Editor’s Note: In this post, Susan Davis reflects on the theme of World Water Day — water and food security — and the implications it has for all of us. Susan is the executive director of Improve International, an organization focused on promoting and facilitating independent evaluations of WASH programs to help the sector improve. She has more than 13 years of experience in international development and has evaluated WASH and other programs in 15 developing countries. A version of this post originally appeared here.
I was in DC last week for World Water Day celebrations, which focused on this year’s theme Water & Food Security. (The UN celebrated the first World Water Day on March 22 1993, and each year selects a theme highlighting an aspect of freshwater. Read about past themes here.) I took advantage of the beautiful weather to see the early blooming cherry blossoms and visit the new Martin Luther King Jr. memorial. One of MLK’s quotes from 1964 caught my eye: “I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.”
“Food security exists when all people at all times have both physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs for an active and healthy life” (1996 World Food Summit). Sadly, 48 years after MLK’s Norway speech, Water and Food Security is still a relevant theme as world headlines continue to warn of drought, malnutrition, famine, and exponentially increasing populations. While one day a year might not seem like enough to make a difference in such enormous problems, World Water Day has become a prompt for governments, foundations, charitable organizations, and individuals to come together at a variety of events around the world to raise awareness, discuss solutions, and make serious commitments.
Many of us drink a glass or two of water with each of our three meals. But how many of us think about the intimate relationship between water and food?
We need a great deal of water to grow and process our food, whether it’s plant or animal. Without water we can’t grow most food sources; and without safe water we can lose many of the vital nutrients from that food. This connection is driving concerns about the world’s food supply, particularly with increasing water scarcity and changing weather patterns, but is especially critical and pressing for people in developing countries. According to the Food Security Information for Action Practical Guides, investment in water is a key part of the strategy for addressing food security problems.
While the water-food connection sounds simple, there are many complicating issues. To understand how to help, we must explore what this means on the individual, community, and global levels.
At the individual level
Nutrition is a delicate issue for many in the developing world, especially children under five. Mothers need these children to hold onto every last calorie. Yet drinking unsafe water can lead to diarrhea, which leads to malnutrition, which can lead to diarrhea, completing the vicious cycle. Eating food contaminated by unwashed hands can also contribute, ironically, to malnutrition. A study by Luby, et al. found that children living in households where food preparers washed their hands with just water before handling food were less likely to have diarrhea than children living in households where food preparers did not wash their hands at all. This suggests that hand-washing, even without using soap, promotes health. The implication for WASH project planning is that hygiene promotion is absolutely critical, with a focus on incremental changes in behavior over time: washing with water is good, washing with soap is even better.
Women and girls are usually tasked with fetching water for their families. The water is heavy, and they may have to walk up to 6 kilometers per day, sometimes in rugged terrains. It’s estimated that, around the world, women and girls spend 200 million hours each day collecting water. Subsistence farmers or others on the edge of food insecurity shouldn’t need to use precious calories just to fetch water. Various studies show the longer it takes to fetch water, the less water people are likely to bring home and consume (see chart). If families have only a very small amount of water, they will often prioritize it for drinking and cooking, not for washing hands or watering gardens. Thus, WASH project planners need to consider the convenience of water points to help stop the cycle of malnutrition.
At the community level
In my supermarket, I can find fruit and vegetables from many countries, no matter the season. But for people living on less than $2 a day, especially in rural areas, food and water can only be obtained seasonally and locally. This leads to very limited diets, both in quantity and nutritional quality. One of the under-appreciated benefits of a water supply system is that families can use the additional water to maintain small gardens and to hydrate animals. As a result, they gain access to varied food sources, which can improve nutrition and relieve some of the dependence on a single food source. Furthermore, families might be able to supplement their incomes by growing and selling coffee, rice, or meat, which often require water for processing as well. This is why planning for water systems (capacity and distribution) should consider multiple uses of water beyond drinking. (The Multiple Use Water Services Group just published guidelines here.) Using household meters and charging fees based on the amount of water used can both encourage conservation and help identify leaks quickly.
