Editor’s Note: This guest post was co-authored by Dr. Mary Renwick, Director of the Water Innovation Program at Winrock International, and Dr. Cristina Rumbaitis del Rio, Senior Associate Director at Rockefeller Foundation. In their post, Dr. Renwick and Dr. Rumbaitis del Rio discuss the advantages of Integrated Multiple-Use Water Services (MUS) and describe SolutionMUS, the implementation methodology developed by Winrock International to scale up this integrated approach to water service provision. On November 13, they’ll be presenting a funder webinar on ways to sustainably improve people’s health and livelihoods through investments in integrated water services. For more information and to RSVP for the event, contact Ryan Leeds at RLeeds@rockfound.org.
For over two billion people living in absolute poverty, water is everything. Access to safe and sustainable water increases peoples’ resilience and improves their health and livelihoods by supporting their basic needs -- from drinking, hygiene, and sanitation to food production and income generation. Unfortunately, the way in which policymakers and water sector architects design and deliver water services to poor communities is often disconnected from the way these communities actually use water.
The current approach to water service delivery usually focuses on providing water for a single use -- typically drinking or irrigation. Not surprisingly, once the water is available people begin using it for all their needs. This means that drinking water systems are used for watering livestock, producing food and supporting small water-dependent enterprises such as brickmaking or beer brewing. Likewise, irrigation water is used for drinking, bathing and other unplanned uses such as watering livestock and home gardens. The use of single-use systems for unintended purposes is a widespread phenomenon that often leads to inadvertent yet serious consequences including the spread of disease, overuse of resources, user conflict, and system breakdown. Ultimately, this gap between planned services and actual needs undermines the intended goal of water service provision -- improved health and livelihoods -- and leads to sustainability problems for water services and resources.
Integrated Multiple-Use Water Services (MUS) support transformative change by providing water services that meet peoples’ multiple domestic and productive water needs. MUS use communities’ self-identified needs as a starting point to plan, finance, and manage integrated water services. In addition, MUS take into account all potential water sources (rain, ground and surface water) to design financially and environmentally sustainable water services that meet actual consumer needs and preferences.
In the past 15 years, a growing body of evidence indicates that planning and managing water services for multiple uses can enhance health, improve food security, increase incomes, and reduce workloads for women and children (Loevinsohn et. al., 2014; Evans, et. al., 2013; Hall, et. al 2012; Renwick, et al., 2007; van Hoeve and van Koppen, 2005; van Hoeve, 2004; Waughray, Lovell, and Mazhangara,1998; VanDer Hoek, Feenstra, and Konradsen, 2002; Molle and Renwick, 2004). Results from on-the-ground programs in Burkina Faso, Nepal, Niger, Tanzania and other locations suggests that MUS provide the following significant advantages over single-use services:
- More income and benefits (improved health, nutrition, time savings, food security and social empowerment) for a wider range of people;
- Decreased vulnerability and increased resiliency for households through diversified livelihood strategies and increased food security;
- Enhanced reduction of poverty using methods that address the multiple dimensions of poverty simultaneously such as poor health, inadequate resources and lack of skills; and
- Increased sustainability of water services through productive water use that generates enough income to cover on-going operation, maintenance and replacement costs.
Interest in MUS has accelerated as more implementers, governments, and donors design, invest in, and implement integrated development programs. Correspondingly, the demand for a well-defined, evidence-based implementation methodology has grown. Winrock International has addressed this methodological gap by developing SolutionMUS, an open initiative to scale-up multiple-use water services (MUS). SolutionMUS provides a clear conceptual framework, step-by-step implementation guidance and a range of illustrative examples from different contexts. SolutionMUS draws on internationally recognized best practices and builds on and complements the efforts of other early MUS innovators. The approach extends beyond integrated water services by using targeted, cost-effective programs to amplify benefits in health, nutrition, food security, income generation, livelihoods diversification, and environmental sustainability. Since 2005, Winrock has worked with local and international organizations to develop, test and refine the SolutionMUS approach in partnership with local governments, local and international non-governmental organizations, and the local private sector. Our efforts in seven countries have improved the health and livelihoods of 500,000 people.
SolutionMUS is flexible. It does not need to be a stand-alone approach, but can add value to ongoing efforts to provide water services to people living in poverty. Major features of the approach include:
- A clear, consistent conceptual framework, technical standards, and step-by-step process;
- Impact-boosting programs that enhance people’s health and livelihoods, and contribute to environmental sustainability;
- Rigorous field testing and evaluation;
- An active learning and sharing platform to encourage continuous improvement; and
- A growing package of technical support and training products for implementers, funders, policymakers, and researchers.
Want to learn more?
Join us on Thursday, November 13 at 11:30 ET when Rockefeller Foundation, along with Winrock International, will host a funder webinar on integrated water services. The webinar will explain how you can:
- Achieve a higher return on every dollar spent on water services;
- Ensure the sustainability of your investments; and
- Tackle the multi-dimensional aspects of poverty, improve health and nutrition, increase food security, diversify livelihoods, and protect the environment.
Please RSVP here to participate in the webinar or contact Ryan Leeds (RLeeds@rockfound.org) for additional information.
Editor’s Note: In this post, Susan Davis reflects on the theme of World Water Day — water and food security — and the implications it has for all of us. Susan is the executive director of Improve International, an organization focused on promoting and facilitating independent evaluations of WASH programs to help the sector improve. She has more than 13 years of experience in international development and has evaluated WASH and other programs in 15 developing countries. A version of this post originally appeared here.
