Editor’s Note: This guest blog post was authored by Patrick Moriarty, CEO of IRC. In his piece, Patrick stresses the importance of creating lasting systems to achieving the Global Goals, particularly for providing sanitation and drinking water services. Patrick shares how funders can help grantees transition from service providers to systems builders. A version of this post originally appeared here.
We all know that "he who pays the piper calls the tune" - but what if the tune is the wrong one for the times? Can pipers push for new tunes? IRC's CEO Patrick Moriarty thinks so.
On September 25, 2015, 193 world leaders committed to 17 Global Goals. One of them is to provide every human on the planet with sanitation and drinking water services. To achieve this we not only need to get sanitation services to 2.6 billion people who currently don't have them - but also to make sure that once received the services work forever.
People who work on the frontline know that building new toilets using charitable money isn't the answer. There's not enough charitable or aid money in the world, and outsiders lack the skills and local market knowledge to ever create something sustainable. So the solution lies not in building new toilets as charitable outsiders, but in building the local systems that can provide sanitation services. Systems that are led by national governments while drawing on the skills of national businesses and citizens organizations to actually provide the services.
Put simply, International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGOs) have to stop being service providers and become systems builders. To do that, we need our donors and supporters to make this change with us.
Slow, messy and transformative vs. quick, measurable and trivial
"We know that what they're paying us to do is wrong, they do too - but it's where they want to put their bloody money anyway:" (nameless INGO colleague)
More and more sanitation (and drinking water) organizations emphasize the need to support system strengthening. They get that if we just keep doing what we're doing, we'll never reach everyone by 2030. And more seriously, even if we do reach billions of people, progress won't be sustainable with only aid funding.
Yet the bulk of aid money continues to flow to projects delivering new taps and toilets.
This is not surprising given that boards of philanthropies and national parliaments want hard numbers of "people we've helped", numbers that aren't easily extracted from messy and notoriously difficult to measure processes of systems strengthening. The challenge then is how to sell this critical work to either the no-nonsense business people who make up the boards of philanthropies, or parliamentarians representing aid-fatigued voters who want to know that their taxes are being well spent.
Honest donors that challenge themselves
For INGOs to move away from building toilets to building systems capable of providing sanitation services, donors too have to change - and there are positive signs of this. Visionary foundations like the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and Osprey Foundation are supporting a systems building agenda. The onus is on INGO's to find ways to encourage more donors to follow - in part by findings answers to the entirely legitimate requirement for clear measurement of impact. We need to show it works. We need to show that stronger systems deliver better water and sanitation services. We need to provide answers to questions like: How can we show progress? How can we evidence efficiency and effectiveness over time? This is something that many of us are already engaged in, but it undoubtedly needs further work.
But there's also an onus on donors to be honest with and challenge themselves. To accept that however big they are, their financial contribution is trivial in comparison to the need and ambition set out in the SDGs. They must ask themselves challenging questions about their organizational theories of change, which in non-development jargon means: how can their contributions impact on billions rather than a few thousand? How can they work together with other donors to achieve bigger collective impact and trigger the transformation needed at local and national level to ensure that everyone, everywhere will have access to sanitation service... forever.
How we can make change today
The good news is, we can start to change the way we work by building national systems today. With our partners Aguaconsult, WaterAid and Water for People we've developed a global Agenda for Change with guiding principles. Our ask to both our fellow INGOs and donors (not just our own - but all people who fund work in sanitation and drinking water) is simple but challenging:
1. Join us in the work of system building - district by district, country by country. Share our vision of a world where everyone has access to toilets, a world where aid or charity are not needed to provide sanitation services indefinitely.
2. Accept that the road to change will be long, expensive and messy - and that it will sometimes be difficult to share quick results or explain exactly which share of the change is directly attributable to you. Rather: understand that you are part of an unprecedented movement that changes the world.
3. Hold us - as implementers - to account: demand that we develop the tools and numbers not only to build national systems, but to do so effectively and with evidence. At the same time, provide your boards and ministers and parliamentarians with the data that they rightly demand.