More and more WASH implementing organizations are also thinking about how to help farmers — subsistence and commercial — avoid polluting the water sources they depend on with pesticides. Other efforts are focusing on helping farmers grow more “crop per drop” — for example, iDE’s drip irrigation — or grow drought resistant crops. Watershed protection programs also encourage communities to keep trees and plant new ones to prevent topsoil from going into streams and rivers. To ensure a sufficient and safe source of water over time, WASH project planners should consider including integrated water resource management (IWRM) (like the Global Water Initiative has) or partnering with a group familiar with the practice. According to Steph Ogden (who was the IWRM fellow with Water for People last year), organizations doing IWRM best are small, local organizations based around a watershed (large or small), such as the Lake Victoria Fisheries Organization. Steph says, “They’re looking out for water access, environmental sustainability, sanitation, livelihoods of their own neighbors in the watershed region with a real understanding of how they’re all (and all of those components are) connected.” Other resources on the topic include the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), International Water and Sanitation Centre (IRC), or International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).
On the global level
Inexorably, the world’s population is growing. It is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050. Those people will need to eat food and drink safe water, on the order of 100 percent more globally by 2050. Meat consumption (which uses a great deal of water) is increasing in population-dense countries like China. Besides the 2-4 liters of drinking water per person, it takes 2,000-5,000 liters of water to produce one person’s daily food. “To secure food for everybody, we first need to secure water,” says the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN. The implications for all of us as individuals might be eating less meat.
Almost half a century after MLK envisioned food security, The Stockholm Statement calls on leadership at all levels of government that will participate at the Rio+20 Summit to commit to achieving “universal provisioning of safe drinking water, adequate sanitation and modern energy services by the year 2030″ and to adopt intervening targets to increase efficiency in the management of water, energy, and food. Audacious? You bet! And since we all eat, drink, and use energy, each one of us has a part to play.
For more information and educational materials, see the UN World Water Day site.
Editor’s Note: This guest post chronicles one organization’s commitment to transparency and accountability through the development of an exciting new platform. Eric Stowe, founder and executive director of a child’s right, shares the story of Proving It and the lessons learned along the way.
In recent years a voice has become increasingly audible within the WASH sector — a voice calling for honesty about failure, transparency in reporting, and sustainability of solutions. It didn't emerge because failure swiftly became popular, but because failure appropriately became relevant.
When water interventions fail, they fail people. While we can and do discuss failure rates, we’re really not talking about “rates” at all; we’re talking about children and adults whom we have failed, collectively.
In the work of A Child’s Right — cleaning contaminated water to make it safe for drinking, for kids — we take failure as seriously as we take success. Our gold standard is this: we will not serve a glass of water to any child that we wouldn’t serve to our own children. If it isn’t water we would like to drink, then it isn’t water we should be serving to others. For this reason, we simply must have the technical tools — and the organizational culture — to support identification of failure and effective responses.
We therefore aspire to vigilance in monitoring, maintenance, and success. To these ends, we set about devising a means to monitor progress at every site where we work. We envisioned a day when every project we undertook could be tracked online — starting with a GPS point on a map, continuing with recurring verification that safe water is flowing, and culminating in the display of all monitoring and maintenance activity, as well as of updated photos and field notes. In short, we came to view “the big day” when water first flowed clean as the beginning of our work — not the end of it.
We realized our vision in October 2011, when we rolled out the first iteration of this new online platform called Proving It. (To learn more about Proving It, read the overview here.) It allows donors, and the public, to see systematically updated water quality test results, service records, comments from beneficiary communities, and more. In one place, interested parties can now track well over five hundred sites, a number that is growing steadily. With operations projected in sixteen countries, on two continents, within eight years, such tracking is both an urgent priority and a distinct challenge. We are proud of where Proving It stands, currently, but it is only a start. We are actively ideating on 2.0, and beyond.
Proving It was first developed for internal management purposes — to allow us to monitor, evaluate, and measure our own performance. Midstream in development, we asked ourselves: “What would happen if we made our internal database fully viewable to the public?” which then led us to consider: “What if donors learned of problems or failures at the same time we did?”
