – indicate optimal volumes of 2.4 to 7.5 m3, as well as a hydraulic residence time (HRT) between 60 and 90 days. Thus, our laboratory biodigesters are able to generate 0.35 m3·kgVS-1 of biogas containing 65% CH4 – still too low probably, at least when contrasted with rates of 1 m3·kgVS-1 in tropical areas.

In view of such preliminary results, and in order to produce the biogas required for cooking and lighting every day, our present efforts are addressed toward increasing production in an affordable manner. We have therefore strategically opted to investigate the design of bigger digesters that ought to keep HRTs below 60 days whilst increasing organic loading rates. In parallel, we also pursue another promising line of research to adapt conventional gas burners to better suit the specific requirements of biogas production.

Interestingly enough, our work with biogas digesters also offers relevant insights for warmer areas across Southern Europe. In such case, solutions premised upon District Cooling fed by Combined Heat, Cooling and Power (CHCP) become a sound option. Our calculations attest to the fact that even if payback periods still exceed ten years, they are substantially lower for biogas-fed CHCP systems when compared to alternatives exclusively based upon Combined Heat and Power. Biogas constitutes a reliable and economic solution not only for China, India or the Peruvian Andes, but also for our industrialized and polluting Europe.

Assisting district authorities to improve access to water and sanitation in rural Tanzania


Framework for the improvement of planning. Source: Jiménez, A. et al. (2010)


Unimproved Water Point in Same District. Tanzania (2006). Source: EScGD

Access to water and sanitation in rural areas calls for more than a technical fix. Policymakers nowadays increasingly abhor the notion that top-down approaches that downplay local authorities may ever work. We at EScGD have come to the same conclusion after almost a decade of close work with rural District Water Departments in Tanzania.

The district of Same in the Kilimanjaro Region encapsulates a good number of the obstacles to safe water and sanitation in Tanzania. The area became the target of the pilot phase of the Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Program, an intervention by the Tanzanian government that stretched from 2002 through 2008. The pilot program was meant to address long-standing barriers to access – e.g. a dearth of water points, non-functional pumps installed in previous programs, or weaknesses in local capacities for management. The District Water Department was deemed crucial. Local authorities were assisted in this regard by the Spanish NGO Ingeniería Sin Fronteras ApD (ISF-ApD), which implemented a parallel scheme intended to tackle poor sustainability, a chief deficiency of erstwhile interventions.


Unimproved Water Point in Same District. Tanzania (2006). Source: EScGD

Thus, our first study characterized the status of water points across the district of Same. The exercise was carried out twice, first as a baseline study by the end of 2006, and subsequently again in July 2009. The second exercise also included the Kigoma and Kibondo Rural districts, up to a total of 3,363 water points. By contrast with conventional approaches to Water Point Mapping, we also measured the usual parameters but also included water quality and year-round functionality – an approach later replicated in Kenya. The analysis provided solid evidence to the hypothesis that functionality rates decrease dramatically over time, and that the service delivery approach underlying past interventions is not particularly helpful for sustainability. Equally interesting, the study also underscored that the existing capacities in the communities substantially shaped long-term sustainability. As a result, ISF-ApD and EScGD pioneered the introduction of an innovative solution, Water and Sanitation Unit Support, comprising members of nine departments, as a strategy to improve community management.


Water Users Association meeting in Same District. Tanzania (2006). Source: EScGD

Our research over the years has also highlighted the relevance of the sociopolitical dimension. The Alejandro Jiménez’s doctoral dissertation in 2010 surfaced how policy incoherence, technical weaknesses in implementation and political influences undermined an allocation of resources based upon considerations of low coverage. Thereby, for instance, those communities that contributed more cash were prioritized. Such evidences connected with a parallel research stream that unveiled that only one third of development funds for water and sanitation actually went to the villages. To tackle those shortcomings, EScGD assisted in the elaboration of a new district plan premised upon needs rather than upon demands.


