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Social Innovation

Savvy sewers

Technology is unblocking the drain to access a future without sanitation problems.

Sanitation isn’t a glamorous topic.

Which is probably why it stays under the surface of public consciousness compared to other humanitarian problems.

However, poor sanitation is a very real and very big problem. The data suggests that every year it kills half a million children under the age of five, and it also costs the global economy $200 billion a year through both healthcare costs and lost income. There are many things wrong with current systems, but fortunately there are also many technological solutions.

Out with the old and in with the new

Many current sanitation systems are outdated. If the infrastructure is old, even one fault can compromise the integrity of the entire system. This leads not only to loss of water, an incredibly precious resource, but also to pollution and contamination of surrounding areas with waste material. The impacts can range from pesky bad smells to the potentially deadly contamination of drinking water supplies. Sometimes, the tech solutions can be simple. Saudi City is a compound in Jeddah, home to 9,000 Saudi Airline employees. Its old and inefficient sewage treatment facility was causing bad smells, mosquito infestation and poor water quality. Hitachi worked with Saudi City to work around the existing infrastructure to make it better. The structure was redesigned to be an enclosed system, and an intense infiltration system was also installed. This has not only solved the sanitation woes of the compound, removing the bad smells and insect infestations, but has created a facility that can recycle 6000 m3 of water a day.

Flushing out problems

Many cases of sanitation problems can have much more serious consequences than a bad smell. Water pollution from escaped waste is a problem that exists on an international scale. It is not just a problem for less developed cities; even in Europe, developed cities are dealing with the strains of growing populations and increasingly outdated sanitation systems.

Now, many cities are attempting to make their sewers smart. London’s “super sewer” has been created to combat overflow issues and many other cities have invested in sensor technology to monitor what is happening beneath the surface. The model follows that of water systems. Sensor technology is placed throughout a network, reporting back on problems and levels of usage, allowing operators to make decisions about maintenance and management.

Sanitation solutions might not be the most glamorous to talk about, but it’s a global crisis that needs addressing. Luckily, tech has stepped in to flush all our worries down the drain.