To ensure that WASH projects are successful, it’s critical to apply lessons learned from previous work in the field. Yet it can be challenging to track down relevant evaluations from multiple online and offline sources. In an effort to help our audience make better use of all of the research and knowledge accumulated in the sector, we’ve compiled a list of 20 online evaluation databases that house WASH-related evaluation reports. Some of these databases have a handful of WASH reports, while others have hundreds of reports available.
Take a look and if there’s anything we missed, leave us a note in the comments section below.
The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation has announced a search for a senior program officer for its International Program/Safe Water Initiative. The person selected for this position will provide leadership in international grantmaking activities and projects and will have primary responsibility for the Foundation’s Safe Water initiative. This person is a key member of the international program team and reports to the director, International Programs.
The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation works to improve the well-being of the ultra poor in targeted developing countries by supporting sustainable access to safe water. The Foundation focuses its grantmaking on the rural poor in regions of Africa, Mexico, and India with low water access and high incidence of water-related diseases. Over the past two decades the Foundation has delivered more than $90 million in grant funds to provide more than 2 million people with WASH services in Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Niger, and water-stressed regions of India and Mexico.
Candidate requirements include:
- graduate degree in public health, public policy, social welfare, or a related field;
- demonstrated expertise and work experience in international water-related issues at program, research, and public policy levels;
- familiarity with water, sanitation, and hygiene policy at global, federal, state, and local levels;
- experience in strategic planning and implementation, and in coordinating public/private efforts for long-term, systemic social impact; and
- a minimum of 10 years of relevant experience in grantmaking and/or program development/management.
A passion for, and a commitment to, the Foundation's mission and international program priority areas are essential. Candidates must be legally authorized to work in the United States.
Editor’s Note:This guest blog was authored by Dr. Kerstin Danert, water and sanitation specialist at the Swiss-based Skat Foundation. Kerstin discusses country-led monitoring and why it’s important for developing country governments to lead the WASH monitoring process. An online community is being formed around country-led monitoring efforts. If you’d like to learn more about it, you may contact email@example.com.
In April 2013, I had the privilege of facilitating six sessions on country-led monitoring at the Monitoring Sustainable WASH Service Delivery Symposium in Addis Ababa. This blog is a reflection on the papers, presentations, and discussions from that event.
International statements such as the Paris Declaration, the Busan Partnership, and the New Deal for Fragile States call for country-led development. The statements also promote results-based development and highlight the importance of monitoring — specifically monitoring that is country-led.
Monitoring refers to an ongoing process by which stakeholders obtain regular feedback on the progress being made towards goals and objectives. Country-led means that the country, rather than external actors, leads the monitoring process. Institutional and individual capacity needs should be developed gradually, and as necessary, depending on what is needed.
I would argue that many rural water supply projects, whether large or small, whether short or longer-term undertake very little monitoring at all. Progress may be checked and expenditure may be compared with outputs. A report will be written for the funders — who are often very far from where the work is taking place. Monitoring ends there. In parallel, national statistics offices monitor poverty changes. Water ministries may or may not monitor systematically. There is often very little interaction between these.
Now is this a problem?
I think that it is a major problem. Firstly, for a country to make progress, for example towards safe drinking water for all, it needs to learn along the way. If good information — about the successes and challenges and about what works and what does not — remains fragmented in the hands of countless organizations, it is very hard for the country as a whole to learn. Secondly, if there is no reliable feedback about progress to political leaders and rural citizens, accountability is undermined. Democracy is undermined. Governance is undermined. Joint action is difficult.
Hope on the horizon
Fortunately the growing number of Joint Sector Reviews, which bring together a diverse range of stakeholders to reflect on progress, signals winds of change. And gradually governments, together with development partners, are trying to define what to monitor, by whom, and with what means. This may even be taking place in the country that you are working in.
The sheer cost of visiting distant and often hard to reach rural dwellers is a major barrier to understanding their needs, and reflecting on how lives can be improved as a whole. External organizations often focus on one particular group or village, reporting on what has been achieved to their funders. In parallel, local governments are generally massively under-resourced and struggle to monitor and follow up with communities once an intervention is completed.