These questions stayed with us, and forged our commitment to rigorous honesty. If a project fails, the donor now learns at the same time we do. And if a water system goes down, it stops issuing water that a “beneficiary” could unknowingly drink. We have found this to fundamentally reframe conversations with donors — and even our shared view of philanthropy itself. Now that donors can track their gift over time (i.e., minimum ten years) and learn of the challenges we face in real time, they can participate in the act of insisting that water solutions are only solutions if they continue to work over time.
It is our vision that Proving It will be created in open source, and ultimately be white-labeled for use by anyone in the sector who shares a rigorous commitment to transparency. We are currently working on plans to make it so. Ultimately, we see Proving It as bearing promise for both the WASH sector and for many charitable aims.
It sounds a little funny, but we don’t want to fail at failure. We’d like to get failure right. To us this means being open to learning, as well as being rigorous in our honesty, transparency, and mutual accountability. To that effect, we welcome feedback, as well as long-range partners who would like to have conversations about Proving It and its potential for the sector.
It's World Water Day. And for those of us lucky enough to be able to take clean drinking water for granted, the numbers can be difficult to wrap our heads around. Nearly one billion people globally do not have access to safe water and more than two billion do not have access to adequate sanitation. The implications for the physical, economic, and educational well-being of communities, particularly those in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, are far-reaching. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asserted during last year's World Water Day events, "The water crisis is a health crisis, it's a farming crisis, it's an economic crisis, it's a climate crisis, and increasingly, it is a political crisis."
Given the scope and scale of the crisis, what are foundations doing to address the situation?
In conjunction with its work on WASHfunders.org and this week's World Water Day events, the Foundation Center has released a new research brief that summarizes foundation investments in water, sanitation, and hygiene. Among other things, our findings show that support for WASH issues has been on the rise since 2003. Between 2003 and 2010, the number of funders making WASH-related grants jumped from 24 to 78, and that growth was accompanied by a nearly five-fold increase in the number of organizations receiving grants. In 2009-2010, U.S. foundation funding for WASH issues totaled $144 million, up from $11 million in 2003-2004. At the same time, WASH funding, having grown from 0.2 percent in 2003 to 1.7 percent in 2010, remains a very modest portion of international giving by U.S. foundations overall.
The research brief also highlights the top funders of WASH initiatives. Among private foundations, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation continues to be the largest funder of WASH programs, with the foundation's grantmaking comprising half of all WASH funding in 2009-2010. Among corporate foundations, the PepsiCo Foundation leads the way, awarding grants of more than $12 million in 2009-2010.
Philanthropic investments to address safe water, adequate sanitation, and hygiene education are poised to increase in the coming years, with several foundations, including the Margaret Cargill Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Skoll Global Threats Fund, beginning to develop strategic initiatives focused on WASH issues.
For more data on foundation support for WASH, see the full research brief here.
Does your organization have a monitoring and evaluation strategy in place? Want to know more about the M&E practices of others in the WASH sector? Eager to share the M&E challenges you’ve faced and lessons you’ve learned along the way?
Building on the energy of World Water Day activities, WASHfunders.org (@WASHfunders) and Tools and Resources for Assessing Social Impact (TRASI), both projects of the Foundation Center, invite you to join us for a Twitter chat to talk M&E.
Twitter Chat Details
Date/Time: Tuesday, March 27th (12 – 1PM EDT)
Confirmed participants: a child’s right (@achildsright); CARE (@brookskeene; @CARE); charity: water (@charitywater); WASH Advocates (@WASH4life); Water and Sanitation Program at the World Bank (@WSPWorldBank); and others
Questions will include the following:
- What’s the #1 most important indicator to track? Why?
- Do you involve beneficiaries in M&E? If so, how? If not, why not?
- Has your organization changed its practices based on M&E findings? How?
- It’s not always realistic to find impacts upon completing a program. How does that fit into your M&E strategy?
- Name your favorite WASH rockstars/resources that are creating sustainable solutions
To participate, you'll need a Twitter account. You may also opt to participate using TweetChat, a handy application specifically designed for twitter chats. It feels like an actual chat room and you don’t have to enter the hashtag every time you send a tweet. To sign in, use your twitter login, and then enter WASHeval (without #) into the search field.
