Pathways toward rapid wastewater treatment response during the global refugee crisis
Kosonen, Heta Karoliina
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The aftermath of several natural and humanitarian catastrophes has demonstrated the potential for environmental impacts as displaced populations overwhelm wastewater treatment facilities in host communities. A systematic review of sanitation system operation and management revealed that there is limited academic understanding of how operators and engineers make decisions on project delivery during rapid wastewater treatment response. This dissertation aims to fill this gap in scholarship by investigating stakeholder thought processes behind advanced wastewater treatment delivery during refugee responses in Jordan and Finland in 2015-2016. The overarching research objective of this dissertation is to identify concepts that contribute to rapid wastewater treatment response following disasters. While the best practices in both steady-state wastewater treatment system operation and emergency sanitation provision have received extensive academic attention, empirical research on advanced wastewater treatment process operation in dynamic or extreme conditions, such as refugee response, has been limited. The three-step research approach addresses the following hypotheses: H1: Stakeholders’ technical decisions are based on recognition-primed decision models that build on their prior experiences. H2: Wastewater treatment system startup and performance in refugee camps is impacted by contextual and internal concepts that influence stakeholder decision-making. H3: The concepts influencing rapid wastewater treatment delivery in disparate refugee response situations share commonalities. The first hypothesis was tested by investigating stakeholder mental models on decision-making and wastewater treatment system project delivery at the Azraq refugee camp. The mental model constructs revealed that technical decisions were influenced by stakeholders’ prior experiences, as well as six other contextual and internal concepts including “Physical location”, “Resources”, “Risk and uncertainty”, “Personal characteristics”, “Team dynamics” and “Communication“. The second hypothesis was tested by constructing an Input-Mediators-Output-Input (IMOI) model that expressed the relationships between wastewater treatment system function, human evaluations of system performance and the resulting decisions for operational changes. It was discovered that mental model concepts that guided stakeholders’ decision-making, such as lack of shared technical understanding and dissimilar project exceptations, delayed the startup of the advanced wastewater treatment system. Finally, the third hypothesis was tested through comparison with a distinctively different rapid wastewater treatment response case study from Finland. Several commonalities between the two extreme cases were found. The findings suggested that contextual inputs, such as the scale of refugee response, do not solely determine the quality of wastewater treatment, and that rapid response activities are supported and hindered by mediating processes in decision-making. The most significant theoretical contribution of this dissertation is that stakeholders’ decisions during rapid wastewater treatment response are based on recognition-primed decision models. As disaster context offers limited opportunities for data-driven technical decision-making, stakeholders’ judgments are influenced by prior experiences, personal characteristics and team relations and dynamics. Eventually, the concepts that drive stakeholder decisions also impact wastewater treatment delivery and system performance. Based on the findings, five principles that contribute to timely refugee response in advanced WWTPs were distinguished. These principles are “creating a clear role division between agencies and stakeholders”, “improving human capacity for rapid response decisions”, “selecting a process that fits the regulative and operational environment”, “enabling direct and fast information sharing”, and “establishing fast-track permitting processes for disaster conditions”. The findings of the study serve as guidelines for wastewater treatment practitioners that are involved in future disaster response operations. The two case studies that this dissertation documented can also be used as educational material for individuals that are joining rapid response teams to help them understand the specific challenges in wastewater treatment response to acute disturbances. By improving water sector practitioners’ capacities for rapid response and facilitating their work during high-stress and high-uncertainty scenarios, this dissertation research and its findings can contribute to building tolerance towards the strongly emotive phenomenon of mass migration and ensure that wastewater treatment services are provided in a way that considers the needs of the host communities and displaced populations alike.
- Civil engineering