Editor’s Note: This guest post is authored by our colleagues at the U.S. Water Partnership, who announced the launch of H2infO, a new web platform that provides global access to U.S.-generated data and knowledge on WASH. The official launch, hosted by Catherine Novelli, Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment, took place yesterday afternoon at the U.S. State Department.
Taking the first step in combating a problem is often the most challenging. For infants, that exhilarating first step unleashes a new freedom that takes them to new places (and sometimes trouble). Unfortunately, thousands of children may never take that first step or will experience increased difficulty due to stunting, as a result of unsafe water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene.
While water challenges vary across the globe, these issues are solvable. However, decision makers worldwide need to be equipped with the right tools to harness innovative technologies, expertise and resources to build sustainable solutions. Accessing useful information is the first step for designing these lasting solutions, but finding the right type of information can be a daunting task for users in developing countries.
In response, the U.S. Water Partnership (USWP) announced the launch of H2infO – a new platform that offers the global community easy on-line access to a growing library of U.S.-generated water data and knowledge. The United States has information and solutions to share. However, our knowledge has been too fragmented for accessible use – until now.
Launched on October 6, H2infO harnesses U.S.-based information and connects people to the data, knowledge and resources they need to address water challenges. The portal currently hosts over 3,000 resources from leading institutions and more resources will be centrally accessible as this interactive tool continues to expand..
Step 1 – Visit H2infO
H2infO was developed by the U.S. Water Partnership, a public-private alliance formed to unite and mobilize U.S. expertise, resources and ingenuity to address water challenges where needs are the greatest. The U.S. Department of State provided additional support in the development of H2infO. The 3,000 resources currently hosted on H2infO are exclusively from U.S. Water Partnership members, a growing coalition of over 90 partners, including 19 federal agencies, academia, private companies, foundations and NGOs. Additional resources will be added to the portal regularly.
Step 2 – Explore the resources
H2infO was designed to help create catalytic solutions to diverse water challenges throughout the developing world. The portal serves as a water resource librarian – directing users to resources and linking them to relevant websites. Policymakers, service providers and service developers worldwide are able to access resources to engage in the following USWP themes: WASH, integrated water resource management, efficiency and productivity, and governance. Available H2infO resources range from training manuals and water scarcity maps to case studies and project reports.
For example, a policy maker in Angola can learn from experiences in Arizona on how to best manage water resources in times of drought; NGOs in the field can easily find training manuals to help design programs that build on decades of experiences; and lessons on trans-boundary water management in the Colorado River Basin can help build good neighbors in international river basins.
Step 3 – Build your toolset
H2infO recognizes the value of connecting multiple stakeholders to contribute resources from federal agencies, private sector, civil society and universities. Water challenges cut across multiple sectors such as health, energy, and food. A robust set of tools prepares decision makers to navigate these diverse sectors to build lasting solutions.
Climate change and population dynamics are among the factors to add stress on global demand and water supply. Decision makers around the world will increasingly search for available data and information on these topics. H2infO is the first installment of the U.S. Water Partnership’s commitment to the President’s Climate Data Initiative, which is a key deliverable of the President’s Climate Action Plan to cut carbon pollution in America, prepare communities for the impacts of climate change and lead international efforts to address this global challenge. A recent White House Council on Environmental Quality fact sheet recognized H2infO as a platform to help create a “virtual community of practice to share data, experiences, lessons and practices,” consistent with the goals of the Initiative.
The U.S. Water Partnership is excited to work with partners in the water sector to build on this platform and expand the diverse library of resources. H2infO is now live at www.H2infO.us.
WASHfunders’ Recommended Reading section has expanded with the recent addition of some new publications. Resources added in the past several months include:
Realising the human rights to water and sanitation, a handbook developed by the UN Special Rapporteur Catarina de Albuquerque to provide guidance on the implications for human rights in WASH services provision
Sanitation as a Business: Unclogging the Blockages, a report from the July 2014 conference, which includes concrete action plans around the challenges related to the scale up of sustainable sanitation
The conference report from the 2014 WASH Sustainability Forum, which provides a summary of recommendation, next steps, and participant feedback that emerged from the meeting on WASH sector sustainability
New publications are added to WASHfunders’ Knowledge Center on a rolling basis, via IssueLab, a service of the Foundation Center. And we accept suggestions! If you’d like us to add a case study, evaluation, white paper, or issue brief that is of interest to those in the social sector working in WASH, please contact us: email@example.com.