We're convinced that it is only by fundamentally changing and strengthening the national systems that deliver water and sanitation services in a country, that the SDG ambition to achieve sanitation (and water) for everyone will be achieved by 2030. It starts with leadership, from donors and INGO's, challenging lazy assumptions that doing what we have always done has any chance of real success. There is another tune for the piper to play and its time to dance to it.
Find out more and join us: www.ircwash.org/blog/but-what-is-it-that-you-actually-do
Or get in touch! www.ircwash.org
Follow Patrick Moriarty on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ircpatrick
This Thursday, June 4th, join USAID for the fourth in a series of five webinars to better understand the USAID Water and Development Strategy and how its principles provide the foundation for Agency water programming.
To have lasting impact over time and after USAID’s assistance ends, WASH programs need to factor in sustainability during planning, design, implementation and monitoring. USAID’s Heather Skilling and Rochelle Rainey will host this webinar on the nature of sustainable WASH services; factors of sustainable service; challenges and approaches that can improve programming outcomes by addressing sustainability.
This webinar will take place on June 4 from 10:00-11:00 am Eastern Time.
Register for the webinar here. Registration for each webinar session is required since space is limited. If you register for the webinar but are not able to attend, kindly cancel your registration before the day of the event so that someone else can register and participate.
If you are unable to join this webinar, a recording of each webinar will be posted shortly after each event here. And look out for the last webinar in the series, on drinking water quality, to be held on June 18.
Editor’s Note: This post was authored by Sarah Dobsevage, Director of Strategic Partnerships at WaterAid America. In her post, Sarah, who heads up WaterAid’s partnerships with foundations and corporations in the US, describes her organization’s work with drought-prone communities in Burkina Faso, particularly around training local people to develop the skills needed to address WASH problems.
It hasn’t rained for eight months.
It’s 120°F. And it hasn’t rained for eight months. The rivers and boreholes have run dry. Searching for water, people are forced to dig holes in river beds with their bare hands. Twelve feet down and there’s still no water.
Nearing the end of a seemingly interminably long dry season, people living in drought-prone areas of West Africa are working hard to find enough water for their families to drink, cook and bathe. Keeping their livestock alive becomes a daunting challenge.
These Sudano-Sahelian communes are characterized by a brief rainy season, typically from June to September, that is increasingly unpredictable in duration and quantity of rain. Annual rainfall ranges from 12 inches in the North Region of Burkina Faso, to as much as 50 inches in the South-West.
In contrast, during the dry season, temperatures soar, rivers evaporate and groundwater levels drop – just when people need water the most to survive the heat. A few scattered boreholes serve both people and livestock, putting too much pressure on water supplies. As groundwater levels fall, even the deeper boreholes may not have sufficient water to last communities until the end of the dry season.
Training new water experts to tackle sustainability
Making sure that drought-prone communities have access to water year-round is no easy task, but it can be done. In 14 communities across Burkina Faso, WaterAid is not only investing in additional boreholes, new sand dams and improvements to existing wells, but is also (more importantly!) investing in local people -- giving them the skills they need to become water experts adept in effectively managing their own precious resources.
Like most of their peers, the majority of the soon-to-be experts in whom WaterAid is investing are illiterate. Even so, they are learning how to monitor rainfall using rain gauges and measure groundwater levels in wells using tools such as dip meters that make a sound when they hit water. The skills they learn encompass traditional methods and modern technology -- from GPS and cellphones, to graphs and maps etched in the dust. The emphasis is on straightforward and sustainable solutions; we prioritize simple ways of gathering information that can help people plan their water usage for the long term.
In addition to using dip meters to collect groundwater data, we are also employing a more advanced technology, where water loggers are inserted into boreholes. Water loggers automatically record water levels every two hours, providing a real-time dashboard on water resources and usage.
Together, this information will enable communities to pre-empt threats, observe annual changes and spot emerging data patterns, all which affect their village. Water experts can then help the community make informed, collective decisions about how much water can be used, at what times of day and in what quantities.
