The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) have partnered to set up a joint trust fund to improve access to sanitation in Asia and the Pacific. Announced at World Water Week, the new Sanitation Financing Partnership Trust Fund will receive a $15 million investment from the Gates Foundation and will leverage more than $28 million in investments from ADB by 2017.
The Trust Fund aims to increase non-sewered sanitation and develop septage management solutions through funding innovative projects and supporting policies for low-income urban communities across Asia. The Trust Fund will be part of ADB’s Water Financing Partnership Facility (WFPF). Over the last seven years, WFPF has invested $2.5 billion in WASH projects. Through initiatives such as Grand Challenges Exploration and Reinvent the Toilet Challenge, the Gates Foundation has funded 85 development and research projects on sanitation.
View the infographic to learn about the Trust Fund’s goals.
Read ADB’s press release for additional details.
Editor’s Note: This guest post was authored by Jack Sim, founder of the World Toilet Organization (WTO). Founded in 2001, the WTO is an international platform for toilet associations, government, academic institutions, foundations, UN agencies and corporate stakeholders to exchange knowledge and leverage media and corporate support in an effort to influence governments to promote clean sanitation and public health policies. Jack discusses inscribing World Toilet Day as November 19th in the UN calendar to raise awareness of the global sanitation crisis.
When I turned 40, I knew it was half-time. The average Singaporean’s lifespan is 80 years and this meant I only had 14,600 days left. The fear of living a futile life infused me with a sense of urgency to do something meaningful before the impending expiry date. I decided to devote the rest of my days to neglected social issues.
This desire to make the most out of life propelled me to start the Restroom Association of Singapore in 1998 with the aim to clean up public toilets. It was then that I realized the sanitation agenda was grossly neglected by the media. In the humanitarian sector, the subject of water and sanitation was bundled into one agenda called WatSan; this resulted in sanitation being overshadowed by the more prominent agenda of water. Sanitation was literally the ugly sister nobody wanted to speak about. Politicians would not have their photos taken next to a toilet. For years, academia relied heavily on jargon like ‘fecal sludge management’ when writing about sanitation. Inevitably, this made the topic even more difficult for journalists to grasp, let alone convey in simple terms to the masses.
The taboo surrounding toilets and our reluctance to talk about the sanitation crisis have created a neglect of epic proportion. What we don’t discuss, we can’t improve.
To break this silence and to mobilize a global sanitation movement, we founded the World Toilet Organization (WTO) in 2001. To commemorate WTO’s founding day and to spotlight the often-ignored sanitation crisis, we declared 19 November as World Toilet Day. On the same day, WTO held its inaugural World Toilet Summit in Singapore. The choice of name for our organization was deliberate — a clever pun on the other WTO, the World Trade Organization. I have been advised by countless people to change the name of the organization to something more ‘respectable’ and not risk being laughed at. I told them it’s okay to be laughed at — our mission is to break the taboo on sanitation and if people laugh, they’ll listen to what we have to say.
Our strategy was simple: we called a spade a spade and spoke about the sanitation crisis in a language that resonated with everyone. It was our ability to convey serious facts through humor which caught the attention of the global media and this pushed the sanitation agenda to the centre stage of global media coverage.
When we started out on this journey to break the taboo surrounding toilets, we found that there was a great reluctance on the part of governments and other stakeholders to understand the importance of investing in sanitation. WTO addressed this challenge by using the World Toilet Summit to educate governments, toilet associations, civil society organizations, and the private sector on the benefits of investing in a sustainable sanitation ecosystem.
From a shunned topic, WTO’s advocacy efforts and initiatives made the topic of toilets and sanitation more palatable for politicians, academia, civil society organizations and funders. Over the last 12 years, World Toilet Day has been observed and celebrated around the world by NGOs, UN agencies, governments and the international community. By 2012, our digital media reach was at 3.3 billion viewers. This is a remarkable feat for a small NGO with no budget for global media coverage.
