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Editor's Note: This post is authored by Giulio Boccaletti, Global Managing Director of Water at the Nature Conservancy, and Gary White, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of Water.org This post was originally featured as part of a "Climate Justice" series produced by The Huffington Post, in conjunction with the U.N.'s 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris. You can find the original post here.

Pelugu Bing Bisse, Rural Aid. Credit: Water.org

Pelugu Bing Bisse, Rural Aid. Credit: Water.org

In Paris, the world will seek -- once again -- an agreement on the future of climate. Yet for a billion of the poorest people in the world, the language of that agreement will not do nearly enough to address the impacts of climate change they are already feeling today.

Water is how we experience the planet's climate; droughts and floods will overwhelmingly define our experience of climate change. Meeting a growing need for water while the climate is changing will be even harder. Even the richest in the world are susceptible. The drought in the western United States has threatened California's way of life, while the East Coast was recently hit by devastating floods that made places like South Carolina look like Bangladesh.

But it is our world's most vulnerable -- those living on less than U.S. $5 a day -- that should come first in our concerns. The upcoming climate negotiations present us with an opportunity to not only address global emissions, but also test our ability to truly solve interconnected environmental issues like climate and water as a necessary means to avoid social instability worldwide. By scaling innovative financing options, expanding use of available technology and investing in nature-based solutions, we can make water available and affordable to the world's poor, freeing-up household income that drives economies and improving health conditions around the world.

Today, nearly 700 million people around the world lack basic access to water, and a striking 2.4 billion lack access to sanitation. It is not surprising that these numbers contribute to making the water crisis the highest threat to global prosperity. Yet, a persistent misunderstanding of this challenge is the notion that the poor are in this predicament because they cannot pay. The truth is, the poor spend an estimated U.S. $200 billion per year on water access.

The high costs are due in part to what the poor have to pay for bottled and well water due to a lack of infrastructure or the means to tap into infrastructure. Many of those without access rely on informal water vendors -- known as "tanker truck mafia" -- in slums around the world. The price of water in these informal markets is remarkably high and can reach U.S. $15 per cubic meter; compare that to the U.S. $1 per cubic meter paid by households in New York City.

Water Committee members in Demes, Ethiopia. Credit: Water.org

Water Committee members in Demes, Ethiopia. Credit: Water.org

The poor also pay in the forms of forgone income and illness. The World Health Organization estimated that the total global economic losses associated with inadequate water supply and sanitation is approximately U.S. $260 billion annually. In short, the poor incur huge coping costs because they lack access to safe, efficient piped water networks.

Charity alone will not be able to solve global access to water. Conservative estimates of the expenditures required to provide and maintain safe water access is U.S. $1 trillion with only U.S. $8 billion provided in international aid each year.

But what if we could cut those costs in half while also giving the poor much needed access to water at a rate closer to what those in developed countries pay for water and sanitation services? Such a measure would free-up more than U.S. $100 billion per year for those households and would allow dramatic improvements in water security for the vulnerable, which would have a marked stabilizing effect on social structures across the developing world.

This is possible and it does not require inventing new technology, but rather scaling proven solutions that we have seen work on the ground.

Financing urban water connections through micro loans to individuals and community groups is showing real promise in many communities. India and China are home to one-third of those without access to water and more than half of those without access to sanitation. A long trail of countries from Nigeria to Indonesia follow. For the poor that are close to an existing water grid in a city, extending financing to buy last mile connections and toilets can have huge impact in increasing access to services. The work done at Water.org has shown that, when extended a loan to pay a connection fee, people are able to tap into the water supply or build a toilet, and repay the loan in full with consistent reliability -- Water.org's repayment rates exceed 99 percent.

The growth of off-grid water treatment technologies is also showing potential for positive change. The number of rural households without access to water and sanitation is roughly five times higher than that of the urban poor. For these individuals, and some in peri-urban areas, connecting to a public utility is often not an option. Because of falling water treatment costs and the growth of social impact investment capital, there are new possibilities to set-up water kiosks and deliver treated water to dispersed populations. Off-grid solutions, such as those offered by Water Health International, allow rural communities to tap local sources of water and render them potable, at a cost that can greatly undercut their current cost.

And we cannot forget about the benefits of investing in our most basic water infrastructure: nature.The poor often live in degraded watersheds or where utilities are unable to cope with deteriorated water sources. Water funds, which create mechanisms for downstream water users to pay for upstream conservation, have shown that investments in nature-based solutions, such as reforestation and riverbank repair, can improve the quality of the water supply. This drives economic development while saving utilities money by reducing water treatment costs. A recent study conducted by The Nature Conservancy of 500 large cities shows that in at least a quarter of those cities, the savings from reduced treatment costs more than paid for the conservation activity. These interventions disproportionately benefit the rural poor and contribute to a sustainable water management system.

