WaterAid America in New York City has announced a three-year, $2 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in support of advocacy efforts on behalf of millions of people living without toilets or sanitation facilities.
The organization will use the grant to support initiatives to increase access to basic sanitation services led by the governments of Ghana, India, and Senegal. In addition, the funds will be used to help ensure that the United States, the world's largest donor country, supports improved accountability and data collection with respect to WASH efforts in those countries and is focused on solutions that highlight the linkages between sanitation and other health efforts, including improved nutrition and ending preventable child deaths.
"Investing in advocacy around toilets and sanitation is one of the smartest, most effective ways we have to combat extreme poverty," said WaterAid America CEO David Winder. "Health, quality of life, and poverty levels are radically impacted when people, especially women and girls, have access to toilets and hygiene education."
According to the World Health Organization, an estimated $220 billion would be returned to the global economy each year if the world were to achieve universal access to sanitation. Development aid for toilets and sanitation, however, is significantly less relative to other development sectors such as health and education.
"The sanitation crisis cannot be solved by any one organization alone," said Lisa Schechtman, WaterAid America's director of policy and advocacy. "WaterAid firmly believes that governments have a responsibility to their citizens to ensure that toilets and sanitation are available to everyone. We look forward to continuing to advocate for change exactly where it’s needed most."
Source: "WaterAid Steps Up Advocacy on Lack of Toilets." WaterAid Press Release 01/09/2014.
Editor’s Note: We pose five questions to foundation, NGO, and thought leaders in the WASH sector as part of our “5 Questions for…” series. In this post, David Auerbach, co-founder of Sanergy, shares his thoughts on the sanitation value chain, community ownership, and exciting innovations in sanitation in response to our questions.
1. What is the number one most critical issue facing the WASH sector today?
The most critical issue that the WASH sector faces is the lack of systems-based thinking. We need to go beyond simply providing a toilet. Although 2.5 billion people lack access to a clean toilet, 4.1 billion are at risk because sewage is not treated. At Sanergy, we take a systems-based approach that addresses the entire sanitation value chain. We provide clean toilets through a franchise network of local micro-entrepreneurs, collect the waste professionally, and treat it properly by converting it into useful byproducts, such as organic fertilizer. Failure to address the whole chain ultimately pushes the challenge further downstream.
2. Tell us about one collaboration or partnership your organization undertook and the lessons learned from that experience.
Sanergy sells Fresh Life Toilets to local micro-entrepreneurs. The franchise package includes installation, marketing, training and business support, and a daily waste collection service, and costs about $600 for the first year. In our work with the residents of Nairobi’s slums, we came across micro-entrepreneurs who were excited to launch Fresh Life businesses -- especially women and youth -- but who did not have immediate access to finance to start up their businesses. Kiva, an online micro-lending platform, partnered with us to provide 0% interest loans to future Fresh Life Operators. The partnership has led to 73 loans being issued and the construction of over 120 Fresh Life Toilets. Those operators serve 5,000 residents with hygienic sanitation daily. At the same time, Kiva gives us an incredible platform to share the resilient, compelling stories of our micro-entrepreneurs with the world.
By partnering with Kiva, we are overcoming an important hurdle -- access to finance -- and are creating a grassroots, sustainable solution to provide critical sanitation services.
3. How do you work with local communities to promote project ownership and sustainability?
All 161 of our Fresh Life Operators -- each of whom has invested their own savings in Fresh Life -- are from the Mukuru community. They are critical to the sustenance of our business and are key players in effectively tackling the sanitation crisis. One such operator is Agnes Kwamboka who has a remarkable story of the transformation that she was able to make as a partner with Fresh Life. Tired of having to bribe policemen so that she could run her unregulated brew business, she closed it down and had two Fresh Life Toilets installed. Now, she earns a good income, which enables her to sustain her family and no longer worry about the police. She has also reinvested the profits by purchasing additional Fresh Life Toilets and in literacy classes for herself. Testimonies like these show that we are positively changing the community and changing people’s mindsets about their role in society.
The other significant way in which we gain community buy-in is by hiring from the community. Sixty percent of our 135-person team is from the local community and over 60% of our staff is between 18 – 25 years old -- the age bracket with the highest unemployment in Kenya. The residents know how the lack of adequate sanitation can have disastrous effects on their lives and this makes them extra-determined to change their communities for the better.
4. Tell us about an emerging technology or solution that excites you and that you think will make a big impact in the WASH sector over the next 5-10 years.
One great initiative to emerge is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Re-invent the Toilet Challenge (RTTC). Institutions and researchers have received generous grants to come up with innovative approaches for the hygienic provision, collection and treatment of waste. The initiative has really catalyzed the entire sector and, moreover, broken down taboos to bring the sanitation challenge to the center of any development conversation. Through the RTTC, Sanergy has benefited significantly. We have partnered with The Climate Foundation to develop biochar -- an organic soil conditioner. We have worked closely with Agriprotein in South Africa to develop a protein-rich animal feed made from maggots that consume only human waste. These technologies have the potential to be massively important for the agricultural input industries. In creating value from waste, we give incentive for everyone to participate in the sanitation value chain.
5. There are lots of great WASH resources, ranging from striking data visualizations to good, old-fashioned reports. What’s caught your eye lately besides WASH funders, of course?
Lately, we have read a couple of compelling papers from the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program about what a toilet’s worth, from ID Insight about IDE-Cambodia’s work with microfinance, and Dean Spears’ research on the effect a lack of hygienic sanitation has on children’s height.
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.