WTO has achieved many key milestones over the years and we firmly believed it was time to take the global sanitation movement to another level. It was an audacious move and in true WTO spirit, we went on to request the Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs to table a resolution at the UN General Assembly (UNGA) to inscribe 19 November as World Toilet Day in the UN calendar.
They were skeptical at first, but soon realized the magnitude of the sanitation crisis and WTO’s track record over the years. Soon the resolution was ready to be drafted.
It was a lot of hard work meeting dignitaries and ambassadors from UN member countries in New York. The reactions were mixed — at first, many were against having another UN day, but most were convinced that the sanitation crisis is too crucial to ignore. The negotiations were sometimes difficult as different parties would negotiate and change the wordings in the text. 19 November also happened to be Monaco’s National Day and Indira Gandhi’s birthday — in the end, Monaco was a co-sponsor to the resolution while India abstained.
On 24 July 2013, the “Sanitation for All” Resolution was tabled by Singapore at the UNGA. The resolution was sponsored by 122 countries and the UNGA declared World Toilet Day an Official UN Day. This was also the first time Singapore has tabled a major UN resolution in 48 years.
It is an honor for any NGO to have their founding day enshrined as an Official UN Day and personally I felt like I won the Nobel Prize for Sanitation as it marks an important milestone in WTO’s history. This is a crucial breakthrough for the 2.5 billion who still lack access to proper sanitation. With the official UN designation, we hope all UN member countries will mobilize resources to address the global sanitation crisis. With strong political will, effective policies, and sustainable approaches to address sanitation challenges, I hope we will meet the target set for sanitation in the coming years. We can’t afford to wait any longer.
The journey has just begun and I invite each one of you to walk with me. Let’s work relentlessly until the day everyone has access to a safe and clean toilet, anytime, anywhere.
If you would like to get involved in World Toilet Day, get in touch by e-mailing us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s Note: This guest post was authored by Catarina Fonseca, director of WASHCost and economist and Senior Programme Officer at the IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre. A five-year initiative ending this year, WASHCost has worked with countries to identify the long-term costs of sustaining rural and peri-urban water and sanitation services. This initiative has embedded the concept of life-cycle costing with donors, national and local governments and NGOs, so that services continue to meet national standards reliably for generations. Catarina discusses the challenges of the team’s recent work in Bangladesh.
Over the last year, there have been many requests to the WASHCost team to adapt the life-cycle cost approach to other sub-sectors. One of them is WASH in schools. Programme managers and funders want to know the costs for the provision of WASH in schools and how to fund the desired outcomes over at least a 10 year period.
IRC-International Water and Sanitation Centre has been providing support to the BRAC WASH programme in Bangladesh. BRAC is interested in the life-cycle cost approach to seek improvements in the long-term sustainability of their programmes and in this context, we have taken up the challenge: we have started by searching, discussing and defining what is considered a basic service level for WASH in schools.
These questions become even more pertinent in the context of the proposals for the global goals in the post-2015 agenda. It has been recognised that future global water, sanitation and hygiene targets must extend beyond household level and include a wide range of settings including schools, workplaces, markets, transit hubs, health centres, etc. Schools and health centres are at the top of the priority list because of the potential health benefits to a large number of children and people. Specifically, handwashing and menstrual hygiene management are considered to be universal priorities to be reached by 2030 so that girls are given the same opportunities and access to education.
For the work in Bangladesh, our starting point was the WASHCost life-cycle cost methodology, which was developed specifically for rural water and sanitation services in developing countries. Together, with a BRAC team of 15 project and programme officers, over a period of three weeks in June 2013, we developed and tested a service ladder, criteria and indicators for WASH in schools.
The first step was the development of a draft service ladder for WASH in schools with the key criteria that define a basic level of service. The draft service ladder was developed by the team and based on the international literature, Bangladesh and BRAC standards. The ladder included the following key indicators of services for WASH in schools: access (number of latrines per student), safe use and maintenance, reliability of water for drinking, flushing and handwashing, environmental protection and menstrual hygiene management.