If you have any questions, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Hope to see you in the Twittersphere!
Editor’s Note: Our new Spotlight On... series shines a light on funders and NGOs working to bring critical solutions to water, sanitation, and hygiene issues. This guest blog is the first in the series. It is authored by Adrian Fradd, senior consultant at New Philanthropy Capital, who is in charge of the day-to-day management of the Stone Family Foundation and provides strategic support to its trustees.
Being a new funder in the WASH sector has sometimes felt like being the new kid in high school. It can be hard to know where you fit in — particularly when you’re not that big, or experienced, or well-connected. You have to decipher a whole new language and get up to speed on all the unspoken power dynamics and history. And there’s the danger you’ll fall in with the wrong crowd, try and be something you’re not, or get frustrated, drop out, and go it alone.
Of course the analogy only goes so far, and also has the effect of making people think I had a very unhappy time at high school. But I guess in a way it highlights some of challenges that a new, mid-sized funder faces when trying to work out its strategy, and the importance of initiatives like WASHfunders.org.
For us at the Stone Family Foundation, we still feel very much like the new kids, but we’re getting a clearer idea of the direction we’re heading in and the way we want to spend our annual WASH budget of £4m ($6.25m).
Our current approach is based on three main hypotheses. First, that market-based solutions, have the potential to provide sustainable, scalable, and efficient water and sanitation services to low-income households. Second, that more grant funding is needed to help these initiatives to transition from a successful pilot to operating at scale. And third, that the Stone Family Foundation is well-placed to fill this funding gap. We can provide grants of a meaningful scale, we have an appetite for risk, and we can take advantage of the business skills and experience of our trustee board and their contacts.
Since the end of 2010, we’ve started to put in place specific funding programs to refine, develop, and test these hypotheses. And as we seem to like to do things in threes, this has coalesced around three main initiatives.
The first, the major grants program, is focused on three countries, Cambodia, Zambia and Tanzania, where the foundation is making a small number of grants, with an average size of £1m ($1.6m). In Cambodia, it is funding a cluster of work in sanitation marketing — two programs are scaling up their work with local entrepreneurs, and then a third is exploring how to integrate sanitation marketing into a portfolio of approaches (such as targeted subsidies, CTLS, and government regulation) in order to achieve 100% sanitation coverage in a specific area.
The second, an innovation grants program, is looking to reach further down the food chain, identifying projects that are at an earlier stage of their development. In sanitation we are continuing with a proactive model — as promising ideas have been relatively straightforward to source — but with water, we’ve taken a different approach and have set up the Stone Prize for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Water. (First round applications close on 22nd March.)
And then the third, more nascent initiative, is a strategic grants program looking at how the foundation can help strengthen the resources and the support available to organisations looking to develop and scale their work. So for example, the foundation is funding Monitor Inclusive Markets to support a group of Indian organisations to test and strengthen the business model of their urban water purification. And it is exploring potential ways to open up sources of finance, by partnering with social impact investors and microfinance providers, as well as potentially supporting organisations to access carbon financing.
This is where we are at the moment. It’s all quite early stage, but also quite exciting, and we feel we’ve already learnt a lot, and are starting to refine and challenge some of our working hypotheses — for example, the specific role and potential of market-based solutions, and also the extra capacity the SFF will need to fund in this space.
As we learn more and our partners start to report back on the progress of their projects, we’ll post and blog the lessons on this site, and we’re happy to talk with others off-line and share our experiences in more detail — like why we chose Cambodia, Zambia and Tanzania as a focus for our major grants program. We’re also currently writing up a short report on what we’ve done to date, which should be out at the beginning of April.
World Water Day on March 22nd is right around the corner and will be marked by several events in New York and Washington D.C. See details and registration information below.
Wednesday, March 21st (8AM – 5PM)
Get Schooled on WASH is a day-long series of learning sessions, ranging from WASH 101 panels for those new to the field to more advanced sessions focusing on sustainability, financing, and partnerships. Each session builds on the one before, but can also be attended as a standalone. Detailed information about each session and registration information can be found here.
