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Chitra Choudhury, Natural Resource Manager at Gram Vikas

Editor’s Note: This guest blog is authored by Chitra Choudhury, Manager for Natural Resources at Gram Vikas, an NGO based in India that works on a variety of development issues, including water and sanitation. In the piece, Chitra describes Gram Vikas’ model for WASH, which depends on 100% community participation, irrespective of caste or gender, and discusses how this approach is key to the sustainability of the organization’s programs.

The detrimental effects of poor water quality and hygiene practices not only on people’s health, but also on their productivity and economic life are undeniable. Designing and implementing sustainable WASH solutions has thus formed one of our main focuses here at Gram Vikas. Our organisation predominantly operates in the eastern Indian state of Orissa and since its inception in 1979, we have continuously refined our approach, taking into account the experiences made and lessons learned in the field to ensure that our interventions address the basic needs of the community in an adequate, sustainable and people-centred manner. 

The result of these accumulated experiences is our ‘MANTRA’ model (Movement and Action Network for Transformation of Rural Areas), an integrated development model that is based on the core principles of inclusion and social equity. We typically use water and sanitation concerns as an entry point before we branch out our development efforts to other areas, such as education, health, livelihoods and infrastructure. Strengthening and empowering the communities we work with to ensure long-term sustainability and maximum community involvement is also integral to MANTRA.

Using piped water in the shower for bathing -- a step towards better hygiene. Credit: Gram Vikas

Using piped water in the shower for bathing -- a step towards better hygiene. Credit: Gram Vikas

In India, caste-based discrimination remains a sad reality for many and accumulates in a strictly hierarchical society, where individual rights become subject to class, caste and gender affiliation. Access to water in particular is used as a means of reinforcing the caste system and perpetuating social exclusion. Members of lower castes are not allowed to use the same water as higher caste people, and often have to settle for distant water sources of poorer quality. As a result of such century-old oppression, these marginalised groups have internalised fatalistic worldviews and feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness prevail among them. Even though caste discrimination is legally prohibited in India, it remains widely practised, especially among rural populations. Development efforts therefore easily get fragmented, reaching those of higher social status while the poorest of the poor – as so often in their lives – are left out. 

It was under these considerations, that Gram Vikas conceived the 100% inclusion policy as a core aspect of the MANTRA programme. The principle is simple: we only begin our work in a village once all its members have agreed on certain prerequisites. Firstly, every household has to be covered – irrespective of caste, gender and economic status – and receive the same quality of service: a toilet, a bathing room and 24-hour piped water through three taps – one in the toilet, bathroom, and one in the kitchen. The water comes from a single common water tank, for which water is transported either through a gravity-flow water system or from open dug wells, depending on the local surroundings.

Additionally, all community members have to be represented at the village governance level. For the purpose of overseeing the construction process and implementation of the programme, a Village Executive Committee, comprising 50% women and representing all castes and economic classes proportionally, is elected. Inclusive of all voices in the community, this body becomes the democratic platform for joint village decision-making and endures even after Gram Vikas withdraws.

An overhead water tower in the village of Jalarepentho, Ganjam. Credit: Gram Vikas

An overhead water tower in the village of Jalarepentho, Ganjam. Credit: Gram Vikas

All community members further contribute towards the cost of the programme via monetary contributions to a village corpus fund and active participation in the construction works. For instance, 60% of the cost of the sanitation infrastructure is covered by the villagers, while the accumulated interest gained from the common village fund is used to link future households to the established WASH network as well as for the maintenance of the facilities.

In light of the deeply-engrained caste mentality, the process of getting everyone to overcome their differences and agree to these inclusive conditions is not always easy or fast; indeed, it once took Gram Vikas 13 years to achieve full village agreement. 

Nevertheless, the strategy of using water and sanitation as an entry point and mechanism to unify the villagers, thus challenging the established social hierarchies, has paid off.