To get all the information required for the proposed criteria, we ended up with a 16-page questionnaire, which was tested twice in six schools and covered every indicator and sub-indicator required in national and international norms, including questions about how water is collected and accessed, as well as access to facilities by those with disabilities.
The first challenge started with establishing the benchmark for the most obvious indicator: the number of latrines per student. What is good enough? International experts were consulted and the answers were far from consistent. Therefore we focused on the written literature.
The international standard was developed by WHO in 2009 for schools in low-income settings. The standard recommends one toilet per 25 girls and one toilet plus one urinal for 50 boys. The most important recommendation is that boys’ and girls’ facilities should be in separate toilet blocks or be separated by solid walls and separate entrances. In short, toilets need to provide privacy and security if they are going to be used. This is a very high standard for many developing and developed countries. Even my secondary school in (not so low-income) Lisbon, Portugal would not meet these standards, which one might think of as “aspirational” instead of “good enough”.
Looking further, we found out that Bangladesh has actually adopted a national standard in 2011 for WASH in schools. The national standards are “more realistic” and include “1 toilet for 50 children and, when possible, girls’ and boys’ toilets must be completely separated”. Interestingly, “when possible” is not adequate wording for a standard and BRAC took the national norm a step further, closer to the international norm, and adopted “that toilets for boys and girls MUST be separate”. Additionally, a recent innovative study done in Kenya has found considerable difference in the required student to toilet ratios between boys and girls because the time they need to use the toilet also differs.
From testing the methodology in six primary and secondary schools (both government- and BRAC-supported), we found that the toilet ratio was one toilet for anywhere from 71 to 150 students — all well above the national standard and therefore not considered “a basic level of service”, but closer to “below-standard”. However, all of the toilets were clean; some had excellent menstrual hygiene management facilities available, as well as washing basins, soap and safe drinking water.
It would seem unfair to label some of these schools as “below standard” especially when interviews with school girls noted that they were happy and using their toilets. However, a monitoring tool is about measuring whether a standard is met. For all schools, it might appear that the standard is not met, but the takeaway for the team is that both the international and the Bangladesh access benchmark for WASH in schools is at the aspirational level.
The testing has confirmed some other challenges mentioned in a 2012 UNICEF state-of-the-art report of WASH in schools in Bangladesh: that on average there is a toilet for every 130 students and that the majority of facilities is in extensive need of repair (see graph below), making it urgent to deliberate how and who can cover maintenance costs. Interestingly, collecting information about the cost of constructing, maintaining and repairing the latrines, was a rather simple task. Most of the schools track all expenses in their account books, including who funded which component — a topic for another blog.
Over the next six months BRAC will roll out the methodology in about 100 schools covering a diverse range of settings. We expect the data to inform the final “service ladder” and the methodology will be available early next year. To read the draft methodology and questionnaires, please contact WASHCost@irc.nl.
The J. Craig Venter Institute, a nonprofit genomic research organization in La Jolla, California, has announced a $5 million grant from the Roddenberry Foundation for the development of wastewater treatment technologies.
The grant will be used to fund the development of JCVI scientist Orianna Bretschger's BioElectrochemical Sanitation Technology (BEST), which uses microbial fuel cells (MFC) to treat wastewater and improve sanitation and water accessibility in the developing world. As the microbes in MFCs break down the organic matter in sewage and other types of wastewater, they produce electrons. The rapid movement of electrons across a fuel cell circuit generates electricity while accelerating the breakdown of the organic matter, resulting in fewer treatment byproducts such as sludge. The efforts of Bretschger's team already have led to the successful treatment of municipal wastewater and sewage sludge at a 100-gallon per-day scale, the amount of wastewater produced by a small household on a daily basis.
"Dr. Bretschger's MFC sustainable wastewater treatment project is exactly the type of innovative, field-changing research that fits our mission," said Eugene "Rod" Roddenberry, president of the Roddenberry Foundation and son of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. "Her use of microbes to convert human waste into clean water and electricity is another step toward making disease a thing of the past. Her work also moves us closer to a future where all humankind's most basics needs are not just met but abundantly supplied. In the world of Star Trek, technology offers a catalyst to the natural world in making amazing things possible."