As political leaders and civil society advocates converge in New York this week for the U.N. General Assembly -- as well as concurrent events such as the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting and the U.N. Climate Summit -- advocates in the WASH sector are receiving some high profile attention. Here are some WASH highlights so far from this year’s UNGA week:
WaterAid’s Barbara Frost at UN Climate Summit
Chief Executive of WaterAid, Barbara Frost, spoke yesterday at the U.N.’s Climate Summit 2014 about the implications of extreme weather events and climate change for water, sanitation and hygiene. A blog post discussing the content of her speech is featured here on The Huffington Post.
Water.org co-founders at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting
Water.org co-founders Gary White and Matt Damon participated in the Clinton Global Initiative meeting as part of yesterday’s plenary, Cities as Labs of Innovation (video starts at 53:15). The pair highlighted their collaboration with corporate philanthropy, including the Ikea Foundation, the MasterCard Foundation, PepsiCo Foundation, and the Caterpillar Foundation, to support their WaterCredit model, which assists poor households in secure loans to pay for water and sanitation facilities in their homes.
A post authored by Gary White and the CEO of the Ikea Foundation and published this week on the Guardian’s website also touches on the importance of innovative financing models and the participation of the public and private sectors in scaling safe water access.
WASH at the Global Citizen Action Summit 2014
Global Citizen Festival 2014 will be held this Saturday in Central Park, and while tickets for that event have already been distributed, at the time of publishing, registration is still open for this Friday’s Action Summit. The Summit’s session on sanitation starts at 11:30 am at New York University’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts and the lineup of featured participants working in the WASH space includes:
- Sarina Prabasi, CEO, WaterAid America
- Chris Williams, Executive Director, Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council
- David Auerbach, Co-Founder, Sanergy (who blogged for us earlier this year)
Feel free to add other events going on in the world of WASH during UNGA week in the comments!
Editor’s Note:This guest post is authored by Alexandra Chitty, Research Uptake Officer at SHARE Research Consortium. The Consortium comprises five organisations that have come together to generate research to inform policy and practice in the areas of sanitation and hygiene. In June, SHARE launched a toolkit on Violence, Gender and WASH, which brings together best practices as well as tools and policy responses to help make WASH safer. In her post, Alexandra shares the origins and goals of this project and describes the contents and reception of the toolkit.
The connection between poor WASH and gender-based violence has long been posited but, until recently, the realities of this relationship had received very little recognition or exploration. So, the SHARE Research Consortium, funded by DFID, decided to undertake research and learning on this issue and develop a Practitioner’s Toolkit on Violence, Gender and WASH in order to:
- Shed light on the intricacies of this link
- Raise awareness on types of violence which can occur with linkages to WASH
- Offer practical guidance to practitioners on how to improve their programming and services to minimise the risks of gender-based and other types of violence, as well as how to respond to incidents of violence should they occur
You can view the toolkit here.
WASH and violence: the links
Although the root cause of violence is the differences in power between people, for instance between men and women or between people of different social groupings, poor access to WASH services can increase vulnerabilities to violence. A lack of access to a toilet in or near the home or poor access to water supply can lead to women and children defecating in the open after dark or having to walk long distances to collect water. This in turn can increase their vulnerability to harassment and violence, including sexual violence. A lack of easy access to water can also lead to tensions in the household or fights between neighbours or other users, particularly where water is scarce.
The starting point for the research and the subsequent formulation of the toolkit was a need to better understand the scope and scale of the problem and to provide guidance for practitioners on how they can improve their programming to reduce these risks.
What’s in the toolkit?
The toolkit, co-published by 27 organisations, examines the available evidence around how a lack of access to appropriate WASH increases vulnerabilities to violence. Although much of the available evidence is anecdotal or from small scale studies, the research found case studies from more than 30 countries and a number of more in-depth qualitative and quantitative studies. A study in India, for example, found that women felt intense fear of sexual violence when accessing water and sanitation services. These findings were echoed in a similar study in Uganda where women reported that that journeying to use toilets, particularly at night, was dangerous for their security.
