Wastewater treatment decentralization: Is this the right direction for megacities in the global south?

Author(s): Ramzy Kahhat Abedrabbo, Ian Vázquez Rowe, André Torre García, Eduardo Parodi Gonzales Prada

(Español) The centralization-decentralization dichotomy in wastewater treatment management has been a recurrent topic of discussion in the urban context. The escalation of environmental hazards linked to increasing mismanaged wastewater flows in emerging or developing cities has vivified this conundrum. It is argued that there is a wide range of parameters to identify the optimal level of centralization-decentralization that must be implemented. In many cases, this prevents decision-makers from having a clear picture of the most appropriate management choices that must be undertaken. Hence, the main objective of the current discussion consists of an in-depth comparison between centralized wastewater treatment systems and decentralized systems with source separation in urban environments of the Global South. Moreover, a set of actions that should be considered in order to upgrade wastewater treatment systems amidst the existence of numerous economic, social and environmental constraints are analyzed. Considering the constraints of megacentralization as a preferred option, we argue that decision-makers should restrain from entering a centralization-decentralization dichotomy, seeing the process as a gradient between the two concepts. In fact, we advocate combining the benefits of each of the two perspectives to generate an adaptive management, site-specific solution for urban environments. For this, the inclusion of quantitative management tools, such as life-cycle environmental or cost management methodologies, in multi-objective optimization models, constitutes an interesting path forward towards fostering comprehensive policy support.

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