Source: “Roddenberry Foundation Gives $5 Million to J. Craig Venter Institute for Sustainable Wastewater Treatment Technology Development.” J. Craig Venter Institute Press Release 7/10/13.
For additional WASH-related philanthropy news, see the news feed on WASHfunders.org.
Editor’s Note: This guest post was authored by Anirudh Rajashekar, business development manager at the World Toilet Organization (WTO). Founded in 2001, the WTO is an international platform for toilet associations, government, academic institutions, foundations, UN agencies and corporate stakeholders to exchange knowledge and leverage media and corporate support in an effort to influence governments to promote clean sanitation and public health policies. Anirudh discusses WTO’s approach to market-based solutions and public private partnerships in this post.
Developing innovative and sustainable market-based approaches to address the sanitation crisis is at the heart of what we do at the World Toilet Organization (WTO). By combining global expertise with local insights, WTO strives to facilitate capacity building, broader understanding and replication of sustainable sanitation solutions. WTO pioneered the creation of SaniShop — a social enterprise that improves sanitation conditions globally by empowering local entrepreneurs. Based on a “social franchise” model that involves training local masons in developing countries to build and sell toilets to their community, SaniShop is now implemented in a diverse range of regions — a marked progress from its humble beginnings in 2008.
WTO started its market-based approach in collaboration with the University of North Carolina, Lien Aid and IDE in Kampung Speu where it built close to 10,000 household latrines in 2010. In 2012, SaniShop Cambodia tested the market in 7 provinces and has since scaled up in Kampung Chnnang where it has trained close to 60 sales people and 15 SaniShop franchisees. In 2012, the SaniShop ecosystem built 1,800 toilets and we expect that this rate of toilet construction will be financially sustainable in the future in each province. The key value proposition of SaniShop is to create a market for sanitation where there previously is none by facilitating the sale and production of toilets with strict quality control standards and fixed affordable pricing. SaniShop has also begun working in Odisha, India and Vietnam since 2012. In Odisha, WTO collaborated with a social enterprise, eKutir; while in Vietnam, WTO has worked with a large multinational to establish Toilet Academies to train sales persons and masons.
SaniShop aims to restructure local sanitation marketplaces by encouraging the spirit of entrepreneurship among local communities. Entrepreneurs are able to build, produce and sell toilets to sustain their livelihoods; therefore, SaniShop is not only bridging sanitation gaps but also acts as a catalyst to better a community’s way of life.
In addition to its SaniShop operations, WTO is currently embarking on two pivotal public-private partnerships to pilot school sanitation projects for communities in South Africa and Nigeria respectively. In South Africa, WTO is working with Unilever to establish the Domestos Toilet Academy (DTA) in KwaZulu Natal. This is the first program that aims to integrate delivery structure to a community by implementing awareness, capacity building and affordable sanitation technology in schools and communities. Currently at the pilot stage, WTO will be implementing a baseline study; this will then be combined with stakeholder analysis to form a basis for implementation and evaluation before replicating across South Africa. In Nigeria, WTO is working on a partnership with Tolaram Foundation (Singapore) to refurbish 4 school toilet buildings in Lagos, Nigeria. This will also include the implementation of health and hygiene programs; the success of these programs will be measured by monitoring and evaluating students’ hygiene habits, health and school attendance.
At WTO, we are constantly exploring new ways to reach out to the “toiletless” in sustainable ways. For example, WTO is currently researching new means of waste disposal and also new toilet designs that can tackle problematic terrain including areas with high water tables and areas with hard soil.
WTO has also undertaken a number of projects beyond its market-based model:
- Worked with the Lien Foundation to build 30 toilets in 2006 in Hambatotta and Galle, Sri Lanka. Trained 30,000 individuals in ecosan usage.
- Worked in Aceh, Indonesia following the tsunami after receiving a million dollar grant from the Singapore Red Cross in 2007. Built 7 community toilets in Banda Aceh and 6 in Meulaboh. Trainings for local engineers, contractors and architects were carried out in both cities to strengthen their capacity to design, construct and maintain sustainable sanitation systems in the future.