I was in DC last week for World Water Day celebrations, which focused on this year’s theme Water & Food Security. (The UN celebrated the first World Water Day on March 22 1993, and each year selects a theme highlighting an aspect of freshwater. Read about past themes here.) I took advantage of the beautiful weather to see the early blooming cherry blossoms and visit the new Martin Luther King Jr. memorial. One of MLK’s quotes from 1964 caught my eye: “I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.”
“Food security exists when all people at all times have both physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs for an active and healthy life” (1996 World Food Summit). Sadly, 48 years after MLK’s Norway speech, Water and Food Security is still a relevant theme as world headlines continue to warn of drought, malnutrition, famine, and exponentially increasing populations. While one day a year might not seem like enough to make a difference in such enormous problems, World Water Day has become a prompt for governments, foundations, charitable organizations, and individuals to come together at a variety of events around the world to raise awareness, discuss solutions, and make serious commitments.
Many of us drink a glass or two of water with each of our three meals. But how many of us think about the intimate relationship between water and food?
We need a great deal of water to grow and process our food, whether it’s plant or animal. Without water we can’t grow most food sources; and without safe water we can lose many of the vital nutrients from that food. This connection is driving concerns about the world’s food supply, particularly with increasing water scarcity and changing weather patterns, but is especially critical and pressing for people in developing countries. According to the Food Security Information for Action Practical Guides, investment in water is a key part of the strategy for addressing food security problems.
While the water-food connection sounds simple, there are many complicating issues. To understand how to help, we must explore what this means on the individual, community, and global levels.
At the individual level
Nutrition is a delicate issue for many in the developing world, especially children under five. Mothers need these children to hold onto every last calorie. Yet drinking unsafe water can lead to diarrhea, which leads to malnutrition, which can lead to diarrhea, completing the vicious cycle. Eating food contaminated by unwashed hands can also contribute, ironically, to malnutrition. A study by Luby, et al. found that children living in households where food preparers washed their hands with just water before handling food were less likely to have diarrhea than children living in households where food preparers did not wash their hands at all. This suggests that hand-washing, even without using soap, promotes health. The implication for WASH project planning is that hygiene promotion is absolutely critical, with a focus on incremental changes in behavior over time: washing with water is good, washing with soap is even better.
Women and girls are usually tasked with fetching water for their families. The water is heavy, and they may have to walk up to 6 kilometers per day, sometimes in rugged terrains. It’s estimated that, around the world, women and girls spend 200 million hours each day collecting water. Subsistence farmers or others on the edge of food insecurity shouldn’t need to use precious calories just to fetch water. Various studies show the longer it takes to fetch water, the less water people are likely to bring home and consume (see chart). If families have only a very small amount of water, they will often prioritize it for drinking and cooking, not for washing hands or watering gardens. Thus, WASH project planners need to consider the convenience of water points to help stop the cycle of malnutrition.
At the community level
In my supermarket, I can find fruit and vegetables from many countries, no matter the season. But for people living on less than $2 a day, especially in rural areas, food and water can only be obtained seasonally and locally. This leads to very limited diets, both in quantity and nutritional quality. One of the under-appreciated benefits of a water supply system is that families can use the additional water to maintain small gardens and to hydrate animals. As a result, they gain access to varied food sources, which can improve nutrition and relieve some of the dependence on a single food source. Furthermore, families might be able to supplement their incomes by growing and selling coffee, rice, or meat, which often require water for processing as well. This is why planning for water systems (capacity and distribution) should consider multiple uses of water beyond drinking. (The Multiple Use Water Services Group just published guidelines here.) Using household meters and charging fees based on the amount of water used can both encourage conservation and help identify leaks quickly.
More and more WASH implementing organizations are also thinking about how to help farmers — subsistence and commercial — avoid polluting the water sources they depend on with pesticides. Other efforts are focusing on helping farmers grow more “crop per drop” — for example, iDE’s drip irrigation — or grow drought resistant crops. Watershed protection programs also encourage communities to keep trees and plant new ones to prevent topsoil from going into streams and rivers. To ensure a sufficient and safe source of water over time, WASH project planners should consider including integrated water resource management (IWRM) (like the Global Water Initiative has) or partnering with a group familiar with the practice. According to Steph Ogden (who was the IWRM fellow with Water for People last year), organizations doing IWRM best are small, local organizations based around a watershed (large or small), such as the Lake Victoria Fisheries Organization. Steph says, “They’re looking out for water access, environmental sustainability, sanitation, livelihoods of their own neighbors in the watershed region with a real understanding of how they’re all (and all of those components are) connected.” Other resources on the topic include the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), International Water and Sanitation Centre (IRC), or International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).
On the global level
Inexorably, the world’s population is growing. It is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050. Those people will need to eat food and drink safe water, on the order of 100 percent more globally by 2050. Meat consumption (which uses a great deal of water) is increasing in population-dense countries like China. Besides the 2-4 liters of drinking water per person, it takes 2,000-5,000 liters of water to produce one person’s daily food. “To secure food for everybody, we first need to secure water,” says the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN. The implications for all of us as individuals might be eating less meat.
Almost half a century after MLK envisioned food security, The Stockholm Statement calls on leadership at all levels of government that will participate at the Rio+20 Summit to commit to achieving “universal provisioning of safe drinking water, adequate sanitation and modern energy services by the year 2030″ and to adopt intervening targets to increase efficiency in the management of water, energy, and food. Audacious? You bet! And since we all eat, drink, and use energy, each one of us has a part to play.
For more information and educational materials, see the UN World Water Day site.