Location: World Bank (19th and H Streets, NW)
Thursday, March 22nd (5PM – 7PM)
A Drink to the World: Celebrating Success in Water and Sanitation is an evening celebration in honor of the achievements in the WASH sector. Political and cultural leaders will share personal stories about their work. Speakers will include:
- Greg Allgood, Director of Children’s Safe Water Drinking Program, Proctor & Gamble
- Simon Laari, Catholic Relief Service Ghana
- Peter Lochery, Water Team Director, CARE
- Treana Peake, Fashion Designer, Obakki Foundation
For more information and to RSVP, click here.
Location: Russell Senate Office Building at the Kennedy Caucus Room (Constitution Ave and 1st St, NE)
Friday, March 23rd (9AM – 4:30PM)
Water: The Global Challenge of Our Future is a day-long series of panels featuring academics, members of the private sector, government, the United Nations, and civil society devoted to examining the implications of the WASH crisis in a global context. Keynote speakers will include Forest Whitaker and Alexandra Cousteau.
The event is sponsored by The Melody for Dialogue Among Civilizations Association, in conjunction with NYU’s Center for Global Affairs. For more event and registration information, click here.
Location: New York University’s Center for Global Affairs (15 Barclay Street, 4th Floor)
Planning to attend these or other events on World Water Day? Tweet us about it! Our handle is @WASHfunders and we’d love to hear how you plan to spend World Water Day.
Editor’s Note: We are pleased to announce that the WASHfunders.org blog will begin featuring regular guest contributions. Guest bloggers will include foundation and NGO leaders, consultants and researchers, as well as others working in the WASH sector who want to share their stories, strategies, and lessons learned. We encourage you to check back often or subscribe for e-mail updates.
Coinciding with International Women’s Day, this post reflects on and celebrates the role of women in the WASH crisis through photos. It is authored by Libby Plumb, senior communications advisor for WaterAid in America. She has worked for WaterAid for 13 years, undertaking a variety of roles for the UK and US offices and visiting many of WaterAid’s country programs over this time. Libby has a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from the University of Oxford.
Reflecting on International Women’s Day today, March 8th, prompts us to ask: to what extent is the global water and sanitation crisis a women’s issue? Women bear the brunt of water collection, suffer the most from lack of sanitation access and the resulting indignities, and, as primary caregivers, are impacted the most when children fall sick with water-related diseases. Fully involving women in community water and sanitation programs, as WaterAid does, ensures the programs meet their needs. It also helps equip women with the skills and confidence they need to tackle other development challenges in their communities.
Credit: WaterAid / Eva-Lotta Jansson
The indignity of lacking somewhere private to go to the bathroom is particularly felt by women. In many cultures women have to wait until it is dark to relieve themselves, causing discomfort and sometimes illness. It can also expose women to the risk of both sexual harassment and animal attacks. In Sandimhia Renato’s village in Mozambique, women have to cross an unstable bridge to go to the toilet. Some have drowned crossing in the dark or at high tide.
Credit: WaterAid / Abir Abdullah
The world’s poorest communities are generally male-dominated so extra effort has to be taken to ensure women are equally included in all stages of water and sanitation programs, including planning, construction, and decision-making. A lack of education for women in developing countries means that very few women can be decision-makers, yet enabling women’s voices to be heard is a crucial step in development. Above, women are pictured making latrine slabs for a WaterAid sanitation program in Bangladesh.
Credit: WaterAid / Jon Spaull
WaterAid helps to elevate women’s status in society by giving them positions of responsibility in the water committees established to manage the new water supplies. Zeinabu Kayisi, chairperson of a village water committee in the Salima District of Malawi, told us: “Being able to maintain the pump myself makes me feel independent and strong!’’
Credit: WaterAid / Libby Plumb
WaterAid often chooses women to become hygiene educators. Zubeyda Gudeta, pictured above helping women wash their hands before eating at a wedding reception, works as a hygiene promoter for WaterAid in the Oromia region of Ethiopia. She told us: “There has been a great change since the WaterAid project. Before this, some people didn’t wash their things like food containers. Now they wash their pots and plates three times. Now, people are healthier in this area than in other areas.”