It’s a simple yet effective way of safeguarding access to this vital resource for everyone, every day of the year. When water levels are low, for example, the community may decide to temporarily halt non-essential activities that use water, such as brick-making; alternatively, they may choose to begin rationing water.
These decisions aren’t taken lightly. Monitoring and Documentation committees chaired by the town’s mayor are set up at the commune level and include community representatives, local government authorities, and staff from both WaterAid and WaterAid’s local partners. Each committee boasts a technical unit, charged with controlling and validating data, identifying any weaknesses, and offering technical support to the community when needed. Communities are also aided by regional agricultural directorates that further assist with data interpretation. Working together, community assemblies provide a forum to collectively share and analyze the information from all sides, and make joint decisions governing water use.
While it may sound complex, this multidimensional approach helps to overcome some of the most common challenges communities face, such as the inability to plot, monitor and/or interpret data that might otherwise be too technical, and low literacy levels, especially among women.
At the same time, WaterAid is also teaming up with the local and national governments, making sure that data collected at the village level can be fed into government records that will help build a national picture that informs future interventions.
We all know that water is at the core of long-term development. That’s why we’re especially grateful to the continuing support of the Margaret A Cargill Foundation, which enables WaterAid to train new water experts in some of the hardest to reach communities in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. Though the climates are tough, the rewards are great. Never has it been so important to support local leadership in making sure that they have the skills and tools they need to effectively manage the water resources that are vital to poverty reduction, economic growth and environmental sustainability.
For more information please visit www.wateraid.org.
This Sunday, March 22 marks the 23rd annual World Water Day. In celebration of the Day, we have rounded up several events taking place around the world and online. Details are included below.
Friday, March 20th
On Friday, WaterAid will announce the winners of their SH2Orts 2015 film competition, which asked amateur filmmakers to submit short films about what H20 means to them. Up until the announcement, the public can view the shortlisted entries and the film with the most views will receive the People’s Choice award.
Launch of the United Nations World Water Development Report 2015 – New Delhi, India
The 2015 World Water Development Report, “Water for a Sustainable World”, will be launched during the UN’s official celebrations for World Water Day in New Delhi, India.
#WWDHang Twitter Chat: DIGDEEP – 2 pm EDT
In celebration of World Water Day on Sunday, DIGDEEP will be hosting a Twitter chat. To join, use the hashtag #WWDHang.
Sunday, March 22nd
UN-Water, the organization behind World Water Day, is organizing a ThunderClap, which will blast out a timed message via social media in celebration of the Day. To participate, UN-Water is asking supporters to write on a piece of paper what water is to them using the hashtag #WaterIs, take a selfie or video, and then tag the post with the hashtag and upload it via Facebook, Twitter, Vine, or Instagram. On World Water Day, everyone’s messages will be blasted out simultaneously.
Monday, March 23rd
World Water Day Summit -- United Nations, New York City, 10 am EDT
On Monday, MagneGas Corporation, in partnership with the Jack Brewer Foundation and the U.S. Federation for Middle East Peace, will host a World Water Day Summit. To coincide with this year’s World Water Day theme, ‘Water and Sustainable Development’, this year’s World Water Day Summit will provide a high-level platform for dialogue surrounding sustainable development and global efforts to manage clean water. Featured topics include waste water and irrigation challenges as well as sustainable innovations for water procurement.
Tuesday, March 24
The Role of Water and Sanitation in Achieving the SDGs – United Nations, New York City, 6:30 – 8:30 pm EDT
The Permanent Missions of Sweden and the Republic of Benin to the United Nations will be hosting this evening reception, co-organized by a number of World Water Day partners, including UN-Water, WaterAid, and the Stockhom International Water Institute. At the time of this posting, featured participants (tbc) include Yoka Brand, Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF and Dr. Fed Boltz, Managing Director of Ecosystems at the Rockefeller Foundation, among others.