Since the inception of our water and sanitation programme, the incidence of waterborne diseases, such as diarrhoea and scabies, has reduced by 85%. School attendance has increased, particularly among girls. Women, who often had to spend hours fetching water from distant sources, are now able to invest their time in more productive activities. The positive impact of self-government and inclusive institutions at the local village level can also be felt: women and lower-caste members have often taken up positions of key responsibilities and leadership roles in the Village Committees; and through the process of experiential learning, villagers have realised the benefits and potential of their collective action, encouraging them to extend their efforts and continue to assert their rights.

Importantly, we feel that understanding the local context and incorporating insights gained by our staff in the field has been key to this success; and it will continue to play a fundamental role in the extension of the Gram Vikas initiative and our design of future WASH solutions.

Editor’s Note: This piece was authored by Kerry Gallo, Senior Program Associate for Children Without Worms at The Task Force for Global Health. In her post, Kerry describes the added benefit that many WASH interventions have for NTD prevention and introduces a new set of tools that aims to strengthen the connection between these two sectors.

A boy in Nepal washes his face, a hygiene activity that can help prevent against infection with the blinding disease trachoma. Credit: International Trachoma Initiative

A boy in Nepal washes his face, a hygiene activity that can help prevent against infection with the blinding disease trachoma. Credit: International Trachoma Initiative

The neglected tropical diseases, or NTDs, affect more than a billion people worldwide. These diseases are entirely preventable, and WASH is essential to stopping them. Now, a new set of tools -- country-specific manuals, an e-course, and a website -- has been created to help increase the impact of WASH interventions for the control of NTDs.

The NTDs have been called ‘neglected’ because they have generally received less attention and funding than diseases such as HIV/AIDs, tuberculosis and malaria. And yet, NTDs are responsible for a huge amount of pain and suffering. People with NTDs experience a range of debilitating physical, cognitive, and social effects and the diseases generate enormous global losses in educational and economic achievement. The word ‘neglected’ also describes the populations most affected by NTDs -- they are the poorest communities in the world, many of them living in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.

The work of the WASH sector has been critical in stopping the spread of diseases such as soil-transmitted helminths (also known as intestinal worms), trachoma, schistosomiasis, lymphatic filariasis and Guinea worm. However, as Stephanie Ogden, former WASH/NTD coordinator for the Task Force for Global Health, notes in a post for this blog in 2012, “WASH has had an underfunded and under-applauded role in ongoing NTD control strategies. A coordinated, targeted approach between the WASH and health communities is needed…real mechanisms for coordination, measurement, and monitoring must be established and supported from both sides of the sector divide.”

To help develop and strengthen these mechanisms, and to help bridge the divide between the WASH and NTD sectors, a new set of tools has been developed. These tools, comprised of a manual, e-course and dedicated website, are the result of a collaborative effort by Children Without Worms, the International Trachoma Initiative, Emory University’s Center for Global Safe Water, CARE, WaterAid and WASH Advocates, with support from the SightSavers Innovation fund.

"WASH and the NTDs - A Manual for WASH Implementers" is available in both global and country-specific versions on www.washntds.org

"WASH and the NTDs - A Manual for WASH Implementers" is available in both global and country-specific versions on www.washntds.org

“WASH and the Neglected Tropical Diseases: A Manual for WASH Implementers” (available at www.washntds.org) is a practical guide for WASH practitioners working to implement, support, and sustain WASH interventions at the country level. The manual provides WASH-implementing organizations with information on targeting  interventions to NTD-endemic communities;  engaging in and promoting collaborative monitoring for NTD-specific health outcomes; and  communicating the impact of WASH on NTDs for the purposes of advocacy and policy change. Country-specific manuals (70 different versions will be made available by April 2014), will enable WASH implementers to easily access the most relevant information, statistics, and maps about NTDs that occur in their countries of practice.

As a complement to the manual, experts from the Task Force for Global Health, Emory University’s Center for Global Safe Water, WaterAid, Improve International, and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine developed and piloted an e-course on WASH and the NTDs in late 2013. Participants from 26 WASH-related organizations working in 20 countries participated in the pilot version of the course. More WASH practitioners will have the opportunity to take the e-course and receive a certificate of completion from Emory University when the self-facilitated e-course is launched on www.washntds.org by April 2014.