Rate of functionality by category of water point over time. Source: Jiménez, A. et al. (2011)

We do not call however for a neglect of technical analyses. In fact, by examining conventional aspects such as quality – i.e. colony-forming units – and type of technology, we have established that governmental figures for coverage in Tanzania are systematically overestimated. Thus, when quality and seasonality were factored in, coverage fell by 40% on average. If only because of that, more comprehensive methodologies for Water Point Mapping need be adopted – at a cost of only 20 dollars per water point. The charm of technical fixes, nevertheless, cannot obscure the relevance of the policy aspects, particularly at the local level.

Supporting Bolivian scholars to lobby policymakers toward improved water management

Technical universities stand in a privileged position to influence policymakers towards better water resource management. Even if the chief challenges are political, amongst the key obstacles is the dearth of data as well as of models able to characterize underground sources and watersheds. Acknowledging this realities, from 2009 to 2013 EScGD has worked with Centro AGUA from Universidad Mayor de San Simón, Bolivia to develop tools that may be mobilized to put water issues higher on the political agenda of local and national decision-makers.

The project has been carried out in the Pucara basin, in the high valleys of Cochabamba. The Pucara basin is under growing stress caused by the rise in the number of wells. Irrigation wells – now representing 55% of the total – started to grow steadily in the 1970s yet skyrocketed since the 1990s. With more water available, previous drylands were metamorphosed into irrigation schemes. To further compound the problem, the expansion of wells called into question the agreements struck between water users over time. Irrigation systems have overstretched the watershed, thereby also outmoding conventional approaches to basin management. The latter has led Centro AGUA and EScGD to put forward the notion of the ‘hydrosocial basin’. The term refers to a basin not delimitated by its physical boundaries but rather according to the socio-hydraulic networks articulated by both users and authorities.


Pucara Hydrosocial Basin. Source: Cossio, V. et al. (2014)

The project proceeded through four stages: 1) elaborating an inventory of wells, and of water sources in general; 2) characterizing underground water sources, as well as modeling their behavior; 3) diagnosing the status of water sources – through Water Point Mapping (WPM) – and of pollution discharging points; and 4) synthetizing the status of the basin with the help of indicators and spatial representations – a similar approach to that adopted in Kenya and Tanzania. Our work in Cochabamba, however, has reached one step further. We have integrated the Human Right to Water into the construction of the indicators, thereby considering three normative dimensions – i.e. availability, physical accessibility, and quality – out of the five elements espoused by United Nations. This task has not proceeded without serious methodological challenges, such as the focus of WPM on water points instead of on users, and on individual rather than on collective actors. However, our results have equally unveiled lower levels of access to those previously claimed by the authorities as well as, conversely, higher perceptions of quality.

Similarly, the project has contributed to diagnosing the dispersed nature of the sources of water pollution, as well as the negative impact of the poor management of solid waste along the Pucara basin. The rigorous application of a SWAT model for the whole watershed greatly helped in that regard. Likewise, modeling with Visual MODFLOW allowed estimating underground flows as well as hydraulic parameters such as conductivity, transmissibility and storage coefficient. Lastly, the Water Point Mapping exercise not only identified the status of every water point, but also revealed the condition of sanitation facilities – a result that mainstream actors such as the Joint Monitoring Program are not always able to achieve with comparable precision.


Last, but not least, the project has engaged local actors in specific activities aimed at an effective appropriation of the results. The results were discussed in public workshops, and specific actions of capacity building targeted key potential users – singularly, the local authorities. Thus, and albeit end users might have appropriated the results more strongly – probably by participating since the earlier phases of the project -, the intervention has notwithstanding triggered the elaboration of a Municipal Development Plan in which access to water features high.


Waste-water treatment plant, Cochabamba, Bolivia (2008). Source: EScGD


Water transport between basins, Bolivia (2008). Source: EScGD

Parallel to this project the PARAGUAS network – or umbrella, in English – has been set up. The network aims to institutionalize a permanent exchange between universities of the Andean countries towards training postgraduates in water resources management. PARAGUAS – funded by the European Union – connects universities from Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, the Netherlands and Spain.