- Worked in Trichy, India with Scope to build 10 ecosan toilets.
- Worked with Lien Aid in Shanxi, China to build a school toilet block with the Chinese Environment Institute and the China Poverty Alleviation Association (CEEP).
We are currently moving towards a holistic, small scale pilot campaign in Bihar, India where WTO will facilitate the construction of toilets with local mason contractors with a goal of 100% sanitation facilities for all villagers. It is expected to be completed by late 2013.
From our market-based approaches and public-private partnerships in the sanitation field, we have learnt that through collaborative effort significant progress can be made to improve global sanitation conditions. We look forward to furthering WTO’s mission in bringing health, dignity and well-being to all by continuously engaging with donors, partners and stakeholders in the work we do.
Editor’s Note: This infographic illustrates the toll that Western toilets take on the world’s water supply, as well as the stark facts surrounding lack of sanitation in the developing world. It further showcases the innovations of the contenders of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Reinvent the Toilet Challenge. The infographic originally appeared here.
Created by OnlineNursingPrograms.com.
On April 19, the World Bank hosted an in-depth online conversation at their headquarters in Washington D.C. to discuss investing in sanitation.
The panelists included:
- United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson
- UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake
- World Bank Group Vice President of Sustainable Development Rachel Kyte
- American Standard Vice President Jim McHale
The panel focused on the economics and politics of sanitation. According to the panelists, not only does access to safe, clean sanitation improve people's health and livelihoods, but it is economically sound. Lack of access to improved sanitation costs countries up to 7 percent of GDP. The audience, comprised of global decision-makers and practitioners in the field, asked key questions, driving the discussion around project and country-specific contexts.
Watch the full recording and tell us what you think in the comments below.
Editor’s Note: This guest post was authored by Julian Doczi, Water Policy research officer at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), the UK’s leading think tank on international development and humanitarian issues. Julian highlights the need for sanitation to take center stage in WASH discussions. A version of this post originally appeared here.
Many of the discussions surrounding World Water Day continue to omit one of the biggest factors for actually achieving clean and secure water for all: sanitation. At least 2.5 billion people still lack access to a proper toilet – with this number rising to a staggering 4.1 billion if we include people whose sewage is not properly treated in wastewater treatment facilities.
These are well-known numbers, but what is the actual role of sanitation in the issues being discussed today, on water cooperation, better water management and water security? I identify and discuss three key linkages here:
- the impact of poor sanitation on clean water availability
- the impact of ‘advanced’ sanitation on water consumption
- the direct impact on water cooperation of the various socio-political issues underlying sanitation service delivery.
For the majority of the world’s population, their sewage still pours untreated onto land, rivers and sea, contaminating freshwater resources and putting a greater strain on river basins and their managers. Rampant pollution like this plays a key role in promoting poor cooperation among water users, especially between upstream and downstream users, as it both increases clean water scarcity and creates health risks for water users. The poor suffer most from this, as they have less access to alternative water sources. A recent report by the Asian Development Bank highlights this issue for river basins all across Asia, but cooperation everywhere is being increasingly strained.
Simply striving for proper toilets and sewage disposal is not enough though, since most sanitation systems themselves require water to function. A recent calculation by water expert Peter Gleick estimates that toilets in the U.S. currently use nearly 8.3 trillion litres of water per year; this could be reduced to only 3 trillion if the entire country switched to new, high-efficiency toilets. Of course, in many arid river basins, using this much water would not be feasible (nor would the cost of millions of new toilets) without experiencing substantial declines in water availability, again increasing tensions. Although ‘dry’ sanitation systems like improved pit toilets can undoubtedly ease these pressures, the UN still recognises water-based systems as higher up on the so-called ‘sanitation ladder’, and thus creates continual demand for these systems. This is not to argue that those lacking sanitation should not achieve it, but merely to note that improving sanitation still generally increases water demand (even if the poor ‘leap frog’ directly to high-efficiency toilets), which could further strain water cooperation.