Editor’s Note: This guest post is co-authored by Jonna Davis, Senior Program Manager for Dispensers for Safe Water in Kenya, and Nabil Mansouri, Program Manager in Malawi, both of Evidence Action. Jonna and Nabil describe how the program maintains user adoption rates in Kenya, Uganda, and Malawi. To learn more about Dispensers for Safe Water, read Evidence Action’s post for WASHfunders on the evidence-based origins of the program. Another post describes strategic efforts to diversify the initiative’s financing models.
On the face of it, Dispensers for Safe Water is easy to understand. Dispensers for Safe Water is a fast-growing initiative of Evidence Action that provides access to clean and safe water for close to three million people in Kenya, Uganda, and Malawi. It is slated to grow to 25 million users in the next five years. We do this by installing and maintaining chlorine dispensers directly at the water source where people in rural areas fetch their water.
Customers simply add half a teaspoon of diluted chlorine to the jerry can in which water is typically collected, dosed correctly to safely disinfect the drinking and cooking water. Chlorine, of course, is a very effective additive to water used around the world in sanitation systems that kills 99.9% of harmful bacteria that, in turn, cause diarrhoea and other water-borne diseases such as cholera.
Conveniently, chlorine dispensers are installed directly at the water source -- such as a borehole or simply an unprotected spring -- and are very easy to use. We see sustained adoption rates between 42% and 80% (such in Malawi where we have just begun an aggressive expansion).
We keep tabs on these adoption rates by regularly sampling cooking and drinking water in people’s homes to determine whether there is actually chlorine present in their water.
But getting people to use the dispensers to make water safe to drink is not achieved by the installation of dispensers alone. As we have seen time and again, a new gadget in and of itself is not enough for behaviour change to occur. We see high and sustained rates of adoption because Dispensers for Safe Water is more than just the dispenser. It’s the underlying foundation of community engagement, delivery, and ongoing maintenance that makes the program effective.
Here is how it works:
Expanding into a new areas involves significant preparation weeks ahead of the actual installation. Dispenser for Safe Water team members meet with community leaders to get their approval for a dispenser as well as to familiarize these key stakeholders with how and why dispensers work. After approval is granted, we work with those leaders to engage users in the ‘barn raising’ of the actual installation of the dispenser.
There are additional community meetings to elect a community ‘promoter’ -- typically a respected person in the community -- who is charged with maintaining and refilling the dispenser, and who reports any problems. The promoter also educates community members on how chlorine and the dispenser work, and why it’s important to disinfect the water.
The promoter is a very important part of the success of the dispenser in a given community. Adoption rates have been as much as 17 percentage points higher when the promoter's water tests positive for chlorine than when s/he does not.
Once the promoter is in place and installation and community education meetings have been completed, there is the ongoing maintenance of the dispensers. Dispensers that are empty or in disrepair are not going to be used by our customers over time. We know that the biggest driver of decreased adoption is empty or poorly maintained dispensers, which is why we have developed such a strong “last mile” delivery and maintenance network.
Evidence Action maintains the dispensers through a network of circuit riders on motorbikes who visit a target number of dispensers daily in their catchment area, deliver a three-month supply of chlorine to the promoter in charge of the dispenser in a given village, and repair anything that needs to be fixed.
Promoters and circuit riders use mobile phone technology for tracking this work--for issuing and resolving maintenance tickets, checking off steps in the supply chain and other tasks.
Economies of scale, combined with efforts to optimize the supply chain in the maintenance phase, ensure that the cost for Dispensers for Safe Water at scale is very low: just 50 cents per person per year. This makes Dispenser for Safe Water one of the most cost-effective WASH interventions with sustained high adoption rates on the market. With community engagement, promotion, and ongoing maintenance, users have a reliable product that is consistently used over time.
Editor’s Note: This guest post is authored by Christina Riechers, Director of Business Development and Strategy at Evidence Action. In her post, Christina outlines the lessons learned from efforts to ensure sustainability as the organization rapidly scales up its Dispensers for Safe Water program. Drawing from Evidence Action’s experience, she highlights the importance of diversified business models and describes the process of establishing strategic partnerships to expand the reach of the project. For more background on Dispensers for Safe Water program, read Evidence Action’s previous post, published last month on the WASHfunders Blog.