The toolkit provides practical guidance for policymakers, programme funding personnel, advocacy staff, implementers, trainers, monitoring and evaluation staff, and human resource staff on how the sector can help make WASH safer and more effective. For example, one of the ten key principles it advances is institutionalizing the requirement to analyse and respond to vulnerabilities to violence in WASH-related policies, strategies, plans, budgets and systems. To achieve this, organisations could, it suggests, undertake advocacy for increased attention on, and allocation of finances and resources to, reducing vulnerabilities to violence linked to WASH.
Three main takeaways emerge from the toolkit:
- Poor access to WASH services can increase vulnerabilities to violence, but the root cause of violence is the differences in power between people
- Provision of WASH facilities alone cannot prevent any form of violence from occurring as they do not address the root cause of violence; for this wider societal change is required
- WASH and associated practitioners can, however, make a very positive contribution to trying to reduce the exposure of those most vulnerable to violence
Progress so far
The toolkit was presented to DFID during World Toilet Day (2013) and was officially launched at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine on 9th June 2014. There, participants discussed how to better to engage women and adolescent girls in programming, how to engage men and boys on issues of safety, and how best to encourage busy WASH practitioners to consider these issues and integrate considerations of violence into their work.
The toolkit was commended for being highly relevant to DFID’s commitment to reducing violence against women and girls and to WaterAid’s focus on equity and inclusion as a framework for WASH service delivery. UNICEF also indicated that the toolkit was being used to adapt WASH programming and facilities in South Sudan and would be beneficial to the on-going work updating the Inter-Agency Standing Committee’s Guidelines for Gender-Based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Settings.
Professionals working in over 40 different countries and working for 132 different organisations/institutions have received copies of the toolkit. It has also been distributed through the headquarters of international organisations and can be downloaded here.
Drawing on the toolkit, WaterAid will lead a one day capacity development workshop on the nexus between violence, gender, and WASH at the 37th Water, Engineering and Development Centre Conference being held in Vietnam this September. You can register for this event here.
The authors hope this toolkit will be a valuable resource to WASH and associated practitioners working across the globe to reduce WASH-related vulnerabilities to violence. For more information on the toolkit, please contact us by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
In recognition of last week’s World Water Week in Stockholm, we’ve gathered a number of standout tweets from this year’s event. Check out our selection below – and add your own impressions of World Water Week 2014 in the comments.
"Every man has a plan until he is punched in the face, this is very much the reality of water management." John Briscoe at #wwweek— Jenny Fredby (@jfredby) September 1, 2014
'Without water we will have no energy to turn the lights on, and without energy no water from the taps we turn' IUCN DG #wwweek 2014— IUCN Water Programme (@IUCN_Water) September 2, 2014
Editor’s Note: This guest blog post was co-authored by Erin Boettcher, Director of Program Excellence & Strategic Partnerships at Arc Solutions, and Adrienne Lane, Director of Development at Water for Good. In their post, Erin and Adrienne describe both organizations’ efforts in providing long-term WASH solutions in conflict areas. Stressing sustainability in WASH strategy, they highlight the importance of maintaining existing infrastructure, building local capacity, and identifying areas in which need is greatest.
The 2015 Millennium Development Goal for water access has been met, but the world’s most disadvantaged and vulnerable populations still lack improved access. Among the remaining 768 million people, populations living in conflict zones face distinct obstacles to safe drinking water including displacement, damage to infrastructure, and security threats. Common WASH responses in conflict settings involve temporary relief efforts that save lives. However, there is also a need for long-term WASH solutions, especially where low levels of water access existed before the crisis.
Water for Good has worked in the Central African Republic (CAR) for 10 years and has continued operations over the past year and a half as CAR has descended into civil war. Arc Solutions is committed to providing WASH services exclusively in conflict zones, working in Somalia for the past two years. Recently, our organizations have partnered on hand pump maintenance and community health trainings in CAR. We would like to share lessons we have learned working in WASH, where our goal has been to be attentive to the local context and to address underlying, long-term development needs.
Approaches to WASH development in conflict zones
1. Prevent the deterioration of existing infrastructure
In war-torn countries, water providers struggle to maintain WASH infrastructure. In rural areas, rehabilitating hand pumps is a common relief response and we participate in this work in CAR. Water for Good and Arc Solutions are also working to provide handpump maintenance for a network of 1,000 water pumps in CAR. Local maintenance teams travel to pumps on a regular basis, providing performance checks and minor repairs to manage the lifecycle costs of the pumps, preventing downtime and the premature need for rehabilitations.