The momentum behind WASH and the NTDs has only continued to grow since December 2012 when WASH and NTD experts met at a two-day WASH/NTD roundtable. At that roundtable, a common vision was developed for both sectors to strive towards -- “Disease-free communities that have adequate and equitable access to water and sanitation, and that practice good hygiene.” That vision can only be achieved through greater collaboration between the WASH and NTD sectors. The WASH/NTD toolkit can strengthen that collaboration and bring us closer to achieving our vision of a world free of disease and poverty.

For more information about WASH and the NTDs, and to download “WASH and the Neglected Tropical Diseases: A Manual for WASH Implementers,” visit www.washntds.org.

Catholic Relief Services has announced three grants totaling more than $10 million from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust in support of efforts to improve sanitation and access to clean water and health care in two West African nations.

One of the grants will support efforts in Ghana to build a hundred and twenty low-cost child-friendly latrines with hand-washing facilities at schools in remote and rural areas, as well as initiatives to promote hygienic practices and improved nutrition. CRS also will use its savings-based microfinance methodology to help parents with their children's school fees. "Many schools...in Ghana lack safe water and sanitary latrines for the students," said Lisa Washington-Sow, CRS's country representative in Ghana. "Those unhealthy conditions and the lack of privacy often result in illness and poor student attendance, especially for adolescent girls. The support of the Helmsley Trust will enable CRS to improve the well-being of more than a hundred thousand children and their families and help students stay in school."

A second grant will be used by CSR to teach community members and children at more than a hundred primary schools in Burkina Faso key hygiene practices such as hand washing, using a latrine, and safely handling drinking water. "Nearly half of the population in Burkina Faso doesn't have access to safe drinking water, and access to sanitation in rural areas is at less than 10 percent, placing the country in the bottom ten globally for sanitation coverage," said Bangre Moussa Dominique, CRS's country representative in Burkina Faso. "Schools become incredibly important in influencing young children to change their behaviors."

The third grant will enable CRS to expand its work to improve access to and the quality of health services in rural areas in northern Ghana by providing fifty motor-tricycles equipped to serve as rural ambulances and helping communities develop ambulance-management plans. With a focus on women and children, the project also will ensure that rural health clinics have essential medical supplies, promote behavior changes in seeking health care at clinics, and use traditional birth attendants as well as clinic staff to deliver quality health care.

"In Ghana, limited access to formal health care facilities remains a key challenge in the healthcare delivery system," said Washington-Sow. "The Helmsley grant enables us to help approximately eight hundred and fifty thousand vulnerable people, mainly women and children, to access quality health care when they need it."

"Catholic Relief Services Receives Grants to Improve the Health of Thousands of Children and Their Families in West Africa" Catholic Relief Services Press Release 02/11/2014.

H&M Conscious Foundation Awards $27.9 Million to UNICEF, WaterAid, and CARE

The H&M Conscious Foundation, the Stockholm-based philanthropic arm of clothing retailer H&M, has announced grants totaling SEK 180 million (approximately $27.9 million) to three international relief organizations in support of early education initiatives, efforts to improve access to clean water, and initiatives to strengthen women's rights around the world.

The grants include $9.3 million to WaterAid and its local partners in support of efforts to deliver safe water, functioning sanitation, and hygiene education programs to schools in the developing world. In addition to providing immediate and long-term improvements to health and education, the initiative is expected to influence national and international policies related to individuals’ rights to safe water and sanitation.

"WaterAid is honored to team up with the H&M Conscious Foundation to support real, life-long impact for people living in extreme poverty," said WaterAid America CEO David Winder. "When it comes to ensuring that both girls and boys have an equal chance to grow up healthy and reach their greatest potential, safe water, toilets and hygiene education at school can make all the difference in the world. The generous support of the H&M Conscious Foundation will go a long way in helping WaterAid achieve the goal of making safe water and sanitation available to everyone, everywhere by the year 2030."

The foundation also awarded $9.3 million to UNICEF in support of the humanitarian organization's effort to place early childhood development on the global agenda and enable more children to achieve their developmental potential; and $9.3 million to CARE in support of its work to empower women economically and within various relationships that shape their lives. Among other things, CARE will use the funds to organize five regional campaigns to raise awareness about the structural hurdles and myths that prevent women from reaching their potential and provide a hundred thousand women in developing countries with access to tools, knowledge, and financial resources.