Evidence Action’s Dispensers for Safe Water program, an innovative and cost-effective system for water purification, is rapidly scaling up. Dispensers for Safe Water is currently providing safe drinking water to two million people in Eastern and Southern Africa, to grow to 25 million people by 2018.
Evidence Action was created a year ago to scale up proven development interventions to benefit tens of millions of people. As a result, we are well familiar with one of the main challenges of implementing large-scale development projects: ensuring that there is financial and operational sustainability over the long term. All too often, water access and water quality projects are implemented without a clear strategy for long-term sustainability, and infrastructure and technology end up in disrepair or disuse.
Evidence Action takes a different approach. For us, a key criteria for going to scale with an intervention is not only a strong evidence base for its effectiveness and impact, but also a sound business model and innovative financing. So what are we learning?
We Need Diversified Business Models for Scale
Dispensers for Safe Water’s business model calls for covering the costs for operating dispensers with carbon financing. Chlorine dispensers generate carbon credits by reducing the demand for boiling water with firewood, and by replacing wood burning with a low-carbon alternative. These carbon credits are verified by an independent auditor, and then sold to buyers looking to offset their carbon footprint or to meet mandated emissions targets. Because the on-going cost of filling and maintaining dispensers is so low - $0.50 per person per year when we’re rolled out at scale - even a low price of carbon could finance the program.
However, carbon credit prices have sunk to rock bottom levels. Even though we have been able to sell credits at high prices that --should these sales continue-- would enable us to meet our long-term financial sustainability plans, we wanted to have a Plan B. Moreover, the initial capital expenditure for growing the program requires other funding (carbon financing is a lagging source of funds, coming in only after people have been using the dispensers). As a result, we have been diversifying our funding sources. For up-front financing, for example, we have taken on loans from Kiva and grants from an innovation fund at USAID. For on-going servicing costs, we are branching out beyond carbon. We are exploring bundling charges for dispenser services with existing community payment mechanisms, and contracting with local governments to fund the chlorine for their constituents to make Dispensers for Safe Water like a low-cost utility service. In all of this we are committed to keeping chlorine free to end users to ensure maximum adoption.
Strategic Partners Are Essential For Going to Scale
We are also challenging ourselves to look at new ways of partnering with other organizations.
Our partnership with One Acre Fund is a case in point. One Acre Fund is a social enterprise that helps more than 180,000 farmers in East Africa double their maize yield. One Acre Fund staff work closely with rural farmers to extend loans, provides training on maximizing crop yield, and provides seeds and other products. The organization cares about the overall well-being of the farmer families, and as such, wanted to expand their efforts and offer low cost health interventions like chlorine for safe water.
When we first partnered in 2011, we thought we could simply piggyback on their last-mile distribution for local chlorine deliveries. But we quickly realized that there are key differences between their distribution and local engagement model and ours. For example,One Acre Fund field staff have a wide range of responsibilities that made the extra task of carrying chlorine with them to village visits burdensome. So we evolved our partnership so that it more closely aligns with our respective core competencies: One Acre Fund, committed to providing safe drinking water for its farmer families, now pays a certain price per farmer household per year to Dispensers for Safe Water for providing their families with access to clean drinking water. This is the same price they would pay to give farmers bottles for household use but without taxing their supply chain. We utilize our existing robust system of village health promoters who ensure the upkeep of dispensers at the water points, and circuit riders who deliver chlorine to the same districts where One Acre Fund operates.
The subsidy from One Acre Fund means further diversification of our funding portfolio, more rural households served, and a win-win partnership for all -- most of all for the community residents who have reliable access to safe drinking water.
Editor’s Note: This post is authored by Sanjay Banka, Director at Banka BioLoo, an Indian company that manufactures and promotes biodigester toilets for use in parts of the country where the lack of infrastructure prevents the use of more conventional sanitation facilities. In the piece, Sanjay discusses the development of the biotechnology used in the toilets and describes the successes and challenges that the company has experienced while working to improve sanitation in India.