DCIALA/19.09.01/11/21526/264 –919/ALFA III(2011)-27 “Red Andina de postgrados en gestión integrada de los recursos hídricos (RAP-GIRH)”

Coordinated by Wageningen University, under the Justicia Hídrica platform.

Modelling air quality to tackle pollution hazards on Canary Islands and Peruvian Andes


Three dimensional plume simulation with with (a) stable, (b) neutral, and (c) unstable atmospheric conditions. Source: Monforte, L. (2013)

Numerical methods can provide the solid evidence required to tackle air pollution hazards. Thereby, mathematicians and engineers altogether have embarked upon a quest toward most sophisticated descriptions of how prevailing winds propagate hazardous emissions. As active members of that community, EScGD researcher Agustí Pérez-Foguet, the LaCàN group, and the Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria are developing new methods to characterize pollution by large emitters – e.g. industrial complexes – in areas with complex wind patterns and orographies.

In that domain, EScGD is contributing with new methodologies. Thus, we have developed mathematical methods that are able to offer richer information that is nevertheless easier to compute. Our work has yielded two main outcomes: 1) a methodology to estimate wind patterns in high mountainous areas with a complex orography and, consequently, establish air pollution patterns by large emitters; and 2) a method to characterize the polluting effects of large number of components that feature complex reactions whilst being transported by air. The first method has been applied to determining the prevailing wind patters in La Oroya, in Andean Peru, whilst the second one has been tested, among other cases, in the Canary Islands.

Average of wind velocity vectors and uncertanties for full days during winter. Source: Pérez-Foguet, A. (2013)

Wind patterns in La Oroya were quite difficult to estimate. Two valleys, the first running from Southeast to Northwest, and the second from Southwest to Northeast, intersect in an area that hosts a town as well as a metallurgical facility that emits large quantities to the air. Wind patterns not only vary along the time of the day, but also across seasons. To further compound the problem, winds are also shaped to a large extent by additional meteorological phenomena such as ‘El Niño’ and ‘La Niña’. In order to cope with such extreme uncertainty, we developed a method based on the Principal Component Analysis (PCA) of the consecutive sequences – each of them at least one day long – assembled out of 9,431 measurements from nearby weather stations. The method is particularly helpful to determine the prevailing winds during cold dawns and thermal inversion periods, which are common across complex orographies.

Similarly, the Canary Islands also possesses a fairly complex orography. Consequently, we introduced a three-dimensional mesh built upon discretized domains to model the interactions between pollution and complex terrain across the island of La Palma. As a result, the model is less demanding on the user as well as lower computational costs. It is also able to determine the concentrations of all pollutants across the whole three-dimensional domain. Inspired by our model for La Palma, we applied an analogue tridimensional mesh to 24-hour wind patters in La Oroya, Peru. The results can be observed in this video, which traces the evolution of a plume footprint.


Immision evolution. Source: Oliver, A. et al. (2013)

Our third development is an adaptive numerical method to simulate the distinct evolution of coupled pollutant plumes that is suited to address photochemical reactions in pollutant description. The method is premised upon splitting the simultaneous processes of transport and reaction. Under that premise, the problem becomes less complex, since the non-reactive part for each component and the reactions in each node can be dealt with separately. To do so, the partial differential equations required to solve the non-linear problem are manipulated by using adaptive schemes. Additionally, a multiple mesh – in contrast with conventional single-mesh approaches – is also better suited to compute vertical interpolations of the presence of pollutants. All in all, our model significantly curtails the challenges associated to the size of the mesh, thus allowing to estimate pollution hazards over larger areas. Furthermore, the computational requirements are also lower, even when comparing with single-mesh solutions.

Our three developments promise to help closing the gap between local models of air quality micro-models – in the range of a few meters – and meso-models developed for larger scales – in the range of kilometers. In consequence, our work is now focused upon envisaging fresh models to increase precision of results of interest to fulfill normative criteria as well as to increase the accuracy of risk analysis. Moreover, coupling with meso-scale prognosis models, will allow local models based on Finite Element methods to downscale predictions accounting more precisely for the local influences on the results, whilst also increasing accuracy.

