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Integrated Decentralized Plants (InDPs) and clean cooking transition, challenges and opportunities for low- and middle-income countries 

14th December 2022

By Dr Yesmeen Khalifa (Loughborough University, UK), Dr Philip Catney and Dr Sharon George (Keele University, UK) 

While our proposal for the development of Integrated Decentralized Plants (InDPs) as a sustainable intervention for rural and informal settlements (or unplanned) was designed with Egypt in mind, there is potential for other low- and middle-income countries to develop and adapt InDPs to address multiple complex challenges and support the transition to clean cooking. 

This proposal is set against the backdrop of considerable tensions in achieving sustainable resource management in the context of the Global South where more than one billion people currently live in informal settlements. Such settlements typically provide only limited access to basic services, such as electricity, clean cooking services (2.4 billion people with inefficient and polluting cooking systems 2020), water, sanitation, have shortages of adequate housing, poor waste collection and management, and illegal connections to national grids. Given projected population and urbanization growth rates in the Global South, it is crucial to address sustainability challenges arising from informal settlements and to build climate-resilient places.  

Image credit: Photo by roya ann miller on Unsplash

Hayah Karima  

Hayah Karima” or “Decent Life” is a national initiative that aims to improve the quality of life and provide better services in rural and unplanned settlements in Egypt within the framework of the Sustainable Development Strategy: Egypt Vision 2030. Hayah Karima is focused on developing an integrated package of services for these areas, covering health, social development, and living conditions. There is potential for Hayah Karima to align more closely with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals SDGs and the principles of the Waste Wise Cities (WWC). In our recent policy brief published by the Climate Compatible Growth programme CCG, we proposed the development of Integrated Decentralized Plants (InDPs) as an intervention for enabling sustainability transition and community transformation in the targeted areas of Hayah Karima. 

Integrated Decentralized Plants 

An Integrated Decentralized Plant (InDP) is a small-scale (or compact) plant that includes the following:  

  1. A wastewater secondary treatment plant (aligning with Egypt’s wastewater strategy). 
  1. A municipal solid waste treatment plant (including sorting and recycling facilities). 
  1. A waste-to-energy facility for the treatment of sludge and food waste and production of biogas, bioLPG or green hydrogen. 
  1. A monitoring and controlling unit. 
  1. A skills, training, and public engagement centre for all stakeholders such as civil society, private, public, and informal sectors.  

All these aspects of sustainable resource management currently exist; what is distinctive about the concept of an InDP is that these elements are all brought together and are mutually reinforced and centred around a single decentralized plant. Such an approach needs to be embedded in wider governance reform of waste management systems at local levels, particularly in informal settlements and rural areas, which are invariably poorly served in terms of waste and energy infrastructure. 

Based on the empirical observations of the fieldwork and research, the following objectives of InDPs have been identified: 

  1. Providing better access to clean, affordable, and reliable energy and minimizing the use of non-renewable energy resources. 
  1. Reducing the pressure on the national grid and illegal connections (including energy, electricity, and water networks).  
  1. Improving municipal solid waste and sanitation services to reduce their environmental and social impacts to avoid the contamination or (pollution) of the limited water resources (see here and here). 
  1. Reducing energy and transportation costs of wastewater and municipal solid waste to centralized treatment plants. 
  1. Providing job opportunities, adequate training, and skills development to reduce unemployment rates. 
  1. Improving the quality of data on solid waste generation and composition and wastewater generation to better track the resource flows and manage secondary resources (quantify, measure, and control) (see here and here). 

Challenges of developing InDPs: 

The concept of an InDP has challenges. First, the local percentages of municipal waste collection and sanitation services in informal settlements and rural areas are low (see here, this Policy Brief and this report for further information). This means that achieving the scale of waste needed to sustain an InDP, could be challenging (see this link and this Policy Brief for further information). Second, the current regulatory system needs to be strengthened and orientated to work with civil society, private, and informal actors to ensure that the reform is equitable. Third, partnerships with these actors need to be forged to support InDPs due to the limited institutional, financial, and technical capacities of local actors in the Global South. For InDPs to be financially viable, given the weak fiscal capacity of states in the Global South, there needs to be support from international funding agencies.  

Recommendations For Hayah Karima: 

  • For Integrated Decentralized Plants (InDPs) to be successful, it is important that they align with Waste Wise Cities’ 12 principles, including the ‘5 Rs’: Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Refuse the use of single-use items.  
  • InDPs and Hayah Karima (HK) need to be developed to enhance the working conditions of waste workers in both formal and informal sectors.  
  • InDPs need to be woven into the plans for HK and other Global South cities.  

For low- and middle-income countries:  

The lessons from Hayah Karima and the concept of an InDP offers potential to develop integrated designs to address the management of waste in informal settlements in other contexts. InDPs are particularly likely to be viable for development in the Global South due to their scalability and ability to fit in various contexts. For example: 

  • In places with limited access to sanitation services, public toilets could be added to the InDPs;  
  • In high-density urban settlements where electric vehicles (EVs) are being introduced, public EV charging points could be added to the InDP; and  
  • Solar panels could be added to the InDP in low-and medium-density settlements where land is available. 

Additionally, in low- and middle-income countries with limited access to clean cooking, InDPs could support the clean cooking transition by treating sludge and food waste and producing biogas, bioLPG or green hydrogen to replace fossil fuels. 

Key policy recommendations: 

  • Governmental authorities at national, regional, and local levels need to form collaborative partnerships with researchers and local communities to develop and adopt Integrated Decentralized Plants (InDPs), a novel approach to integrating waste-to-energy technologies in one decentralized plant. 
  • InDPs must address the gaps in accurate, high-quality data for sustainable resource management, which needs to be part of a stronger regulatory framework governing waste management to promote circular flows.  
  • International funding agencies need to provide financial support to aid the development and deployment of InDPs, particularly for informal settlements and rural areas in Global South states, places often infrastructurally disadvantaged. 


Opportunity: Women in Modern Energy Cooking (WMEC) initiative launched