2. Support resiliency of local institutions
Amid conflict, strategic investments in the expansion of sustainable WASH access can shore up and support local institutions that assist displaced families. In the last two months in CAR, local Catholic missions have co-funded 18 well-drilling projects for their compounds, where tens of thousands of displaced people reside. In Somalia, we have partnered with schools where the leadership takes ownership of the water project, including upkeep and maintenance. These types of projects serve the immediate needs of conflict-affected people and increase the ability of local institutions to support the population after conflict subsides.
3. Respond to protracted conflict
In Somalia, 70% of the population does not have proper access to water and temporary relief cannot be expected to sufficiently meet these widespread, long-term needs. Arc Solutions supports sustainable WASH projects currently reaching almost 10,000 people.
1. Build local partnerships
Both of our organizations have found it to be critically important to operate through local staff and partner organizations. This is desirable in most contexts, but is essential in the midst of conflict. Foreign staff will likely be evacuated or hyper-restricted in their travel. The greater the capacity for local project management and implementation, the greater prospects are for the success of the project.
In CAR, Water for Good spent nine years recruiting and training over 100 local staff, establishing administrative offices in two cities (Bangui and Berberati), two full-service garages, two drilling teams, and four handpump maintenance teams. The other firms left the country or lost capacity to drill once the war started, in part because they could not ensure the safety of their international staff and assets.
2. Anticipate and manage risks
Appropriate risk mitigation measures vary across contexts. However, we take the stance that international philanthropic organizations ought to take risks and provide capital and technical assistance to places where market-based and government-led resources are lacking.
In Somalia, Arc Solutions relies upon a local security partner to help determine project locations. Although risk cannot be completely eliminated, security vetting by a trusted partner can help us to choose locations with a higher likelihood of achieving sustainability. In addition, we seek to implement cost-effective projects, which make good use of resources and reduce financial risk if a project is damaged or destroyed.
3. Gauge prospects for sustainability
In the midst of conflict it is hard to know what local financial, administrative, and technical resources will remain available to maintain WASH infrastructure. Both of our organizations have had to ask questions about the status, dependability, and associated costs of local markets and supply chains that provide essential components for implementing and maintaining WASH projects. In response, we have connected local staff/partners to international supply chains and we provide ongoing logistical and financial support.
In CAR, there is low availability of basic parts required in the country and rural well committees have low capacity to maintain their wells. We have connected local staff with the India and Vergnet hand pump suppliers, creating a system for materials management and setting up a professional pump repair and maintenance program.
In countries with low state capacity and active conflict, sustainable WASH plays a critical role in bolstering civil society, maintaining infrastructure, and supporting displaced populations. While we recognize the value of emergency relief efforts, we wanted to share our experiences working to meet the long-term WASH needs of vulnerable communities in conflict zones. If you have questions about our work, please contact Adrienne Lane of Water for Good at email@example.com or Erin Boettcher of Arc Solutions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s Note: This guest post is authored by Danielle Keiser, social media strategist at WASH United. The Berlin-based NGO harnesses the power of fun-to-play educational games, sport stars and positive communications to bring about attitude and behavior change around sanitation and hygiene. In her post, Danielle describes the genesis of the first ever Menstrual Hygiene Day, celebrated this past May. To find out more about the day, view the infographic here.
Until recently, considerations of menstrual hygiene management (MHM) have been largely overlooked in the general WASH agenda. Why? Is it because menstruation is strictly a “girls and women’s issue”? Or that boys and men are to a large extent unaware or uninvolved in discussions about menstrual hygiene? Or is it that menstruation is such a clandestine topic that makes people too uncomfortable to even talk about?
The average woman menstruates for 3,000 days in her life and during these days, she needs certain WASH conditions to maintain her dignity -- access to a safe and private toilet, access to clean, hygienic and absorbent materials, clean water and soap for washing, and adequate collection and safe disposal of the soiled materials. While these may be the physical conditions needed to ensure good menstrual hygiene, MHM as such is predicated on the idea that factual information about menstruation and menstrual hygiene practices must be widely understood, free from myths and unfounded taboos.