Social entrepreneurs, powered by smart philanthropy and social impact investing, are spurring this trend to leverage market-based solutions in service to the poor, seeing them not as a "problem to be solved" with traditional charity, but as having intrinsic power as customers. Smarter, more efficient solutions allow the poor to redirect their coping costs to affordable, sustainable and higher quality water and sanitation services.

In the year when the world is concerning itself with climate change, we must address the current impacts, including global water security. That starts with providing access to basic water and sanitation. By putting the needs of the poor front and center during the climate discussions, we stand to address many of today's greatest social and environmental challenges.

Cor Dietvorst, Programme Officer at IRC

Editor’s Note: This post is authored by Cor Dietvorst, Programme Officer at IRC. In his piece, Cor discusses the monitoring requirements surrounding India’s Swachh Bharat program, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched in October 2014 with the aim of ending open defecation in the country by 2019. He compares India’s sanitation monitoring initiative with other large-scale monitoring efforts with which IRC has been involved in Bangladesh and Indonesia. This post originally appeared here on the IRC blog.

Photo credit: Government of India

Photo credit: Government of India

According to some media the Indian government has unleashed “toilet police” or “toilet gestapo” into the country.1 In fact, the central government has instructed local officials to take photographs of new toilets to prove that they have not only been constructed but are also being used. If states don’t upload photos by February 2015, the water and sanitation ministry has threatened to withhold funding from a new national sanitation programme.2

Open defecation free by 2019

Photo Credit: Swachh Bharat Mission Facebook

Photo Credit: Swachh Bharat Mission Facebook

Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Swachh Bharat (Clean India) Mission on 2 October 2014. His aim is to attain a 100 percent open defecation free India by 2019. Since the launch, over half a million household toilets have been constructed.3

By implementing “real time monitoring” the government hopes it can correct past mistakes caused by ineffective monitoring and wasted investment in sanitation. The 2011 census revealed that 43% of government funded toilets were either “missing” or non-functional.4 Now the government wants to show that its investments in sanitation are delivering lasting results. 

The Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation is appointing around two dozen additional staff including two joint secretaries and four directors to strengthen the implementation and monitoring of the Swachh Bharat Mission.  An Expert Committee for innovative sanitation technologies and a national telephone helpline for rural water supply and sanitation are other new initiatives that will support the Mission.5

Smile please!

Local officials charged with monitoring toilet construction and use need to download an app on a mobile device. The app allows them to upload photos as well as the personal data and geo-coordinates of the beneficiaries to a public website. Progress is slow though: as of 14 January 2015, data of less than half a percent (2,383) of the newly constructed toilets has been recorded.  Data collected before 2015 does not include toilet use.

Geo-referenced toilet monitoring data. Ministry of Drinking Water & Sanitation

Geo-referenced toilet monitoring data. Ministry of Drinking Water & Sanitation

Photos uploaded with Swachh Bharat app. Ministry of Drinking Water & Sanitation

Photos uploaded with Swachh Bharat app. Ministry of Drinking Water & Sanitation

How do other countries carry out large-scale monitoring?

Compared to examples of large-scale sanitation monitoring in Bangladesh and Indonesia, the toilet use indicators collected in India -- is the toilet in use, is it clean and is water available -- are rather limited.

The BRAC WASH programme in Bangladesh uses benchmark indicators developed by IRC for questions like: do all household members use toilets, do they use them at all times, and are there provisions for handwashing and pit emptying.6

In Indonesia IRC has helped design a monitoring system for the SHAW (Sanitation, Hygiene and Water) programme, where every three months 20,000 community volunteers visit more than 300,000 households. For SHAW monitoring is not merely an accountability tool as it is in India, but a way to motivate and encourage people to improve their sanitation facilities and hygiene behaviour.7

India's decision to track toilet use as part of its new monitoring initiative is a major step forward. From its neighbours, India can draw valuable lessons on how to monitor sanitation as a sustainable service that benefits all.

See: It's the toilet police! India to track WC usage with tablets in real time, Russia Today, 31 Dec 2014 and Neff, B. Indian authorities unleash toilet Gestapo. Daily Caller, 02 Jan 2015

Letter to Principal Secretary/Secretaries in charge of Rural Sanitation all States and UTs. Ministry of Drinking Water & Sanitation, 05 Dec 2014

Unused rural toilets to face public scrutiny, The Hindu, 01 Jan 2015

Tiwari, R. The case of the missing toilets. India Today, 02 Oct 2014. See also: Hueso, A. & Bell, B., 2013. An untold story of policy failure : the Total Sanitation Campaign in India. Water policy ; 15 (6), pp.1001–1017. DOI: 10.2166/wp.2013.032. and Hueso, A., 2014. The untold story of India's sanitation failure, Addendum. Community-Led Total Sanitation.org, 11 Mar 2014

Nationwide monitoring of use of toilets will be launched from January, 2015, PIB, 31 Dec 2014

IRC - Monitoring at scale in BRAC WASH

Baetings, E., 2014. How are you and how is your loo?