A 2012 report on global water security by the U.S. Intelligence Community recognised both pollution and consumption issues as threats to future conflict over water resources. It found that, in the next decade, these threats could significantly increase instability and regional tensions over water security, especially in the Middle East and South Asia. Likewise, a new report by ODI and Tearfund examines how the way sanitation services are delivered specifically affects cooperation between communities and the relations between state and society. For example, in the DRC, tensions arose between recently returned refugees and long-term residents over the usage, cleaning and maintenance of latrines.
As world-leading water cooperation expert Mark Zeitoun of the University of East Anglia emphasises, linkages are also visible through the issues of human rights and power asymmetries. He highlights that those who fought for the UN General Assembly to explicitly recognise the human right to water and sanitation in 2010 are often the same people fighting for equitable and just water cooperation. In both cases, however, he argues that progress toward these ideals has been slow due to the asymmetric distribution of water and sanitation services in favour of powerful state actors. Quoting Marc Reisner, he highlights that, for the most part, ‘water flows uphill to money, while sewage still flows downhill to the poor’.
These socio-political linkages can be generalised further. As Zeitoun describes, water security is best understood as part of an interconnected ‘web’ of securities, which links water security to food, energy and climate security, and even national security. Through this web, he argues that effective sanitation is an ‘incontestable requirement for individual, community and state development’ in the context of water cooperation. Likewise, the new Asia Water Development Outlook report explicitly recognises the central role played by appropriate sanitation within its ‘five key dimensions’ of national water security. The report found that most Asian countries are merely ‘capable’ or ‘engaged’ in sanitation for water security, with many still downright ‘hazardous’. Almost none were ‘effective’, except for proactive states like New Zealand and Singapore.
These results speak for themselves. It is clear that the levels of development effort, investment and political will devoted to sanitation are still substantially dwarfed by that devoted to all aspects of water, even though sanitation links so closely to water cooperation and security. A recent report by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies issues a call to action on this, to address the longstanding imbalance in the substantial investments made in the water sector as compared with its poor cousins: sanitation and hygiene. It calls for sanitation to be at least as well funded and focused upon as water supply by 2015. I echo that call here. The evidence is clear that we will only achieve better water cooperation and water resources management if we account for the major roles that sanitation plays.
So, as we spend 2013 focused on improving water cooperation, let us not forget to give an equal effort toward improving sanitation cooperation. While organisations are increasingly recognising the linkage of sanitation to all aspects of water management, we should not rest until March 22 is known as ‘World Water and Sanitation Day’. Only by addressing the 4.1 billion people without appropriate wastewater treatment can we hope to achieve holistic water cooperation and effective water resources management that will lead us on a path to long-term sustainability.
Editor’s Note: This guest post was authored by David Winder, CEO of WaterAid America. In it, David discusses WaterAid’s work with communities in Ethiopia, Mozambique, and India to help them improve water and sanitation conditions in innovative and entrepreneurial ways. A version of the story originally appeared here.
The ongoing sustainability of the world's water usage is a hot topic. Not a week goes by without headlines announcing water wars, falling water tables or droughts. Water is a commodity in high demand by competing sectors (industry, agriculture and drinking water) and many people are seeking answers to how we might survive with a finite pool of it.
The ten percent of people worldwide who already live without safe drinking water don't need headlines to know that life without water is near impossible — every day they struggle for survival without access to this most basic of human rights. More often than not, they are without basic sanitation facilities, also causing disease and death.
But sparks of entrepreneurial spirit are shining brightly through the doom and gloom surrounding the global water and sanitation crisis, even in the most remote corners of the planet. Some of the world's poorest communities are inspiring us with their willingness and commitment to develop low-cost, innovative solutions to their water and sanitation problems. In many cases, these same solutions are bringing about even wider benefits for the communities involved, including improved health, agricultural and business opportunities.