What happens when these conditions are lacking, or don’t exist at all? Girls can drop out school. Their health can suffer. They can miss workdays. In essence, they can fall gravely behind.
An increasing number of organizations across the world are working to improve the lives of girls and women around this issue. Some focus on breaking taboos and banning traditional practices, such as the Nepal Fertility Care Center, while others such as Sustainable Health Enterprises in Rwanda, create locally-produced, sustainable sanitary pads.
And on May 28th, 2014, for the first time ever, 155 of these organizations joined forces and partnered to celebrate the first ever Menstrual Hygiene Day (MH Day).
How it all started
In order to tackle the ‘private’ nature of menstruation in captivating way, WASH United wanted to create a Menstruation Extravaganza – a time and space to address menstrual taboos by providing factual guidance and positive information around menstruation. Thus, May MENSTRAVAGANZA was born, a social media campaign in 2013 that turned out to be wildly popular.
From all this positive feedback, it became clear to us that there was a need for an open advocacy platform around MHM that would bring together organizations from the diverse sectors working in the area. Wouldn’t it be great to create a global awareness day dedicated exclusively to putting the spotlight on menstrual hygiene and get the conversation around menstruation started?
Let’s do it!
The more partners we could get on board, the bigger the movement could become. And by autumn, we were on track. We had over 25 partners, giving us a sign that we were moving in the right direction. However, it was really in the five months leading up to May 28, 2014 that the word of MH Day spread like wildfire. The intense interest people had in MH Day reinforced the fact that we were filling a very important void in MHM advocacy.
Why an open advocacy platform?
A diversity of actors – men and women alike - helps forge a strong, holistic movement that captures the different perspectives inherent in the complexities of MHM.
In our communications and outreach materials, we strive to mirror the open and collaborative nature of MH Day itself. “28 Conversations”, a guide to help start the conversation about menstruation in smaller, rural communities was collaboratively developed with Indian partner EcoFemme. And when the producers of the new short film “Monthlies” contacted us about coordinating the world premiere with Menstrual Hygiene Day on May 28, we were thrilled to give our partners another tool for raising awareness.
On the day itself
We were ecstatic to see a wide range of activities happening all over the world; the celebrations of MH Day were just as diverse as the MHM coalition itself. MH Day partners took genuine ownership over their individual activities and organized 31 events in 18 countries. A selection included:
- In Tharaka Nithi in Kenya, the county government along with a 30-partner coalition put on an event for 10,000 attendees that included entertainment, speeches by dignitaries, and the free distribution of pads, panties, and soap.
- In Delhi, India, a multi-stakeholder discussion on MHM, expert consultations, and an exhibition were part of a national-level event led by PATH, Azadi, Water Aid, and WASH United.
- In Nepal, the Nepal Fertility Care Center (NFCC) established a national menstrual hour, both in school and on radio stations, giving students and the public the chance to have their questions about menstruation and menstrual taboos answered.
Other activities that took place across the globe can be found in the 2014 MH Day Event Report.
The first MH Day exceeded our expectations, but was not without its challenges.
A major challenge we faced was the need to justify the use of the word ‘hygiene’ in Menstrual Hygiene Day. A few individuals coming from menstrual activism backgrounds felt that the word ‘hygiene’ carried negative connotations and reinforced the myth that women and girls are ‘dirty’ during their periods. In many developing countries, we explained, it is a matter of having access to certain WASH conditions to maintain hygiene, and thus dignity. We thoughtfully addressed this misconception and, in some cases, even garnered their support.
Another challenge had to do with capacity and scale. Because of the ever-increasing number and involvement of partners, we found it difficult to keep track of how and where events were developing. In the future, it might be a good idea to have regional coordinators to help organize this process.
Finally, despite the good intentions of MH Day, we came to realize that talking about menstruation makes many people uncomfortable only because their views are colored by long-standing societal stigmas. All the more reason to keep talking and break the silence!
Editor’s Note: This guest post is authored by Christina Riechers, Director of Business Development and Strategy at Evidence Action. In her post, Christina outlines the lessons learned from efforts to ensure sustainability as the organization rapidly scales up its Dispensers for Safe Water program. Drawing from Evidence Action’s experience, she highlights the importance of diversified business models and describes the process of establishing strategic partnerships to expand the reach of the project. For more background on Dispensers for Safe Water program, read Evidence Action’s previous post, published last month on the WASHfunders Blog.