John Oldfield, CEO of WASH Advocates

Editor’s Note: This guest post was authored by John Oldfield, CEO of WASH Advocates. John describes a session he chaired at the World Justice Forum IV in July that explored the nexus between water challenges and rule of law — two areas often seen as representing separate development sectors. In the post, he explains how water solutions and rule of law can be mutually reinforcing and cites ongoing projects in which communities and their governments are working together to address challenges in WASH. A version of this post originally appeared here

I had the honor of chairing a session on Sustainable Water Solutions and the Rule of Law at the World Justice Forum IV in The Hague. During the vigorous two hour dialogue, it became clear that the street between water and rule of law runs both ways: A solid rule of law foundation will likely enhance the sustainability and scalability of water programs by increasing collaboration with and leadership from governments, and effective water programs will fortify rule of law by strengthening the social contract between citizens and their governments.

I spent years implementing democracy and governance programs in Africa on behalf of the U.S. government, and jumped at the opportunity to build this bridge between that world and my current water portfolio — two seemingly distinct development sectors. In framing the panel, I positioned rule of law — broadly defined, as in Wikipedia’s “authority and influence of law in society” — as an enabler, as a catalyst, of sustainable, institutionalized progress toward all global development challenges. On the flipside, I also see more progress on water challenges as one of many ways to strengthen the rule of law. For example, the most interesting question asked during the opening plenary of the World Justice Forum was “Is there a primary school for rule of law, or does one have to wait until graduate school to learn about it?” I assert that there is indeed a primary school for the rule of law: a village water committee anywhere in the world. The first experience many people — especially women — have in the developing world with rule of law and with participatory democracy is via their participation on local committees designed to identify and sustainably address local challenges. Tip O’Neill, a famous American politician, said “All politics is local.” Well, so are development challenges and solutions, especially those related to water. So that village water committee in rural India is a primary school for rule of law. An HIV support group in South Africa is a primary school for rule of law, solving its own community challenges, often alongside its government. A women’s neighborhood group focused on sanitation in Nairobi or Mexico City is a primary school for rule of law, as are local school boards, housing committees, and the like.

Water challenges at local, national, and transboundary levels all offer individuals an opportunity to strengthen the social contract between themselves and their governments. To achieve universal coverage of safe drinking water on the planet, in the compressed timeframe for which U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy advocated at the Forum, governments must work hand-in-hand with their constituents.

Here are a handful of rule of law/water solutions underway, and worth tracking and supporting:

  • Community water boards by the thousands are becoming stronger throughout Latin America with the help of la Fundación Avina, making safe water more accessible to millions of Latin Americans, and at the same time creating more open, democratic societies.
  • Rule of law is making water more accessible and safer across the globe: e.g., cities are adding rainwater harvesting to building codes in India, and municipal development plans are incorporating community sanitation facilities in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro.
  • The Nile Basin Initiative continues to strengthen the capacity of the Nile’s riparian states to stay ahead of the water conflict predicted by many for the region.
  • Water For People’s Everyone Forever effort focuses first and foremost on the interaction between citizens and their governments, with the international community playing a catalytic role; this will eventually obviate the need for any outside assistance.
  • The Sanitation and Water for All Partnership attracts Finance Ministers to its High Level Meeting every two years. Stronger political will makes it possible for those Finance Ministers to do what they already want to do: increase budgets and strengthen policies for water in their countries by making and meeting tangible, time-bound commitments.
  • Civil society organizations across the developing world are now using this toolkit “How to Campaign on Water and Sanitation Issues During an Election” to make sure that elected leaders have committed to tackling water challenges long before their terms in office. This toolkit should be used in every election tracked by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems.

The water challenges across the globe are grave. But they are solvable, and being solved by communities and governments as I write. My ambition is that rule of law and water communities will find more ways to work together across a number of platforms, and that both communities will emerge stronger from those collaborative efforts.

John Oldfield, CEO of WASH Advocates

Editor’s Note: This blog post was written by John Oldfield, CEO of WASH Advocates. WASH Advocates is a nonprofit advocacy effort in Washington, DC entirely dedicated to helping solve the global safe drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) challenge. Its mission is to increase awareness of the global WASH challenge and solutions, and to increase the amount and effectiveness of resources devoted to solving the problem around the developing world. For more information, visit www.WASHadvocates.org.  