Human waste can be a massive health risk — without proper sanitation facilities, diarrheal diseases such as typhoid and cholera are prevalent. In fact 2,000 children die every day from water-related diseases. But WaterAid is finding success working with communities willing to experiment with turning their human waste into a source of income and increased crop yields.
Urban slums are notorious for a lack of garbage disposal and sewerage systems, leaving residents vulnerable to poor health. But in the slums just outside of Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, a women's collective is transforming the health and well-being of their community. With a little help and encouragement from WaterAid, this group of enterprising women runs a café, selling food cooked with biogas that is fueled by methane from human and other waste. In addition to offering healthy meals, community members are encouraged to take advantage of the café's toilets and shower facilities, which customers can use for a small fee. The café offers vital sanitation services for the community, and provides the women with a source of income and social standing.
The café has also spurred on other entrepreneurial activity. Twenty-four year-old Tigist started up her own garbage removal service, which has not only cleaned up her area and helps prevent disease, but empowered her to demand wages equal to those paid to men in her community. She's now earning ten times more than she was before, and is hiring four staff to help her collect the garbage. The garbage is then given to the café to use to help produce the biogas to fuel the kitchen.
In Niassa province in Mozambique, WaterAid is working with communities to turn their human waste into safe, renewable and highly effective compost. This compost is proving invaluable to otherwise poor farmers, who are now reaping the benefits of more robust harvests — and incomes. Known as ecological sanitation (EcoSan) or composting latrines, each toilet has twin pits. While one is in use, the other is sealed, and the contents, which are mixed with dirt and ash, decompose into rich compost that can then be dug out and used on fields.
Trials have shown that the composting latrines are significantly boosting crop yields. In one district in Niassa, the community saw unusually high rainfall, causing traditionally planted crops to rot. However, crops planted in soil mixed with the contents of EcoSan toilets thrived. The difference was startling. In fact, the maize plants grown with compost from the latrines towered over neighboring plants and fruit trees planted with the compost were the only ones laden with fruit. In another area of the province facing drought, farmers harvested a huge tobacco crop from a field planted with EcoSan compost, while nearby fields failed to sprout.
Similar innovations are revolutionizing poor people's access to water and helping them to earn a living. In India, where many water pumps lie disused due to ill-repair, WaterAid and local partner organizations have helped budding entrepreneurs to start pump and well repair businesses. These businesses ensure the sustainability of water supplies, while at the same time providing jobs to community members.
The mechanic training program in the district of Mahoba in Uttar Pradesh is a perfect example of this. In an area where 4,000 water pumps lie broken, WaterAid has worked with local people to set up a storefront and buy tools, bikes and water quality testing equipment. After training people from the community to become mechanics, including seven women, they started repairing pumps for any village willing to pay.
It worked. The mechanics have fixed over 300 pumps: pumps that help prevent disease, and that supply 30,000 people with fresh, clean water. What's more, the female mechanics have earned the respect of community members and feel empowered.
Such entrepreneurship is driving improvements in women's rights, prosperity, health and nutrition. Although small, these innovative water and sanitation projects are inspiring. In the face of adversity, communities are showing that a little creativity and the determined will to work hard to control their own destiny go a long way in helping escape the grips of poverty and providing a more secure future for their children.
Editor’s Note: This guest blog post was authored by Brett Walton, a Seattle-based reporter for Circle of Blue. He writes the Federal Water Tap, a weekly breakdown of U.S. policy. A version of this article originally appeared here and is re-posted with permission.
Official United Nations figures claim that 2.5 billion people lack access to adequate sanitation. But new research from the University of North Carolina puts the total at more than 4.1 billion people.
As world leaders and grassroots groups discuss how to reduce poverty and improve lives, debates over precise definitions and accurate measurements are taking on a new urgency. The agenda-setting Millennium Development Goals expire in 2015, but already new definitions for water, sanitation, and hygiene seek to influence the post-MDG global development agenda.
Last month, the Water Institute at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, challenged official statistics from the United Nations on the number of people without proper toilet facilities: UNC put the figure at 4.1 billion people, compared with 2.5 billion claimed by the United Nations. Both figures assessed conditions in 2010.