Evidence Action’s Dispensers for Safe Water program, an innovative and cost-effective system for water purification, is rapidly scaling up. Dispensers for Safe Water is currently providing safe drinking water to two million people in Eastern and Southern Africa, to grow to 25 million people by 2018.
Evidence Action was created a year ago to scale up proven development interventions to benefit tens of millions of people. As a result, we are well familiar with one of the main challenges of implementing large-scale development projects: ensuring that there is financial and operational sustainability over the long term. All too often, water access and water quality projects are implemented without a clear strategy for long-term sustainability, and infrastructure and technology end up in disrepair or disuse.
Evidence Action takes a different approach. For us, a key criteria for going to scale with an intervention is not only a strong evidence base for its effectiveness and impact, but also a sound business model and innovative financing. So what are we learning?
We Need Diversified Business Models for Scale
Dispensers for Safe Water’s business model calls for covering the costs for operating dispensers with carbon financing. Chlorine dispensers generate carbon credits by reducing the demand for boiling water with firewood, and by replacing wood burning with a low-carbon alternative. These carbon credits are verified by an independent auditor, and then sold to buyers looking to offset their carbon footprint or to meet mandated emissions targets. Because the on-going cost of filling and maintaining dispensers is so low - $0.50 per person per year when we’re rolled out at scale - even a low price of carbon could finance the program.
However, carbon credit prices have sunk to rock bottom levels. Even though we have been able to sell credits at high prices that --should these sales continue-- would enable us to meet our long-term financial sustainability plans, we wanted to have a Plan B. Moreover, the initial capital expenditure for growing the program requires other funding (carbon financing is a lagging source of funds, coming in only after people have been using the dispensers). As a result, we have been diversifying our funding sources. For up-front financing, for example, we have taken on loans from Kiva and grants from an innovation fund at USAID. For on-going servicing costs, we are branching out beyond carbon. We are exploring bundling charges for dispenser services with existing community payment mechanisms, and contracting with local governments to fund the chlorine for their constituents to make Dispensers for Safe Water like a low-cost utility service. In all of this we are committed to keeping chlorine free to end users to ensure maximum adoption.
Strategic Partners Are Essential For Going to Scale
We are also challenging ourselves to look at new ways of partnering with other organizations.
Our partnership with One Acre Fund is a case in point. One Acre Fund is a social enterprise that helps more than 180,000 farmers in East Africa double their maize yield. One Acre Fund staff work closely with rural farmers to extend loans, provides training on maximizing crop yield, and provides seeds and other products. The organization cares about the overall well-being of the farmer families, and as such, wanted to expand their efforts and offer low cost health interventions like chlorine for safe water.
When we first partnered in 2011, we thought we could simply piggyback on their last-mile distribution for local chlorine deliveries. But we quickly realized that there are key differences between their distribution and local engagement model and ours. For example,One Acre Fund field staff have a wide range of responsibilities that made the extra task of carrying chlorine with them to village visits burdensome. So we evolved our partnership so that it more closely aligns with our respective core competencies: One Acre Fund, committed to providing safe drinking water for its farmer families, now pays a certain price per farmer household per year to Dispensers for Safe Water for providing their families with access to clean drinking water. This is the same price they would pay to give farmers bottles for household use but without taxing their supply chain. We utilize our existing robust system of village health promoters who ensure the upkeep of dispensers at the water points, and circuit riders who deliver chlorine to the same districts where One Acre Fund operates.
The subsidy from One Acre Fund means further diversification of our funding portfolio, more rural households served, and a win-win partnership for all -- most of all for the community residents who have reliable access to safe drinking water.
Editor’s Note: This guest post is authored by Blake McKinlay, Global WASH Knowledge Manager at iDE. Through his work at iDE, Blake supports efforts across six countries that seek to develop markets for WASH products that meet the needs of the rural poor. In his post, Blake describes the centrality of markets in iDE’s approach to WASH around the globe. While recognizing that markets are not a silver bullet in solving the global sanitation crisis, he outlines various ways in which the market mechanism can be leveraged to achieve greater impact.