“Forty years ago today, Apollo 16 landed on the moon… By anyone's standards it was a triumph of science, technology, and political will. I remember so many of us thinking that if humankind can do this, what could humankind NOT accomplish?” UNICEF executive director Anthony Lake continued on April 20 at the Sanitation and Water for All High Level Meeting in Washington, DC: “… and yet today, over 1.1 billion people still practice open defecation because they don't have access to the most basic sanitation facilities… If two generations ago we could land men on the moon, we can and must also afford people here on earth two of their most basic human rights — safe water and basic sanitation — because until we do, development progress will falter."

On April 19-20, 2012 in Washington, DC dozens of finance ministers and water ministers from throughout the developing world gathered to make stronger commitments to solving the WASH challenge in their respective countries. They were joined at the meeting by development cooperation ministers from donor countries, including the USAID Administrator Raj Shah. During the event, Administrator Shah made history by announcing that the U.S. government has joined this global partnership aimed at universal coverage of safe drinking water and sanitation.  

Why does this fundamental global safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) challenge continue to exist today? The most intriguing answer is when people respond: “The problem is not solved because of a lack of political will.” Once that statement is made, no matter how accurate it is, the conversation typically dies, because most people look at politicians as part of the problem, not part of the solution, and strong political will often proves elusive. 

This is why I consider the Sanitation and Water for All High Level Meeting arguably the most important meeting of 2012: political will is what we saw in Washington, DC on April 19-20. And it is political will that leads to sustainable WASH programs implemented at scale community by community, country by country.

The WASH grantmaking community, both foundations and corporate leaders, can take away a few lessons from the Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) Partnership and its April meeting:

  • Strengthening the evidence base of success is important. The Sanitation and Water for All process isn’t simply for finance ministers and other high-level political leaders to dialogue. The SWA Partnership focuses on strengthening the evidence base of success in the global WASH sector, and using that evidence base to strengthen political will. Political leaders country by country need to hear about WASH from their people. Those political leaders also need to understand how they can help solve the challenges. The SWA process facilitates both, and donors looking for ”exit strategies” need to think more consciously about what it takes to inspire a government at any level to scale up your work. The exit strategy for the most successful WASH programming is “Get the job done,” and universal coverage of WASH requires the highest levels of political support.
  • Better alignment is key. Too often, donor efforts are not aligned with governments, NGOs, or other donors; this can lead to unsustainable, inappropriate, and/or duplicative programming. Members of the SWA include bilaterals (e.g. U.S., U.K., Netherlands, Japan, Australia), dozens of developing countries, multilaterals like the African Development Bank, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Many have joined the SWA in part to make sure their assistance is better aligned both with the need and with the actual plans and progress that developing countries are making. SWA partners also aim to make sure their assistance is better coordinated with each other's plans as donors as well. An example of this approach is the support that the Gates Foundation provides to the Water and Sanitation Program, a private partnership administered by the World Bank.
  • Linkages between economic growth and WASH need to be better quantified and communicated. What gets the attention of finance ministers? Arguably, it is not the morbidity and mortality associated with unsafe water and inadequate sanitation, but rather the increased productivity that safe, affordable, and sustainable water and sanitation offer an economy. The World Health Organization estimates that each dollar invested in WASH returns on average eight dollars in increased economic productivity and decreased health care costs. But how many of us know that inadequate sanitation cost India the equivalent of 6.4% of its GDP in 2008? Or that it cost Bangladesh 6.3% of its GDP in 2007? How many of us incorporate this and other cross-sectoral linkages into both our programs and our communications efforts as effectively as we could? 

Beyond the SWA Partnership, many other ongoing efforts illustrate these same points and deserve a closer look: strengthening community water board associations in Latin America; building the capacity of national and sub-national civil society WASH networks in Africa; donors and nonprofits partnering early and directly with mayors in developing countries instead of just inviting them to ribbon-cutting ceremonies; and bringing creative and leveraged business and financial approaches into the water and sanitation sector. 

Clearly donors (in Europe, the United States, and beyond) need to continue direct funding of safe drinking water and sanitation programs around the world. However, government and private donors also need to increase their financial and technical support for initiatives that strengthen the capacity of developing countries to solve the water and sanitation challenges themselves. 

If, as Tony Lake says, we can send a man to the moon forty years ago, we as a planet can certainly solve our water challenges today. The Sanitation and Water for All Partnership illustrates some of the lessons and approaches that will make the private and corporate philanthropic communities an even more important part of the solution. 

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