Editor’s Note: This guest blog was authored by Fatima Asmal-Motala for the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency. Fatima interviews Jack Sim, the founder of the World Toilet Organization (WTO), about the state of sanitation in Africa and the strategies needed to improve upon it. A version of this post originally appeared here.
When the founder of the World Toilet Organization, Jack Sim, turned 40, he literally began counting how many more days he had to live and felt a sense of urgency to do meaningful things with the remainder of his life.
“Can you imagine a person coming into this world and spending his life only helping himself? When this person dies, his life has had no meaning, so why did he bother coming here?” he asks.
A successful businessman, Sim turned his attention to an area which he felt was severely neglected.
“The toilet was completely neglected in Singapore (his home country). I realised it was the same all over the world. People felt very embarrassed. Now I’ve broken the taboo and legitimised the subject through 12 years of effective advocacy. I am proud to say I have broken the taboo surrounding the subject of sanitation.”
Excerpts of the interview follow:
Why is good sanitation so important?
To grow a country, you need healthy people. You’d rather prevent people from being sick than cure them once they’re sick. Toilets are the cheapest preventative medicine in the world.
Proper sanitation, together with hand washing with soap, will reduce illness by 50 to 80 percent. A lot of illness — diarrhoea, worms and other diseases — are basically due to the spread of pathogens from the feces, transmission paths through the fingers, the feet, the flies and the fluid. If you can break this, people can be healthy.
We need covered toilets which flies cannot reach, people cannot step on, and rain cannot wash away and spread, as well as a place to wash the hands. To achieve this we need education — why is a toilet good for you — to make it a trend rather than a prescription. If it’s fashion, people will follow.
Toilets also need owners. Without an owner it will become dysfunctional very quickly. If someone buys a toilet, he feels he owns it. If he doesn’t own it, a sense of ownership has to be cultivated. People have to be trained as cleaners and as security personnel.
If you have no toilets, you get unhappy, unhealthy people — as a result of which you have low productivity, and low income. You then have to incur expenditure due to illnesses and this can break subsistence survival, creating a poverty cycle, which becomes a political problem. Good sanitation can prevent all these time bombs.
What progress has been made on the African continent in terms of sanitation?
The good news is that Africa is currently experiencing one of its most peaceful periods in recent history. Because of that, its economic growth is on average faster than even the Asian growth rate. When people have a little bit more money, they have higher expectations. So the demand for toilets is easier to create.
On the African continent there has been some progress in terms of the community-led total sanitation approach which triggers people to dig their own holes, thereby encouraging them to have their own rudimentary toilets.
Through this approach, people realise the need for a proper toilet quickly. They start by digging a hole and going to a fixed place to defecate. This is already a big change of behaviour — they suddenly feel disciplined; they feel the need to be private, to protect their neighbours.
So the first phase is just to go to a fixed place, and to cover the hole. It’s very rudimentary, but it’s better than being outside, where women can get molested.
In the second phase, people are encouraged to buy toilets, which cost between 50 to 100 dollars. Once they own them, jealousy and comparisons set in — and nobody likes to be looked down upon.
How high is that “demand” currently in Africa?
What we need to do is to move the toilet to a higher level on the list of personal priorities — as high as the cell phone. For most people on the continent, the priority has been a television set, then a cell phone, but not a toilet. What we need to do is to make it fashionable to own a toilet — to convey the message that if you don’t have a toilet, you’re living in an animal state. People don’t want to be classed as living in an animal state.
What about the supply side — how easy is it for an individual to access a toilet?
We have to make toilets available either by the government, or affordable for people to buy, with on-site treatment, safe sanitation, and maintenance cleaners who are also professionally trained as technicians. And we also have to provide education for the community to care for their toilets so they can continue to enjoy using them. In other words, on the supply side, the effort requires a combination of people, the government and the private sector.
What about South Africa? Has any progress been made here?
A little bit. But the growth of informal settlements is creating a lot of difficulties, not just in terms of provision of toilets, but also where to put them. You can’t put a permanent structure on illegal land. Yet people need toilets. There needs to be some legal policy reform that allows a permanent toilet.
Why should it be mobile? Sometimes a mobile toilet is too far away to comfortably access. Also people are practising open defecation — so there’s a habit change barrier. They may ask, why should they use toilets which are not well-maintained, which are dirty and smelly and full and which can’t even be used?
The government is also not fast enough in terms of provision, but I think they are interested in speeding up the programme because they know that you can’t have a nation of sick people.
How is the World Toilet Organization involved in improving sanitation in Africa?
We have partnered with Unilever to launch an academy. We are going to go to schools and encourage children to start using toilets earlier; when they use toilets at school, they’ll promote usage at home.
Supply of toilets on the African continent has not caught up with demand. This academy will train people to manufacture toilets in very small factories, thereby creating businessmen who are making affordable products at a profit, selling to their own communities.