Credit: WaterAid / Caroline Irby
A safe water source makes everyday household tasks much easier. More importantly, mothers and expectant mothers, like Sila Adeke from the Katakwi District of Uganda, no longer fear for the health of their children. “The borehole is much closer so I can fetch more water than before. Washing clothes is so easy now and I can use a whole jerry can for washing plates. The rate of illness is much lower. With this new source my child will grow up healthy and I am not concerned that it will grow sick.”
Credit: WaterAid / Jon Spaull
The privacy that comes with safe, clean bathrooms is especially important for women with disabilities for whom leaving the house is more challenging. Suffering from impaired vision, Rukhmani Devi from India is pleased her family now has a private latrine: “When I had my eye operation [for cataracts], I realized just how convenient having a latrine is, as before I would have had to go to the fields. Life is good now, as before people would be able to see us using the fields and we weren’t able to relax—instead we were always alert and worried.”
Credit: WaterAid / Susan Porter
When women are freed from having to spend hours each day collecting water, they have more time available for other activities that can help them to escape poverty. Mary Chukle from Takkas in Nigeria credits the new water supply with enabling her to open a business: “Before we got the well, we had to trek down to the river with the children and it took up to two hours. Because of the time I save now from getting water the old way, I was able to work more and apply for a loan to buy a small village shop which I now run.”
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of briefing notes from the WASH Monitoring Exchange, a collective effort by funders, academics, and NGOs to lay out a common basic framework for monitoring and evaluation. This briefing note describes the genesis of the WASH Monitoring Exchange and its initial work. It is authored by Susan Davis, founder of Improve International, and Rachel Cardone, program officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. (Views expressed are their own). In the coming months, WASHfunders.org will provide ongoing updates on the efforts of the WASH Monitoring Exchange.
The iconic photograph of an African woman or child carrying a bucket of water on her head, fetching water from the river, has helped raise millions of dollars for water and sanitation projects over the years. Yet, as more and more data (see Figure 1) illustrate the high failure rates of water points and systems built by these projects and programs, a growing number of donors, NGOs, and governments are questioning the value for money of different approaches.
In the past few years, there has been a shift in thinking about water and sanitation as an infrastructure sector, whose success is measured by outputs, to thinking about water and sanitation as a service delivery sector, whose success is measured by outcomes. Determining success means being able to reliably answer questions over time such as: are consumers happy with their service? Is it reliable and affordable? Is it environmentally and financially sustainable? Is it providing water and sanitation services for everyone, forever?
How will we know?
If we accept that water and sanitation services require continuous attention to meet consumer needs, then the current framework for measuring success — which considers access to infrastructure as the end point — needs to evolve.
In a services framework, access to infrastructure can be considered instead as a useful and necessary input indicator. But it’s a few steps away from the desired outcome of sustainable services for everyone, forever.
Last year, a group of NGOs, funders, and academics started to ask hard questions about the sustainability of their own programs and others in the sector, and came to a few realizations:
- For local and national governments, including public service providers, the cost of generating data on a per capita basis often exceeds the total water and sanitation budget on a per capita basis. In a financially constrained environment, funds will get channeled to new infrastructure and services, not to monitoring.
- For funders and intermediaries, it’s hard to measure value for money in programming when there are few standard definitions or common denominators against which programs can be measured.
- For academics, the limited availability of comparable data sets coupled with the cost of data collection hampers the ability to do cost-effective, rigorous social science that is replicable.
Then the group decided to take action, and the WASH Monitoring Exchange (WASHME) was born.
WASHME is taking an action-oriented approach to monitoring. Currently, the group is running an experiment to answer the following three questions:
- What is the lowest number of common indicators necessary to determine sustainability of WASH services over time?
- What are the least costly/most reliable sources of data?
- What governance models are most cost-effective for monitoring WASH services over time?
Along the way, the group seeks to learn something about whether diverse organizations can adopt a similar set of indicators to measure the sustainability of their work.
Learn more about our experiment here.