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Q&A with USAID Sanitation Expert Jesse Shapiro

USAID Water Team
Nov 15, 2017 · 5 min read
Jesse Shapiro observes a life-size game of chutes and ladders, which illustrates the perils of poor sanitation and hygiene behaviors, on a field visit to an informal neighborhood in Delhi, India. Photo credit: USAID

Jesse Shapiro is the Environmental Health Team Lead, Senior Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Advisor, and Sanitation Focal Point at USAID based in the Global Health Bureau. He provides WASH technical support to USAID missions in Africa and South East Asia with a focus on new project development and an increased emphasis on sanitation programming. He has an MS in civil engineering and spent seven years in East Timor and the Marshall Islands working with governments on sanitation.

Global Waters (GW): The 2017 celebration of World Toilet Day focuses on wastewater. Why is improved wastewater treatment and disposal so important to making sustainable sanitation improvements?

Jesse Shapiro (JS): Treatment of wastewater is a critical step in cleansing our communities of harmful pathogens. Although most want to flush and forget their waste, it is important to recognize that someone is always downstream. Previously under-prioritized by the international development community under the Millennium Development Goal targets, wastewater is now getting attention as a critical component of achieving Sustainable Development Goal targets 6.2 and 6.3. Without considering wastewater treatment, where harmful waste still has a pathway to making us sick, we will never fully achieve sustainable sanitation.

GW: When we think about wastewater treatment, large infrastructure comes to mind. What smaller scale, innovative approaches is USAID trying in the field? And how scalable, adaptable are these approaches?

JS: USAID does support smaller scale pilots in wastewater processing, such as PIVOT in Kigali, Rwanda, which translates raw fecal sludge into solid fuel. While this technology and others may be adaptable, sanitation is generally speaking a highly localized activity. Even when technology may be useful elsewhere, many local adaptations are likely needed to make a given sanitation approach functional in a local context. Typically financing, governance, institutional capacity, climate, and behavioral norms are important factors in this consideration.

GW: From USAID’s perspective, how does programming focused on sanitation service chains support broader Agency goals in public health and economic development?

JS: We must focus on the entire sanitation service chain to ensure fecal pathogens are eliminated from human environments in a safe manner. In this way, our work contributes to reductions in sickness and improvements in growth. When there is less sickness and death, households can be more productive, which has a positive impact on economies. Sanitation also impacts individuals’ feelings of dignity and security, and has potential economic impacts on tourism.

Workers in Madagascar contain fecal sludge that has been removed from a full latrine and prepare it for transport to a disposal site. Photo credit: USAID/IUWASH PLUS

GW: Can you describe the key components of the sanitation service chain and how wastewater treatment fits in?

JS: The sanitation service chain is typically characterized into three stages for non-rural areas: capture, transport, and treatment. Capture and transport covers the waste capture in a latrine, storage in a tank, and/or transport by sewer system or truck to a treatment facility. Wastewater treatment is the last stage where the waste is treated to remove or destroy harmful pathogens and is disposed of safely.

GW: Can you offer some examples of work USAID is doing in the area of urban sanitation?

JS: In Indonesia, USAID’s IUWASH PLUS [Indonesia Urban Water, Sanitation and Hygiene] activity works with more than 30 urban centers to improve water and sanitation services. Primarily a technical assistance activity, the effort focuses on improving the ability of local governments and service providers to increase access to services for low income settlements through utilization of national financing schemes while strengthening the institutions themselves and their ability to ensure services over time. The activity also engages local health authorities to organize and generate demand for sanitation while working with the local private sector to ensure essential products and services are available.

Staff from Nipa Nipa Wastewater Treatment Plant in Makassar City, South Sulawesi, share their experience with the participants from Lumajang District on desludging techniques during an IUWASH PLUS field visit. Photo credit: Ristina Aprillia/USAID IUWASH PLUS

GW: The Water for the World Act (WFWA) came about in 2014, and recently the U.S. Government released its new U.S. Global Water Strategy (GWS). How have these milestones affected USAID’s efforts to address sanitation and hygiene needs?

JS: The WFWA and GWS continue to enable USAID to improve upon its sanitation efforts. The GWS has set for the first time a standalone strategic objective for sanitation and hygiene. This focus, along with the continued support for funding of USAID’s water directive, will allow USAID to continue to strengthen its human resource capacity and attention to sanitation challenges in our priority countries.

GW: What are some of WASHPaLS’ primary aims, and what is your involvement with the project?

JS: I am the lead technical advisor for USAID’s flagship global sanitation effort, Global Health Bureau’s Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Partnerships and Learning for Sustainability (WASHPaLS) project. WASHPaLS is a research and learning project that will investigate key sector gaps in partnership with governments and practitioners to produce actionable learning that is policy relevant. This research will investigate topics such as the use of targeted subsidies in sanitation programs, the performance envelope for community-led total sanitation, and the viability of small enterprises to supply sanitation products for the unserved.

GW: How does WASHPaLS plan to help spread the project’s sanitation messaging to as wide an audience as possible in the coming years?

JS: WASHPaLS hopes to maximize use of relevant learning by conducting studies that are designed based on local partner policy needs. Additionally, WASHPaLS will seek to spread the lessons to other governments, practitioners, and financiers through wide and public dissemination of products, engagement events, and collaboration with its external advisory board made up of sanitation leads from key practitioners and financiers. The project has just completed its first year and will be publishing learning products in the coming months.

Additional Resources:

This article appears in Global Waters, Vol. 8, Issue 6; for past issues of the magazine, visit Global Waters’ homepage on the USAID website.

Global Waters

Global Waters tells the story of USAID's water-related efforts around the globe, featuring in-depth articles exploring solutions to local as well as global water challenges, opinion pieces by development professionals, and first-hand accounts from stakeholders and beneficiaries.

USAID Water Team

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USAID and its partners improve access to clean water and safe sanitation to create a healthier and more #WaterSecureWorld. For more, visit

Global Waters

Global Waters tells the story of USAID's water-related efforts around the globe, featuring in-depth articles exploring solutions to local as well as global water challenges, opinion pieces by development professionals, and first-hand accounts from stakeholders and beneficiaries.

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