What happens is that sanitation now goes beyond health and hygiene. When a woman has an income, she has more power at home; she can use her money wisely for the family; she has a bigger say when talking to her mother-in-law and husband.
So we’re creating gender equality and sustainability. We did very well in Cambodia. In three years 24,000 toilets were manufactured, generating 48,000 dollars for sales agents. We look forward to the day every person everywhere has access to a clean safe toilet at any time they need to go.
The African Ministers' Council on Water, an initiative of the African Union, has announced a three-year, $2 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to build its capacity for sanitation policy development, monitoring and evaluation coverage, and WASH-related advocacy across the continent.
Awarded through the foundation's global development program, the grant will be used to provide training and technical assistance in four countries working to develop and adopt effective sanitation and hygiene policies and plans; organize the fourth AfricaSan conference as a mechanism for tracking progress, refining targets, and enabling peer support and advocacy for implementation of the 2008 eThekwini Declaration and AfricaSan Action Plan; and help countries fulfill their obligations to report to the AU.
"We face tremendous challenges of diminishing access to clean water and safe sanitation," said AMCOW executive secretary Bai Mass Taal. "AMCOW is committed to working with partners such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to reduce this scourge and improve access to safe sanitation, thereby achieving our overall goal of decreasing poverty and disease in the continent."
Source: “African Ministers' Council on Water (AMCOW) Gets US$2 Million Grant to Improve Sanitation Coverage in Africa.” African Ministers' Council on Water Press Release 12/18/12.
Editor’s Note: The STARS Foundation is a London-based organization that provides grants to nonprofits working with disadvantaged children. The Foundation is now accepting applications for their 2013 Impact Awards, including their new WASH category, which recognizes the impact that WASH solutions can have on improving the well-being of children.
The STARS Foundation is pleased to announce the launch of the 2013 STARS Impact Awards recognizing outstanding organizations that achieve excellence in the provision of services to disadvantaged children.
In response to a growing demand for flexible funding, STARS invites NGOs to apply for up to 16 Impact Awards and, for the first time, has added a new category — Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) — due to the impact that improvements in this area can have on child survival and well-being.
Organizations working with children in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, or the Pacific are invited to apply.
The main Impact Award will be given to four winners per region — one in each of the following categories: Health, Education, Protection, and WASH. Winners will each receive $100,000 of unrestricted funding together with a bespoke package of consultancy, PR, and media support. Each organization will also benefit from the opportunity to work together with STARS for up to one year to promote their plans to other donors and seek to raise additional funding.
In addition to these main Impact Awards, smaller awards of different sizes will be made at the discretion of STARS’ board of trustees.
To find information regarding the application process, the eligibility criteria, and to apply online, please visit the Foundation's web site.
The closing date for applications is 1PM GMT Monday, November 12, 2012.
The Coca-Cola Company has announced a $3.5 million commitment to the United States Water Partnership, a public-private partnership launched on World Water Day 2012 by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Announced at the Rio+20 Conference in Brazil, the partnership is designed to unite American expertise, knowledge, and resources and mobilize those assets to address global water challenges, with a focus on the developing world. Awarded through the company's Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN), the funding will support water access programs in countries with the most significant needs, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Mozambique, and Somaliland. Atlanta-based Coca-Cola will contribute $3 million toward a wide range of sustainable water access activities in those countries, including efforts to expand water access in informal urban settlements and in hospitals and promote multiple uses of water that empower women.
The remaining $500,000 will support USWP's efforts to transfer additional resources to African countries characterized as high-need in terms of access to clean water and sanitation. USWP also will make learnings from the RAIN initiative available to the global water sector.
"Access to safe water is essential for our company and our world," said Coca-Cola chief sustainability officer Bea Perez. "The sustainability of water resources is a top priority at the Coca-Cola Company. We are honored to support the USWP while being a catalyst for sustainable water access solutions in Africa."
Source: “The Coca-Cola Company Commits $3.5 Million to U.S. Water Partnership.” Coca-Cola Company Press Release 6/21/12.
Editor’s Note: This post was authored by Barbara Frost, chief executive of WaterAid, a U.K.-based organization working to provide safe drinking water, and improve hygiene and sanitation in 27 countries. Prior to WaterAid, Barbara was chief executive of Action on Disability and Development. She previously worked for various international NGOs such as ActionAid, Save the Children, and Oxfam Australia. This story was first published by Devex, and a version of it originally appeared on devex.com as part of Rio+Solutions, a joint campaign with the UN Foundation.
It is difficult to change people’s perceptions of international development, especially when TV reports from the Horn of Africa and Niger seem to hark back to the famines and droughts of the 1980s. Despite three decades of increased funding and global campaigns, such as Make Poverty History, people are asking: What has changed?