Better understanding — stronger partnerships
Every external organization working in rural water supplies should take some time to truly understand the wider context in which they work. And they should try to engage with country institutions in a meaningful and constructive way. This means listening and talking to both local and national governments; understanding their strengths and challenges; finding ways to plan together; and being highly transparent. It may require several attempts. On the flip side, governments and other country institutions, such as religious bodies, should try to foster strong partnerships with external organizations, ensuring that all are moving in the same direction.
Often funding agencies and non-government organisations do not trust developing country governments. In addition, they report and account to their funders, bypassing country governments completely. One may consider whether this is acceptable or not, but it certainly does not enable real partnership.
Joint monitoring as a stepping stone
Finding clever ways to monitor together provides a stepping stone towards stronger partnerships. At least that is what we can learn from innovations taking place in Malawi. Here an external NGO has been explicitly working with local governments to catalyze data collection, analysis, and use of the information in planning. The collaborations have widened to join up with national government. In Uganda, the Water and Environment Sector Performance Measurement process brings diverse stakeholders together to reflect on progress for the country as a whole.
There are other interesting examples out there. If you know of any, please share them in the comments section below.
This month, the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) released the Progress on Sanitation and Drinking-Water: 2013 Update, an in-depth analysis of trends in global access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation.
According to JMP’s findings, almost 1.9 billion people have gained access to an improved sanitation facility since 1990, yet fifteen percent of the world population was still practicing open defecation in 2011.
The report calls for a bigger push to meet the 2015 Millennial Development Goal (MDG) to halve the proportion of the 1990 population without access to improved sanitation. “There is an urgent need to ensure all the necessary pieces are in place — political commitment, funding, leadership — so the world can accelerate progress and reach the Millennium Development Goal sanitation target,” stated Dr. Maria Neira, WHO director for public health and environment.
The report additionally emphasizes ending open defecation by 2025. Findings highlight the success of piped drinking water in improving water access, and assess the connection between intermittent service and increased water contamination.
Post-2015 targets and indicators include universal hand-washing facilities in the home by 2030.
Read the report and additional key findings. Then, tell us what you think in the comments below.
Editor’s Note: Today marks the launch of USAID’s first water and development strategy. The strategy addresses global WASH needs and how the organization plans to approach water programming with an emphasis on sustainability by improving health outcomes and managing water for agriculture over the next five years. Read the strategy document here and join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #WaterStrategy. In this guest blog, authored by John Oldfield, CEO of WASH Advocates, John examines the USAID strategy closely. A version of this post originally appeared here.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) launches its first-ever five-year water strategy today. We’ve all been waiting a long time for this, so some initial and mostly positive reactions follow.
First of all, congratulations to USAID and its many partners for getting this out the door. Any such strategy involves a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, particularly so for an issue as wide-ranging and multidisciplinary as water challenges across the globe. So congratulations to USAID (Chris Holmes, John Pasch, many others). A great number of nonprofits, Hill allies, and concerned citizens deserve kudos for their involvement and support as well over the past couple of years.
What I like about USAID’s water strategy
- It focuses on safe drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH), and does so in a way that also elevates and institutionalizes Integrated Water Resource Management and water for agriculture. The strategy also strongly positions water as foundational to sustainable progress across many other vital development challenges including health, food, education, HIV, gender equality, and climate change. I also welcome its increased emphasis on sanitation, especially since USAID joined the Sanitation and Water for All Partnership in 2012. “In countries that are off track to meet the [Millennium Development Goal] for sanitation, and where diarrheal disease and under-nutrition are prevalent, Missions must add sanitation as a key element of their water, health, and nutrition activities.” That’s some strong language. Inadequate sanitation — water contaminated with human feces — is what really kills and sickens kids, not simple water scarcity. Those millions of kids are dying because of waterborne illness, not simple thirst, and USAID’s renewed emphasis on sanitation positions the agency to save and improve kids’ lives across the globe.
