The challenge of ensuring adequate sanitation for all

When we imagine the effects of climate change we think of the melting of the poles or the desertification of large areas of formerly arable land. But we hardly ever think about the consequences in our ordinary life. Climate change, however, is also a threat to a basic element in every home: the toilet.

The sanitation system, based on the availability of water and on the innovation of the hydraulic siphon and domestic cisterns connected to a common drainage network, was a basic advance for the public health and accelerated the process of urbanization linked to industrial development. Now, at a crucial moment due to the health crisis, this lifeline in the fight against the transmission of diseases is not insured because it is vulnerable to the virulence of climatic events (torrential rains, floods and droughts). A basic system for the functioning of cities is in danger.

Prevent the impact on the environment

The World Sanitation Day (or World Toilet Day), which is celebrated today, November 19, is driven by United Nations since 2013. This year its motto is “Sustainable sanitation and climate change” and it seeks to raise awareness about the new reality we are facing. Floods, droughts and rising sea levels can damage any part of a public sanitation system -The pipes, tanks or treatment plants- and cause spills of sewage water, which can generate a public health emergency, as well as deteriorate the environment. Thus, it is urgent to strengthen sanitation systems, especially in large cities, to withstand inclement weather and be sustainable.

According to the United Nations, about 4.2 billion people around the globe have poor and vulnerable sanitation systems or, in some cases, they are completely lacking. For this reason, Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), the roadmap to achieve a more egalitarian and just world, includes in its sixth point the commitment to achieve clean water and sanitation for the entire world population by 2030. The pandemic of COVID-19 has highlighted the vital importance of both services to prevent and contain infectious diseases, including cholera and typhoid fever. Public-private partnerships (point 17 of the SDGs) are essential to make them universal.

The challenge of evacuating more and more water


SUEZ Spain, committed to the quality of life of people, treats 1,082 hm3 of water per year in its wastewater treatment plants (26.4% of the wastewater treated in Spain). Applies in sanitation the basic principles of circular economy (permanent reuse of resources), as well as the zero waste policy and energy self-sufficiency. Its priority is to treat the wastewater to return it to the environment in good condition and with the quality according to EU Directive 21/271 and the various local regulations.

The new challenge Faced with climate change, it is to ensure that cities evacuate with the least ecological impact an increasing flow of water (wastewater and rainwater). The solution is through integration of sewerage with treatment plants In order to restore the captured waters to the natural environment in the best possible conditions. The problem is that rainwater is not clean, especially in big cities, due to polluting emissions from car traffic and industries. Therefore, a revolution in management is necessary, hand in hand with digitization and new technologies. Is about introduce sensors across the network, treat the data globally, develop sewer cleaning programs and comprehensively manage tanks and reservoirs.

DINAPSIS, SUEZ’s network of innovation centers in Spain, develops reference technology to combat climate change and promote smart, sustainable and resilient cities. Technological innovation related to sanitation is also essential in the fight against the pandemic, in which anticipation is essential. For this, SUEZ Spain has developed City sentinel, a monitoring tool that detects and quantifies the presence in wastewater of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which allows to follow the evolution of viruses and predict possible outbreaks.

Responsible sanitation: everyone’s action is essential

In addition, before the exceptional situation of more hours of stay in homes created by the pandemic, the company recalls the importance of not flushing cigarette butts, oil, personal care products (wipes, tampons and swabs, among others) and medications down the toilet and sink. These waste They are responsible for important clogs in the downspouts of neighborhood communities and public sewers, with an increase of between 10 and 15% in the cost of maintenance of the networks, that is, an additional 230 million euros per year in Spain according to the Spanish Association of Water Supply and Sanitation (AEAS).