Since 1990, 2 billion people have gained access to an improved water source for drinking and other basic needs, while 1.8 billion more people now have adequate sanitation. But while these achievements have had a dramatic and transformative impact on those living in extreme poverty, there is a strong need to recognize how far the world has traveled and what needs to be done.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced on May 10 that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron will co-chair a high-level panel that will shape post-2015 development goals. This panel faces a sizable challenge but it also has the opportunity to spearhead the drive to accelerate global development — including making universal access to water and sanitation a discernible reality.
A key issue that has been gathering momentum is how to measure human progress beyond the gross domestic product. Stepping back from the economic rhetoric of the Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi Commission, it’s clear we need to include water in our measure of a country’s progress. Water is fundamental to human progress. As UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said at the recent Sanitation and Water for All meeting in Washington, DC, “safe drinking water and dignified sanitation and hygiene are at the heart of achieving the Millennium Development Goals.” Right across the board from nutrition, maternal health, child mortality and gender equality, water plays a critical factor in progress toward these development goals and human well-being.
So where does Rio+20 fit into this agenda? For starters, Rio+20 provides a platform for world leaders to reiterate the importance of water and sanitation in creating sustainable communities and to ending poverty. It allows them the space to reiterate the fundamental right to safe drinking water and decent sanitation as basic services that should be available to all. And it allows them to commit to a timetable and road map that will mean tangible progress for those who desperately need our leaders to take a stand and keep their promises. If world leaders can prioritize, commit resources, and sign up to a vision and timescale, then we will have something to celebrate.
But amid the macro debates about universal access to water and sanitation, we mustn’t lose sight of the reality that water plays a critically important role in food security, economic growth, resource scarcity and, of course, climate change. But where is the joined-up approach?
Ultimately, we need to shift our focus to solutions that will have a genuine impact on people’s lives. Targets are important symbols that give hope and demonstrate commitment, but it is the mechanisms to achieving those targets that are crucial. Heads of state and finance ministers need to recognize water and sanitation as fundamental to human development and sustainability, and place a much greater priority on these “orphan services.” This political will needs to be backed up by addressing the major capacity and funding gaps to have impact at scale. Lasting progress for everyone is the prize and key to accelerating economic and social development.
The Sanitation and Water for All partnership is making inroads toward this aim. At the April meeting, more than 40 governments agreed to commitments that, if delivered, will increase access to water and sanitation to more than 85 million people in Africa alone by 2014.
Ghana and Liberia are the first two countries to enter into the more intensive National Planning for Results Initiative — aimed at driving practical progress through governments working in partnership with international donors and civil society — to render credible plans to deliver water and sanitation. Both countries have now established compacts that directly address the gaps and also outline ways to tackle the capacity shortfalls in bringing about improved access. This will take time, but the foundations are in place.
Water is both the problem and the route to success. It’s often not the sexiest of solutions, but global frameworks such as SWA that focus on nationally owned action offer a model that can make a real impact on people’s lives. Johnson Sirleaf, Yudhoyono and Cameron have a key role to play to set a post-2015 agenda that really matters to people’s daily lives. Rio+20 is a good place to start building on such initiatives.
Read the original article here.
Global banking giant HSBC has announced a five-year, $100 million partnership with WaterAid, WWF, and the Earthwatch Institute to improve sanitation and access to safe water for more than a million people, tackle water risks in the world's major river basins, and raise awareness about the global water challenge.
The launch of the HSBC Water Program coincides with the release of a report by Frontier Economics, which found that every $1 invested in water infrastructure can deliver nearly $5 in economic benefits over the long term, in addition to social and environmental benefits. Frontier estimates that in some African countries the investment required to secure universal access to water would be paid back within three years.
Potential annual economic gain from improved access
to water and sanitation as a percentage of GDP
The HSBC Water Program will enable the three nonprofit organizations to carry out projects in both developed and emerging markets. For example, WWF will work with more than a thousand businesses and over a hundred thousand fishers and farmers in five river basin areas in Asia, East Africa, and South America to promote the more efficient use of water in their practices. With local conservation partners, Earthwatch will set up research projects to address urban water management issues in more than twenty cities worldwide. WaterAid will work to help 1.1 million people in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Ghana gain access to safe water and to help improve hygiene and sanitation for another 1.9 million people.
"The HSBC Water Program will benefit communities in need, and enable economies to prosper," said HSBC group chairman Douglas Flint. "The people of the world's major river basins currently account for about a tenth of world GDP, but by the middle of the century they could account for a quarter. Yet these are also precisely the same places where water resources are set to come under strain. This has the potential to straitjacket growth, at the same time as causing untold harm to local communities."
Source: “HSBC Invests $100m in Water Projects to Improve Lives and Boost Economic Development.” HSBC Group Press Release 6/13/12.
For additional WASH-related philanthropy news, see the news feed on WASHfunders.org.