Sanitation facilities in India are alarmingly poor with over 600 million people (half of India's population) having no access to toilets. This lack of access, coupled with other inadequacies in waste disposal, such as the Indian Railways’s open-chute toilet system wherein human waste drops on the rail tracks, poses health hazards, raises environmental concerns, and leads to water contamination.
To address India’s sanitation problems, the government, NGOs, non-profit organizations, donor agencies, development bodies, and the private sector have been working in their own way, often with very little concerted effort. The partnership between India’s Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and Banka BioLoo, however, provides one example of how cross-sector collaboration can work to provide sanitation solutions. Using technology developed and licensed by the DRDO, the R&D arm of the Indian Ministry of Defence, Banka BioLoo is working to meet the need for basic, easy-to-install and hygienic human waste disposal mechanisms in areas without sewerage and other sanitation infrastructure.
The DRDO had been grappling with the challenge of managing and treating the fecal matter of its defence personnel. After several years of research, the Organization developed a set of bacteria that “eat away” at human waste. Having successfully used these bacteria to treat the night soil of soldiers guarding the Indian borders, in 2010, the DRDO decided to extend the benefits of the technology to the civilian population by licensing the bio-technology to commercial firms. A host of businesses, including Banka BioLoo, signed the transfer of technology. Since then, Banka BioLoo has developed the necessary infrastructure to inoculate the bacteria and has built a business model that positions bio-toilets as a cost-effective and environmentally-friendly sanitation solution.
Bio-digester technology treats human waste at the source. A collection of anaerobic bacteria that has been adapted to work at temperatures as low as -5°C and as high as 50°C act as inocula (seed material) to the bio-digesters and convert the organic human waste into water, methane, and carbon-dioxide. The anaerobic process inactivates the pathogens responsible for water-borne diseases and treats the fecal matter without the use of an external energy source.
The only by-products of the waste treatment process are pathogen-free water, which is good for gardening, and biogas, which can be used for cooking. Bio-toilets do not require sewage connectivity and because the process is self-contained, bio-toilets are also maintenance-free. While we explain the functioning of the system to users, no specific training is required.
Banka BioLoo employs a for-profit model in distributing its bio-toilets. This approach is consistent with the thinking that came up in discussion recently at the 2014 WASH Sustainability Forum in Amsterdam, where it was recognized that many households are able and willing to pay for good quality sanitation services. Unfortunately, many are being offered cheap and possibly sub-standard systems. As solution providers, we need to be wary of poor quality “solutions” and instead appeal to the aesthetic and aspirational needs of society. While affordability is certainly an issue, it should not come at the cost of developing a sub-par product.
While we strongly believe in the for-profit model to help ensure sustainability, we are also looking for alternate financing options for households that are unable to pay for the toilet outright. We are in discussion with government agencies and microfinance institutions to develop programs that would provide subsidies or microloans to consumers.
Banka BioLoo has also worked with charities and other development organizations to provide bio-toilets in underserved areas. In March 2013, some members of the student chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB), studying in Gitam University, decided to undertake a project to help provide sanitation facilities in Rudraram village, at the outskirts of Hyderabad in southern India. Using a combination of student efforts, input from family members, sponsored funds, and contributions from user families, Banka BioLoo, in partnership with EWB, installed five bio-toilets. In 2014, the project provided bio-toilets to 20 additional families. The student community is keen to develop a 10-kilometer radius around the university as an open defecation free area.
One remaining challenge in promoting the use of the toilets involves the perception among some Indians that sanitation is not worth paying for. Many are comfortable with defecating in the open. In promoting the bio-toilets, we explain the negative effects on the health and well-being of society -- particularly women and children -- that are associated with open defecation. As this understanding continues to develop in India, the demand for sanitation products, such as the bio-toilets, will grow. We are actively working in this direction, trying to provide economical and eco-friendly sanitation systems for all -- from the most marginalized populations to large institutions and corporations across various states in India -- while building up the good reputation of the latrine.
Join SustainableWASH.org for a 3-Part webinar series that will explore monitoring, evaluation and resolution in the field of water access, sanitation and hygiene. The series will have a particular focus on resolution. Each event will feature presentations from experts in the field and will provide an opportunity for attendees to ask questions.
