• Richard

Bring back buckets!

Whilst still wondering about various society’s ‘effective demand’ for improved sanitation, and the balance between Non-Sewered Sanitation and Sewered, I was trying to confirm when my (now London commuter) village moved on to sewerage - parts of society (home-owners, for a long time the only local tax-payers - and also therefore the only ones with votes) rejecting early efforts at extending piped water supply to avoid having to pay the costs themselves.



I had understood mains sewerage here dated from the late 60’s but it turns out to be 1963 when national GDP per capita had reached around $17,000 in present values. But in finding that out, I came across a ‘treasure trove’ of annual ‘Medical Officer of Health & Sanitary Inspector’ reports from 1898 to 1973 (ending then due to local council reorganisation). Not every report available, but enough to glean all sorts of information about this Rural Council area and the development of sanitation.


The attached ‘Sanitation History’ figure is my summation of the transition - initially the local Council promoted the adoption of bucket latrines, simply because it was so much cheaper and easier to empty them than emptying pit privies. Over a period, they then developed and extended an emptying service ‘free of charge’ (local taxation), collecting twice weekly for the main period (efficient due to serving all the properties in the street), dropping down to once a week, as labour became scarcer in the 1960s … but they were still providing the service to a small number when the reports end in 1973 and there is some evidence that a few people were still using buckets in 1985. Which I find remarkable!


And fascinating that the Council provided that ‘safely managed service’ to protect its people whilst it gradually addressed sewerage as capacity, affordability and the Public Works Loans Board financing allowed.


All this at $10,000 GDP pc (2016) prices, only really finishing at $20,000. Oh yes, and the septic tank service was also ‘free’ for four sludge emptyings per year - anymore was chargeable. Again, remarkable in context of present regulatory approaches found in the IWA case studies for once in 2 or even 5 year emptying requirements.


Ampthill RDC didn’t use the ‘Rochdale’ ‘sealed bucket & sealed 24-bay wagon’ approach (as also Singapore was doing in the 1950’s, I found from a visit to a museum there), just tankers with a tipping receptacle at the back but, from a different source, one bucket emptier: ‘Mr Ivan Walker is convinced about one thing - there is no healthier occupation. He cannot remember ever catching so much as a cold.’ !


And along the way it is apparent that the council had been supporting grey water sewers, discharging to road ditches/’tanks’ from 1900 …..All of which makes me think even more highly of the WSUP Clean Team Container Based Sanitation system I visited in Kumasi. Not to mention the power and cost effectiveness of local councils when they function appropriately - interestingly, they alternated (over long periods) between private contractors providing the service and council employees. But we need regulators regulating WASCos because of the weakness of local authorities. ….?

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