Markets are efficient mechanisms for allocating resources between those that have them and those that want them. For over 30 years, iDE has used markets to enable poor, rural households in developing countries to purchase products and services they want through a chain of profitable businesses. These efforts have benefitted more than 23 million people and enabled iDE to gain a strong understanding of how markets work, why they fail, and how to get them to function properly. We have also learned that market development has its challenges, like reaching the extreme poor, and thus should not be implemented in isolation. Although market development is not a silver bullet, it can effectively (i) build off the success of other approaches and (ii) provide a strong foundation that can be leveraged by future efforts. This type of collaboration holds significant potential, but must be coordinated to be effective.
Many people wrongfully view market development as just a supply side intervention; however, markets cannot function properly without both supply and demand. With funding from the Stone Family Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and technical assistance provided by the World Bank Water and Sanitation Program (WSP), iDE implemented the Sanitation Marketing Scale Up (SMSU) project in Cambodia. By placing equal focus on generating demand (via pro-active sales and an aspirational product) and facilitating supply (via capacity building for local businesses), a total of 100,000 latrines were purchased through local businesses in the first two years of the project.
Essential to a functioning market is a functioning supply chain that makes desired products or services available when the customer wants to purchase them. To ensure goods and services remain available; the businesses involved in their supply must earn an adequate profit to sustain their interest. In many developing countries, this supply chain is broken or non-existent. Market development efforts identify the problem and engage or enable businesses to profitably fill the gap. iDE uses the Human Centered Design process to understand the needs, wants, and constraints of all supply chain actors. These insights enable us to identify specifically why the supply chain is broken and develop potential business solutions.
By building the capacity of existing businesses and/or training new businesses to enter the market, iDE creates functional supply chains that enable the private sector to produce and sell hygienic latrines. Once functioning, these supply chains should be leveraged. Not only can other sanitation approaches access these hygienic latrines in their projects, but the supply chain itself can be used for the production and sale of other products. The cost of piggy backing on an existing supply chain is lower than building a new distribution network, and the profits generated incentivize the businesses to stay involved as long as demand exists. Strategic coordination with functioning supply chains offers significant opportunity to achieve a variety of development objectives cost effectively.
As markets require products and services to be sold rather than given away, they cannot function without sufficient customer demand. In a functioning market, demand is often created by the businesses through advertising. In dysfunctional markets, like those in most developing countries, passive marketing efforts by local businesses often don’t generate sufficient demand. This ‘extra’ demand can be generated by both the private sector (i.e. businesses) and publicly funded efforts (e.g., government campaigns or NGO programs). Market development focuses on building the private sector’s capacity to generate its own demand for a product or service at scale. For example, iDE trains a network of sales agents to build demand for latrines through group and one-on-one sales meetings with potential customers. These meetings highlight the problems of open defecation, such as inconvenience, shame, and sickness, and position the latrine as the solution. Should people want to address this problem, the sales agents will connect the customer with an affordable hygienic latrine retailer.
By building the capacity of local entrepreneurs, we aim to help the private sector to generate its own demand, creating a more functional market. As many WASH efforts involve strengthening demand for sanitation, it is essential that these strategies complement each other and we all think strategically about how they can be leveraged to achieve multiple goals. This type of collaboration can reduce redundancy and increase impact in our sector.
Even those approaches that are seemingly antithetical to market development can benefit from a functioning market. When functioning properly, markets effectively filter out those who are unable to pay. This feature could help a subsidy program in identifying which households to target in order to maximize impact. Again, however, this requires thoughtful synchronization. If subsidies and market approaches happen simultaneously without strategic coordination, efforts can be nullified and markets could collapse. However, if we stagger the approaches, or closely coordinate them, more people can be reached and resources will be used more efficiently and effectively. iDE is currently working with East Meets West Foundation to explore integrating smart subsidies into the market under the SMSU project.
There are a variety of agendas and approaches in the WASH sector, each with something to bring to the table. The supply and demand infrastructure created by market development efforts can be leveraged by others. The best way to maximize the impact of all approaches is through strategic coordination. We’re all here to achieve the same goal, but each of the approaches has its comparative advantages, and the better we understand this, the better we can coordinate and ensure we maximize impact.