TODAY, August 6: Reporting is Not Enough
Wednesday, August 27: Addressing the Resolution Gap
Wednesday, September 17: A Framework for Action
All webinars will be held from 10:00-11:30 am EDT.
If you have not registered for the series, you can register here, and will receive a link to join the webinar. If you have any questions or need assistance, please contact sustainability@WASHadvocates.org.
Editor’s Note: This guest blog post is authored by Alix Zwane, Executive Director of Evidence Action. In her post, Alix lauds the increased attention given to evidence-based innovations in development and describes the Dispensers for Safe Water initiative as an example of a WASH intervention grounded in this data-driven approach.
Evidence-based development innovations are finally all the rage. The UK's Department for International Development and USAID announced the Global Development Innovation Ventures (GDIV) Fund almost exactly a year ago to focus development investments on “innovative approaches with proven, radically successful results.” Just a few weeks ago, USAID launched its Global Development Lab that aims to “test and scale breakthrough development innovations.” And even more recently, a senior policy advisor to the president of the European Commission argued that evidence should trump politics and diplomacy for deciding on aid investments.
One example of how aspirations for data-driven development translate into actual, real projects that improve millions of peoples’ lives is the Dispensers for Safe Water initiative. Chlorine dispensers currently serve over two million people in East Africa and are on track to grow to four million people by the end of this year, and 25 million by 2018.
Chlorine dispensers installed directly at the water source represent an important innovation in the rural water sector. They solve a number of challenges that have hindered sustainable, quality services for cleaner water to date -- despite the billions that have been spent on water and sanitation projects. And because the approach has been vigorously tested, we can say definitively that chlorine dispensers work at a fraction of the cost of typical water projects, and at high adoption rates by people most in need of clean water.
What Are Chlorine Dispensers?
Dispensers are installed directly at the water source and contain enough chlorine for a community using the water source for about a month. A person collecting water turns a knob that releases enough chlorine to clean 20 liters of water -- the typical amount that people collect from the source and carry home. The dispensers are rugged and durable, and maintained and marketed by local health promoters who educate the community about the utility of adding small amounts of chlorine to the drinking water, and check and refill the dispensers as needed.
Chlorine is very cheap and effective at killing most bacterial and viral pathogens. Safety concerns with dilute chlorine are minimal, and it is widely used as a disinfectant in water treatment plants around the world. Chlorine can also provide residual protection for up to three days (depending on storage conditions), which means that it not only disinfects water, but can also prevent re-contamination.
Are People Healthier Because of Chlorine in their Water?
So what do we know about improving water quality for people? There have been a number of review articles recently that have assessed the evidence for drinking water quality interventions in developing countries. One meta study that analyzed 65 separate evaluations concluded that point-of-use (or, in the case of dispensers, point-of-source) water quality interventions appear to be highly effective -- and indeed, more effective than water supply or source treatment in reducing diarrhea -- but that this is very sensitive to the ability of the program to sustain high rates of product adoption. Obviously, a product cannot provide health benefits if people don’t use it. Another systematic review of the evidence showed that there are reductions of up to 40% of childhood diarrhea among people using the product.
Are People Actually Using Chlorine Dispensers?
The case for cost-effective impacts for dispensers rests not only on the potential for health impact. People actually have to use water treatment products if they are to be effective. The sustained use of dispensers has been documented via a rigorous randomized controlled trial (PDF) in which adoption held at about 50% for three years in the treatment group assigned to dispensers. We continue to see average adoption rates over 40% in areas where baseline water treatment with chlorine is less than 10%. For anyone in the WASH field, these are impressive rates. Adoption of chlorine at the point of service is high because it is cheap, convenient, salient, and public.
Dispensers are Sustainable and Cost-Effective
Chlorine dispensers are inexpensive, costing less than $0.50 per person per year at scale. This is considerably lower than the large infrastructure programs that may not be sufficiently invested in over time, and then fall into disuse. The low cost per person has also allowed us explore new financing models, such as using carbon credits. Chlorine reduces the need for boiling water, so dispensers can be financed that way. And because chlorine dispensers are inexpensive to maintain, carbon revenue covers the costs even as the initiative expands to serve 25 million people in 2018.