"I congratulate the H&M Conscious Foundation for choosing to support programs in three areas that are critical to sustainable development," said Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and a special advisor to the UN secretary-general on the Millennium Development Goals. "The donation can contribute to big breakthroughs in each area."

"H&M Conscious Foundation Supports UNICEF, WaterAid and CARE With SEK 180 Million." H&M Conscious Foundation Press Release 02/11/2014.

"WaterAid and H&M Conscious Foundation Join Forces to Bring Safe Water, Toilets, and Hygiene to Schools." WaterAid Press Release 02/11/2014.

"CARE, H&M Conscious Foundation Announce Global Partnership to Empower Women." CARE Press Release 02/11/2014.

WASH Advocates Releases Guide for Corporate Grantmakers

Editor’s Note: In the upcoming months, the WASHfunders blog will feature the work of corporate foundations active in the WASH sector. The series coincides with the release of WASH Advocates’ Navigating the Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) Sector: A Guide for Corporate Grantmakers. If you are affiliated with a corporate foundation and are interested in submitting a blog post for the series, please contact us at washfunders@foundationcenter.org.

With several recent high-profile grants in support of WASH from Ikea Foundation and the Caterpillar Foundation, among others, corporations are an increasingly visible source of funding for the WASH sector. In recognition of the important and unique role corporations can play in supporting WASH efforts, a new guide from WASH Advocates provides a landscape of corporate involvement in the sector and serves as a useful resource for both new and established corporate funders.

The guide documents critical needs and issues in the WASH sector and identifies opportunities for corporate involvement -- from ensuring that employees have access to safe water and hygiene in the workplace to investing in WASH projects through a grantmaking portfolio.

With a list of nearly 30 different corporate funders active in the space, the guide highlights various WASH initiatives supported by corporations, including:

As the host of the WASH Grantmakers Network, an affinity group for philanthropic organizations focused on water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH), WASH Advocates offers pro bono guidance and advice to corporate grantmakers and other private donors interested in helping to address the global water and sanitation crisis. The Grantmakers Network works closely with WASHfunders.org to provide resources for new and established funders, including a jointly developed Funder Toolkit. For more information about the Network, contact Ben Mann at bmann@WASHadvocates.org or 571-225-5823.

Boy, 11, uses Tippy Toppy in Indonesia. Credit: Jim Holmes, Oxfam GB

Boy, 11, uses Tippy Toppy in Indonesia. Credit: Jim Holmes, Oxfam GB

The Humanitarian Innovation Fund (HIF), a grantmaking fund designed to support organizations in developing new technologies to make humanitarian aid more effective, has launched a new initiative to encourage innovation in emergency water, sanitation and hygiene.

With support from the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the HIF’s WASH initiative aims to foster innovation and finance WASH solutions that will help save lives and reduce suffering during disasters and humanitarian crises.

To this end, the HIF has announced its first challenge: for latrine lighting in emergencies. To address safety concerns for those using latrines in refugee or displaced persons camps at night, the HIF is calling on problem solvers to submit a design for an effective lighting system for communal latrines that is both economical and unlikely to be vandalized or stolen. Applicants must submit their written proposals by March 16 and the winning idea will receive $20,000.

To read regular updates on the HIF’s new WASH initiative and stay informed about upcoming challenges, visit the program’s page on Storify or follow @The_HIF on Twitter.

The HIF is the product of a partnership between Enhancing Learning & Research for Humanitarian Assistance (ELRHA) and ALNAP, with support from DFID, the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, and the Canadian International Development Agency.

Water.org has announced a $6.3 million (€ 4.7 million) grant from the IKEA Foundation in support of its efforts to provide access to safe water and sanitation for a hundred and eighty thousand people in Bangladesh.