Editor’s Note: This post is authored by Sanjay Banka, Director at Banka BioLoo, an Indian company that manufactures and promotes biodigester toilets for use in parts of the country where the lack of infrastructure prevents the use of more conventional sanitation facilities. In the piece, Sanjay discusses the development of the biotechnology used in the toilets and describes the successes and challenges that the company has experienced while working to improve sanitation in India.
Sanitation facilities in India are alarmingly poor with over 600 million people (half of India's population) having no access to toilets. This lack of access, coupled with other inadequacies in waste disposal, such as the Indian Railways’s open-chute toilet system wherein human waste drops on the rail tracks, poses health hazards, raises environmental concerns, and leads to water contamination.
To address India’s sanitation problems, the government, NGOs, non-profit organizations, donor agencies, development bodies, and the private sector have been working in their own way, often with very little concerted effort. The partnership between India’s Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and Banka BioLoo, however, provides one example of how cross-sector collaboration can work to provide sanitation solutions. Using technology developed and licensed by the DRDO, the R&D arm of the Indian Ministry of Defence, Banka BioLoo is working to meet the need for basic, easy-to-install and hygienic human waste disposal mechanisms in areas without sewerage and other sanitation infrastructure.
The DRDO had been grappling with the challenge of managing and treating the fecal matter of its defence personnel. After several years of research, the Organization developed a set of bacteria that “eat away” at human waste. Having successfully used these bacteria to treat the night soil of soldiers guarding the Indian borders, in 2010, the DRDO decided to extend the benefits of the technology to the civilian population by licensing the bio-technology to commercial firms. A host of businesses, including Banka BioLoo, signed the transfer of technology. Since then, Banka BioLoo has developed the necessary infrastructure to inoculate the bacteria and has built a business model that positions bio-toilets as a cost-effective and environmentally-friendly sanitation solution.
Bio-digester technology treats human waste at the source. A collection of anaerobic bacteria that has been adapted to work at temperatures as low as -5°C and as high as 50°C act as inocula (seed material) to the bio-digesters and convert the organic human waste into water, methane, and carbon-dioxide. The anaerobic process inactivates the pathogens responsible for water-borne diseases and treats the fecal matter without the use of an external energy source.
The only by-products of the waste treatment process are pathogen-free water, which is good for gardening, and biogas, which can be used for cooking. Bio-toilets do not require sewage connectivity and because the process is self-contained, bio-toilets are also maintenance-free. While we explain the functioning of the system to users, no specific training is required.
Banka BioLoo employs a for-profit model in distributing its bio-toilets. This approach is consistent with the thinking that came up in discussion recently at the 2014 WASH Sustainability Forum in Amsterdam, where it was recognized that many households are able and willing to pay for good quality sanitation services. Unfortunately, many are being offered cheap and possibly sub-standard systems. As solution providers, we need to be wary of poor quality “solutions” and instead appeal to the aesthetic and aspirational needs of society. While affordability is certainly an issue, it should not come at the cost of developing a sub-par product.
While we strongly believe in the for-profit model to help ensure sustainability, we are also looking for alternate financing options for households that are unable to pay for the toilet outright. We are in discussion with government agencies and microfinance institutions to develop programs that would provide subsidies or microloans to consumers.
Banka BioLoo has also worked with charities and other development organizations to provide bio-toilets in underserved areas. In March 2013, some members of the student chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB), studying in Gitam University, decided to undertake a project to help provide sanitation facilities in Rudraram village, at the outskirts of Hyderabad in southern India. Using a combination of student efforts, input from family members, sponsored funds, and contributions from user families, Banka BioLoo, in partnership with EWB, installed five bio-toilets. In 2014, the project provided bio-toilets to 20 additional families. The student community is keen to develop a 10-kilometer radius around the university as an open defecation free area.
One remaining challenge in promoting the use of the toilets involves the perception among some Indians that sanitation is not worth paying for. Many are comfortable with defecating in the open. In promoting the bio-toilets, we explain the negative effects on the health and well-being of society -- particularly women and children -- that are associated with open defecation. As this understanding continues to develop in India, the demand for sanitation products, such as the bio-toilets, will grow. We are actively working in this direction, trying to provide economical and eco-friendly sanitation systems for all -- from the most marginalized populations to large institutions and corporations across various states in India -- while building up the good reputation of the latrine.