In addition to supporting environmental impact assessments of new large emitters, more precise models, when combined with Geographical Information Systems, are in a privileged position to offer the authorities the tools they desperately need to fine-tune their actions against pollution hazards. Dynamic management of large emitters premised upon real-time monitoring, as is the case in La Oroya, offers a promising way to go.

Monitoring toxic metals to redress the impacts of large-scale mining in the Jequetepeque Basin


Demonstration at Cajamarca, Perú (2008). Source: EScGD


Water treatment plant, Cajamarca, Perú (2008). Source: EScGD

Residents in Porcón, Peru had every reason to think their lives would henceforth improve when in 2004 their community was allowed to draw water from sources nearby. Ten years before, large-scale mining had initiated its activities in the Jequetepeque River basin. With mining, pollution by toxic metals soared. Later on, however, Yanacocha Mining proceeded to drill a 150-metre deep well for its own supply, and water flows in Porcón – as well as in other communities – significantly dropped. Road blocks followed, riot police intervened, and several activists were arrested. Again, in July 2012, public contestation of the new Conga project ended up with five dwellers dead by police-fired bullet shots. The Porcón watershed is the natural sink for toxic metal-rich waste used for leaching gold in the largest open mine in Latin America.

Monitoring toxic metals is the core activity of a team of researchers – led by Cristina Yacoub – that from 2007 to 2013 was characterizing water and sediment pollution in the Jequetepeque River basin. EScGD acts in partnership with local actors to develop innovative tools to redress the problem. Thus, for instance, between 2008 and 2010 we assisted GRUFIDES – a Peruvian rights organization – to monitor the effects of acid mine drainage. Additionally, a SWAT model of the basin was calibrated and used to better understand the dynamics shaping the flow of pollutants downstream. As a result, research was informing the elaboration of an environmental monitoring protocol by a consortium of Peruvian and Spanish universities.


Jequetepeque basin with different concentrations of trace elements and element speciation. Source: Yacoub, C. (2013).


Comparison of measured and simulated daily streamflow from 2006 to 2009. Source: Yacoub, C. et al. (2013).

The analyses of water quality done by EScGD have revealed major peaks of pollution nearby mining areas. Water sources across the Jequetepeque River Basin are polluted by toxic metals. Pollution in surface water is becoming a critical issue, since water is increasingly a source for a nearby population of 390,000 (2005). The basin covers 4,372.5 km2, and comprises mining activities across an area twice the size of Barcelona. During two years, EScGD and GRUFIDES analyzed 249 water samples taken in 30 monitoring sites along the basin. By doing on principal component and hierarchical cluster analysis, they characterized the distribution of trace metals and their sources, as well as the concentrations of pH, electrical conductivity (EC), total dissolved solids (TDS), total suspended solids (TSS), chloride, weak-acid-dissociable (WAD) cyanide, total cyanide, nitrite and nitrate, ammonium, sulfate, Al, As, Ca, Cd, Cu, Cr, Fe, Mg, Mn, Ni, Pb, and Zn.

EScGD is at the forefront of efforts to unveil the crucial role of the topographical setup in pollution patterns. Cristina Yacoub and Agustí Pérez-Foguet, for instance, have singled out terrain slope as a key driver conforming runoffs in mountain basins. In so doing EScGD became the first research group to consider slope as a variable when calibrating SWAT models describing river basins. This breakthrough has paved the way for the further improvement of SWAT models for simulating mountainous basins dynamics.

Once the basin had been monitored and modeled, a consortium of researchers has undertaken the elaboration of a protocol in order to control environmental quality. The protocol – devised by EScGD, Universidad Nacional de Cajamarca and Universidad de Barcelona – is a comprehensive tool aiming to cover: 1) water quality, 2) sediment quality, and 3) macro-invertebrates and riverside vegetation. The consortium has realized that analyzing sediments is crucial since, in the long run, they are in a better position to detect pollution by trace elements than analyses of water quality. Monitoring protocols such as this one can help local organizations facing environmental threats to benefit from simple and cost-effective answers to assess the quality of local water sources.