The concept of sustainability

You were introduced to the idea of sustainability in Study Session 10 where it was defined as the ability ‘to last or continue for a long time.’

As simple as it seems, the concept of sustainability is actually quite complex. Sustainability in a WASH context involves many different inputs and links between causes and effects. An intervention or activity in one area affects not only that community, but also the people living far away. For example, a town that uses a river as its water source may suffer if the water is contaminated by a community located upstream who have poor control of waste collection and disposal. What happens in one place can have an effect on another, even if it is a distance away.

Similarly, what happens at one point in time has an effect on the period that follows. How our forefathers fulfilled their energy needs has affected the environment we live in today. How we look after our water resources affects sources of water available for coming generations. When a community decides to end open defecation, they are improving their own health and also the future health of the whole community, including the children.

Sustainability of WASH in urban areas is further complicated by competing demands for resource. Water is a critical resource for communities, as it is for hospitals and schools, industries, businesses and agriculture. As competition and the demand for water increases, sustainability of sources becomes more difficult to guarantee. Ensuring sustainability requires substantial work towards improved care of resources and responsible use by all stakeholders.

Sustainability is a concept used to ensure that activities – regardless of the place or the time they happen – result in a long-term positive impact on the environment and its inhabitants, or at least do not have negative impacts. Urban communities are part of a larger national community, and are also part of the community of the world as whole. The concept of sustainability helps us to think locally, nationally and globally, when planning interventions.

What do you understand by the word sustainability in the context of planning urban WASH activities?

Show answer

Sustainability means that the WASH activities would be planned with consideration for the long term benefits to the environment and communities living in it both now and in the future. By environment we mean the larger environment including nearby towns and villages. By communities, we mean everyone in them.

Last modified: Friday, 29 July 2016, 10:21 AM