The grant will help fund two Water.org programs — WaterCredit, a microfinance program that provides families with small loans to meet their water and sanitation needs, and the New Ventures Fund, which was launched in 2011 and supports the development of solutions to the global water and sanitation crisis. To date, the organization has invested $8 million in philanthropic capital in the WaterCredit program — investments that, according to Water.org, reach five to ten times as many people as a traditional grant over a ten-year period. Those funds, in turn, have leveraged $40 million in commercial capital, helping more than one million people in five countries gain access to safe water or sanitation.

IKEA Foundation Awards 6.3 Million to Water.Org

The water and sanitation crisis in Bangladesh affects both rural and urban areas and stems from both water scarcity and water quality. While the country has made progress in supplying safe water to its residents, severe disparities on a community-by-community basis remain, while diarrheal diseases kill more than a hundred thousand children a year.

"The IKEA Foundation's support represents the first time a corporate foundation has funded both our proven WaterCredit model as well as the design of new, innovative models through our New Ventures Fund," said Water.org co-founder and CEO Gary White. "By supporting the development of game-changing approaches, the IKEA Foundation is setting the bar for how companies can drive the critical innovation needed to end the water and sanitation crisis."

"IKEA Foundation Awards € 4.7 Million ($6.3 Million) to Water.org." Water.org Press Release 01/21/2014.

The UN-Water Global Analysis and Assessment for Sanitation and Drinking Water (GLAAS), led by the World Health Organization, collects a wealth of data on national sanitation and drinking-water–related policies, financing, and human resources. GLAAS publishes the results in a biennial report, the last of which was released in 2012 (PDF).

In an effort to make those data more accessible to policymakers and decision-makers, and others working in the WASH sector, WASHfunders.org initiated a pilot effort to visualize key variables related to the policy and regulatory context of national governments. For each country participating in the GLAAS survey, a “heat map” provides an at-a-glance summary of 11 GLAAS survey questions, including:

  • Have there been any political or financial commitments on WASH made at the minister’s level in the last five years?
  • Is the right to sanitation and drinking water explicitly recognized in policy and law?
  • Are financial flows sufficient to meet MDG targets?
Looking for GLAAS data? Now on WASHfunders.org!

To view a country profile, simply go to the WASHfunders.org Funding Map, click on the country of interest, and select the GLAAS tab.

As the GLAAS team completes its next round of data collection and releases new data for 2014, the WASHfunders team will continue its collaboration with GLAAS researchers to develop data visualizations for the sector.

Let us know what you think. Is the heat map useful in your work? Did we choose the right indicators? What other indicators would you like for us to integrate in the future? Share your thoughts in the comments section below or by email at washfunders@foundationcenter.org.

WaterAid America in New York City has announced a three-year, $2 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in support of advocacy efforts on behalf of millions of people living without toilets or sanitation facilities.

The organization will use the grant to support initiatives to increase access to basic sanitation services led by the governments of Ghana, India, and Senegal. In addition, the funds will be used to help ensure that the United States, the world's largest donor country, supports improved accountability and data collection with respect to WASH efforts in those countries and is focused on solutions that highlight the linkages between sanitation and other health efforts, including improved nutrition and ending preventable child deaths.

"Investing in advocacy around toilets and sanitation is one of the smartest, most effective ways we have to combat extreme poverty," said WaterAid America CEO David Winder. "Health, quality of life, and poverty levels are radically impacted when people, especially women and girls, have access to toilets and hygiene education."

According to the World Health Organization, an estimated $220 billion would be returned to the global economy each year if the world were to achieve universal access to sanitation. Development aid for toilets and sanitation, however, is significantly less relative to other development sectors such as health and education.

"The sanitation crisis cannot be solved by any one organization alone," said Lisa Schechtman, WaterAid America's director of policy and advocacy. "WaterAid firmly believes that governments have a responsibility to their citizens to ensure that toilets and sanitation are available to everyone. We look forward to continuing to advocate for change exactly where it’s needed most."

Source: "WaterAid Steps Up Advocacy on Lack of Toilets." WaterAid Press Release 01/09/2014.

David Auerbach, co-founder of Sanergy

Editor’s Note: We pose five questions to foundation, NGO, and thought leaders in the WASH sector as part of our “5 Questions for…” series. In this post, David Auerbach, co-founder of Sanergy, shares his thoughts on the sanitation value chain, community ownership, and exciting innovations in sanitation in response to our questions.