The discrepancy between the two sets of sanitation figures comes from different accounting methods. The United Nations measures hardware — the toilet, in this case — and how well it protects the user from immediate contact with the waste. The UNC researchers, on the other hand, approached the question from a public health angle: they also considered hardware, but in a broader sense, by asking whether or not the sewage is treated.
“We looked at public health and the environment beyond just the user,” Rachel Baum told Circle of Blue. Baum is a co-author on the paper, which was published online in January in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.
Baum and her colleagues wondered, “Is sanitation protecting the wider community?”
More often than not, they found, the answer is no. In 2010, some 4.1 billion people — six out of every 10 people on the planet — did not use toilet facilities that ultimately treat the sewage before it is returned to the environment. (The researchers pulled sewage treatment data from the United Nations Statistics Division, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the European Commission’s Eurostat, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.)
This is the second time in less than a year that the Water Institute has challenged WASH statistics from the United Nations. In March 2012, a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that 1.8 billion people drink unsafe water — a figure that is more than double the 780 million people who lack access to an improved water source, according to the United Nations Joint Monitoring Program’s 2012 update.
Again, the discrepancies come from the way in which the data is collected: the United Nations defines access to drinking water in terms of infrastructure — in other words, the taps, pipes, and wells used to deliver water — rather than water quality, as measured by the Water Institute.
Shaping Things To Come
Last year, the United Nations declared that, according to its metrics, the world had achieved the MDG for drinking water in 2010. The sanitation target is not likely to be achieved, according to an August 2012 update. Both goals sought to halve the proportion of people without access to improved drinking water and sanitation from a 1990 baseline.
The definitions — and the discrepancies between the definitions — of access and quality matter. The United Nations is now discussing which items will comprise the global development program after 2015, when the eight Millennium Development Goals expire.
At stake in the next round of goal-setting is a place in the global-aid pecking order and a chance at the rivers of cash that flow toward the top priorities. Development aid for drinking water and sanitation reached $US 7.8 billion in 2010, and loans to the sector added an additional $US 4.4 billion that year, according to the United Nations.
John Oldfield, the CEO of WASH Advocates, said that priorities are already changing, with less money spent on drilling wells and installing pumps; instead, more cash is being allocated to building maintenance and financial skills within the communities that will manage the water and sanitation projects after the donor leaves.
But John Sauer, head of communications for the Denver-based nonprofit Water for People, said he did not know if the UNC study would lead to a big shift in how money is spent. The broader issue, he told Circle of Blue, is that sanitation coverage is expanding much too slowly, and the progress that has been made is not well monitored, to see if it is sustainable.
Better Outcomes This Time Around
Everyone with a stake in the new order is offering recommendations during the run up to 2015.
On February 21, the United Nations and a handful of its partner organizations issued a press release arguing that the new development goals for water and sanitation should focus on people on the margins: children, women, and those who live in slums or with disabilities.
“The post-2015 agenda must not move forward without clear objectives towards the elimination of discrimination and inequalities in access to water, sanitation, and hygiene,” according to the statement.
Yet, it is still early in the negotiations, and the players are jockeying for position.
“We can’t say at this point what the U.N. will recommend,” Pragati Pascale, communications officer for the United Nations, told Circle of Blue. “There are a lot of discussions going on, trying to hear from many voices.”
February 17 marked the wrap-up of a five-week public consultation on water and sanitation goals, an initiative sponsored by the United Nations and civil society groups. And coming up in May, a star-studded panel — chaired by the leaders of Indonesia, Liberia, and the United Kingdom — will present its assessment of the MDG successes, failures, and inadequacies.
Baum said she hopes that last month’s UNC sanitation study brings more attention to what effective sanitation really is. Meanwhile, Oldfield told Circle of Blue that these types of studies can result in stronger definitions of the problem, in addition to better outcomes.
“This paper will enable stronger policies and it will inform the consultative process,” Oldfield said. “Universal coverage for sanitation is the goal, and this will help us define what exactly we mean by ‘universal coverage.’”