We believe that evidence and rigorous testing of new development approaches is critical in order to scale what works to reach millions, and are pleased that the global development field is moving in the direction of being more rigorously data-driven and evidence-based.
Editor’s Note: This post was authored by Carmen da Silva Wells, programme officer at IRC. In the lead up to the Fifth WASH Sustainability Forum in the Netherlands at the end of this month, Carmen writes about the increasing recognition of the importance of sustainability among actors in the WASH sector. Referencing a mapping of sustainability tools that IRC’s Triple-S project recently undertook, she highlights one of the key findings: that while there are many tools that have been developed to assess and promote sustainability in the WASH sector, work still remains around how these tools are applied. This post originally appeared on IRC’s blog here.
Registration for next week’s Forum in Amsterdam is full, but if you’re in the area, you can add yourself to the waitlist. And if you’ll be attending the conference and are involved in the WASH sector from a philanthropic angle, join the WASH Grantmakers Network at their orientation dinner before the conference on June 29th. Details on how to RSVP can be found here.
Sustainability is a hot topic in the development sector at large. In the water and sanitation sector, there have been a range of events, partnerships and websites dedicated to collectively recognising, understanding and addressing sustainability challenges. In March this year, for example, the Australian WASH sector organised the 'WASH for everyone, everywhere' conference in Brisbane exploring the topic in light of the post-2015 development agenda.
The Amsterdam Forum will be held on June 30 and July 1. It is the fifth in a series of international WASH sustainability events organised by a coalition of organisations. IRC, Aguaconsult, Global Water Challenge and WASH Advocates have been core driving members behind the WASH Sustainability Forum series. This year's event is also supported by UNICEF, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the World Bank's Water and Sanitation Program.
Exploring sustainability tools
According to Harold Lockwood of Aguaconsult, one of the organisations behind the fifth edition, there is a definite shift in mind-sets since the first one in 2010: "There is a collective recognition, as well as growing momentum and support around moving towards a service delivery approach. We seem to be at a tipping point, where discussions initially focused on why we need to focus on sustainability, but are now moving to the 'how to' part of the equation for different actors.”
The 5th WASH Sustainability Forum aims to move donors, civil society and governments towards application of sustainability principles and tools. One of the significant inputs to the event is a study of WASH sustainability tools conducted by Aguaconsult as part of Sustainable Services at Scale, or Triple-S, an IRC-led initiative. A Triple-S Working Paper, 'Mapping of WASH sustainability tools' contains the findings of the mapping, as well as the outcomes of an online survey looking into demand for sustainability tools and a 2-part webinar series.
The good news is that there are plenty of tools out there for understanding, measuring, or predicting sustainability. The assessment included a review of over 220 tools, and the 25 tools with clear content and methodology for understanding, measuring, or predicting sustainability have been presented as 1-page practical summaries in the Working Paper. Altogether these 25 sustainability tools have been applied 92 times in 52 countries, with most addressing the technical, institutional, and management areas that affect sustainability.
There are also notable gaps, such as tools that can be applied across all stages of the service life-cycle, tools that address sanitation and hygiene interventions and that can be applied to urban or peri-urban areas.
According to Ryan Schweitzer, Claire Grayson and Harold Lockwood, authors of the Working Paper, the emergence of clusters of similar sustainability assessment tools is a positive signal that a new paradigm is emerging in the sector. However, most tools are driven by external development partner organisations. Therefore, one of their key findings is that much more effort needs to be made to align tools with country monitoring systems and sector capacities and to use the data that these tools generate in order to improve services.
This challenge of linking tools with national systems – and indeed showcasing some national government tools – will be one of the core topics at the Forum. Representatives from government, private sector, donors and NGOs will engage in a panel debate to talk about how to improve the application and alignment of tools so that investments in the sector deliver services that last.