1. What is the number one most critical issue facing the WASH sector today?

The most critical issue that the WASH sector faces is the lack of systems-based thinking. We need to go beyond simply providing a toilet. Although 2.5 billion people lack access to a clean toilet, 4.1 billion are at risk because sewage is not treated.  At Sanergy, we take a systems-based approach that addresses the entire sanitation value chain. We provide clean toilets through a franchise network of local micro-entrepreneurs, collect the waste professionally, and treat it properly by converting it into useful byproducts, such as organic fertilizer. Failure to address the whole chain ultimately pushes the challenge further downstream.

2. Tell us about one collaboration or partnership your organization undertook and the lessons learned from that experience.

Sanergy sells Fresh Life Toilets to local micro-entrepreneurs. The franchise package includes installation, marketing, training and business support, and a daily waste collection service, and costs about $600 for the first year. In our work with the residents of Nairobi’s slums, we came across micro-entrepreneurs who were excited to launch Fresh Life businesses -- especially women and youth -- but who did not have immediate access to finance to start up their businesses. Kiva, an online micro-lending platform, partnered with us to provide 0% interest loans to future Fresh Life Operators. The partnership has led to 73 loans being issued and the construction of over 120 Fresh Life Toilets. Those operators serve 5,000 residents with hygienic sanitation daily.  At the same time, Kiva gives us an incredible platform to share the resilient, compelling stories of our micro-entrepreneurs with the world.

By partnering with Kiva, we are overcoming an important hurdle -- access to finance -- and are creating a grassroots, sustainable solution to provide critical sanitation services.

3. How do you work with local communities to promote project ownership and sustainability?

All 161 of our Fresh Life Operators -- each of whom has invested their own savings in Fresh Life -- are from the Mukuru community. They are critical to the sustenance of our business and are key players in effectively tackling the sanitation crisis.  One such operator is Agnes Kwamboka who has a remarkable story of the transformation that she was able to make as a partner with Fresh Life. Tired of having to bribe policemen so that she could run her unregulated brew business, she closed it down and had two Fresh Life Toilets installed. Now, she earns a good income, which enables her to sustain her family and no longer worry about the police. She has also reinvested the profits by purchasing additional Fresh Life Toilets and in literacy classes for herself. Testimonies like these show that we are positively changing the community and changing people’s mindsets about their role in society.

The other significant way in which we gain community buy-in is by hiring from the community. Sixty percent of our 135-person team is from the local community and over 60% of our staff is between 18 – 25 years old -- the age bracket with the highest unemployment in Kenya.  The residents know how the lack of adequate sanitation can have disastrous effects on their lives and this makes them extra-determined to change their communities for the better.

Fresh life toilets become part of the landscape in the informal settlements in which Sanergy works. Credit: Sanergy

Fresh life toilets become part of the landscape in the informal settlements in which Sanergy works. Credit: Sanergy

4. Tell us about an emerging technology or solution that excites you and that you think will make a big impact in the WASH sector over the next 5-10 years.

One great initiative to emerge is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Re-invent the Toilet Challenge (RTTC). Institutions and researchers have received generous grants to come up with innovative approaches for the hygienic provision, collection and treatment of waste.  The initiative has really catalyzed the entire sector and, moreover, broken down taboos to bring the sanitation challenge to the center of any development conversation. Through the RTTC, Sanergy has benefited significantly. We have partnered with The Climate Foundation to develop biochar -- an organic soil conditioner. We have worked closely with Agriprotein in South Africa to develop a protein-rich animal feed made from maggots that consume only human waste. These technologies have the potential to be massively important for the agricultural input industries. In creating value from waste, we give incentive for everyone to participate in the sanitation value chain.

5. There are lots of great WASH resources, ranging from striking data visualizations to good, old-fashioned reports. What’s caught your eye lately besides WASH funders, of course?

Lately, we have read a couple of compelling papers from the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program about what a toilet’s worth, from ID Insight about IDE-Cambodia’s work with microfinance, and Dean Spears’ research on the effect a lack of hygienic sanitation has on children’s height.

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