Yale Project Needs Your Wastewater Data

In 2014, the F&ES-based Environmental Performance Index (EPI) project members created a first-of-kind indicator on national-level wastewater treatment. They devoted an enormous amount of resources and staff time to sifting through a wide variety of data sources. But it was just a start. They hope a new interactive map to crowdsource expert feedback will help refine and improve this important indicator of both ecosystem and human health — and they need your help.
epi wastewater indicator
Despite the impacts untreated wastewater can have on freshwater quality and human health — from contributing to child mortality to destroying downstream ecosystems — no global database existed before 2014 to measure country performance on wastewater treatment. In an effort to understand this vital environmental issue, a wastewater treatment indicator was developed for the 2014 edition of Yale’s Environmental Performance Index (EPI).

It was an experiment, though one we were especially suited to make. The Environmental Performance Index (EPI) is the leading data-driven ranking of countries’ environmental policy performance, scoring 178 countries across 20 indicators related to ecosystem vitality and environmentally-driven human health. We convened experts and worked with our global partners to identify wastewater treatment as a priority issue for data collection, and then we devoted our research resources to developing the indicator.
 
The corresponding dataset we created relies on country-specific findings as well as reports from the United Nations and other agencies. The indicator is the first to evaluate wastewater treatment capabilities at the national scale. However, from the outset we knew the dataset would be limited by its spatial and temporal coverage. Data on wastewater treatment in urban centers are more readily available than rural and national level data. In addition, inconsistent definitions of “wastewater” and other key concerns create gaps in our understanding of performance globally. 
The time to sort it all out is now. Efforts to improve wastewater treatment are gaining momentum. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are likely to address the lack of treatment around the globe (up to 90 percent of wastewater in developing countries does not undergo treatment.) Current targets under the SDGs call for halving the proportion of wastewater that goes untreated worldwide. As the SDG process is finalized and as we ready the 2016 version of the EPI report, we are looking to you to help us refine the signal we send policymakers.   
 
We have created an interactive map that visualizes our metrics on wastewater treatment performance: the percentage of wastewater that receives at least primary treatment, the percentage of the population connected, each country’s final wastewater treatment score (the product of these two percentages), and the source of each country’s data.
 
We are asking you to check out your country — or any country you may be familiar with. Does the data and the score seem consistent with your experiences or your knowledge? Is it somehow incomplete? Do you think the data source is valid or problematic? Could you point us in the direction of better or more recent sources of data, or tell us how we can improve?
 
We want to hear from you! With your help, we can enhance our understanding of wastewater treatment efforts, an important part of encouraging sustainable development around the globe.
Jason Schwartz ’13 M.E.M. is program director of the Yale Environmental Performance Index (EPI). EPI a project of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy (YCELP), which is a joint undertaking of F&ES and Yale Law School. Sam Cohen ’16 M.E.M. is entering his second year at F&ES.
wastewater map
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PUBLISHED: July 8, 2015
 

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