- The strategy draws much of its philosophy from USAID Forward, the agency’s attempt to transform itself and develop new models for development. The water strategy provides a refreshed vision of what USAID could/should look like in action across the board, with its focus on decentralized decision-making and ownership, local capacity strengthening, behavior change, and stronger monitoring and evaluation. This is perhaps the most important part of the strategy, and will hopefully be a big part of its implementation: the document leans forward into the sort of foreign assistance we should be supporting — less focused on direct service provision, and more focused on strengthening local capacity so that communities and countries will no longer require foreign assistance.
- There are hints in the strategy of stronger monitoring and evaluation, and even language which indicates USAID will do so “beyond the typical USAID Program Cycle and... enable reasonable support to issues that arise post implementation.” This is good news, and I am all ears as to how this will be implemented. I know Susan Davis, IRC, SustainableWASH.org, WASH Advocates, Water For People, and many others have ideas.
- Integral to the strategy are a number of smart, flexible approaches to solving development challenges — approaches which also provide USAID much-needed leverage for its work: innovative financing (e.g. through USAID’s Development Credit Authority), policy reform, strengthening enabling environments, strengthening and building local capacity (e.g. through USAID’s Development Grants Program), and more opportunities for real partnerships like those with Rotary International and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
- Priority countries, selectivity, and focus: the three tiers of countries make sense (with concerns noted below), as do the different levels of involvement envisioned in disparate countries and regions. Fewer countries (again, with concerns noted below) could provide increased opportunities for meaningful impact at scale, up to and including 100% coverage of WASH within certain discrete geographies (e.g. municipalities, provinces, even countries). This would obviate the debates about how to reach the poorest of the poor, gender focus, outlying farmers, distant huts, and so on. 100% is 100%, as inspired by Water For People’s Everyone Forever.
Perhaps most importantly, this strikes me as a learning strategy, a living document which has the potential to vastly improve USAID’s water programming in ways unforeseen at its launch. One example of something to be learned by the agency is how to differentiate between programming which focuses on first-timeaccess to WASH and that which focuses on improved access, a distinction sometimes lost in D.C. but vitally important in the developing world. Another opportunity is to figure out how to best make sure that projects continue to function as intended long after the program has technically ended.
Areas on which I look forward to continuing to work with USAID
- The numbers are under-ambitious: a five year strategy to get safe drinking water to only 10 million people and sanitation to only 6 million? In FY11 alone, the figures were 3.8 million people (water) and 1.9 million people (sanitation). I fully expect USAID to blow these numbers out of the water, both by providing more services, and by strengthening the capacity of local organizations across the globe to solve their own challenges.
- The strategy does a great job of segmenting its approach into “transformative impact,” “leveraged impact,” and “strategic priority” countries. I get the distinctions, but I remain concerned that there is little in the strategy to prevent the vast majority of resources from going to a small handful of strategic priority countries that may or may not suffer from water and sanitation scarcity. I would have preferred that a clear, specific, and high percentage of funds be explicitly directed to countries and communities where water and sanitation coverage is the lowest in the world, and I look forward to continuing to work with USAID and the Hill on that front. Diplomacy and security concerns often trump development, and the strategy could have leaned further forward into this debate. An added benefit is that a more pro-poor approach to the implementation of the water strategy would more closely align it with the Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act of 2005, which focuses clearly and explicitly on the world’s poorest countries.
- On a related note, I’m all for selectivity and focus leading to a smaller number of program countries for the water strategy. Dissipation is the enemy, but cutting from 62 countries to perhaps a couple dozen countries overnight is drastic, and will leave dozens of WASH-poor countries — with strong enabling environments (viz. “opportunity to succeed”) — high and dry. Country selection based on need and ‘opportunity to succeed’ requires very careful management. And a continuing omission is that, outside of Haiti, no country in the Western Hemisphere is a priority country for the Water for the Poor Act implementation. There are vast pockets of need in Latin America and the Caribbean, and I hope USAID takes this into account.
- With the exception of one key paragraph on page 15, the two Strategic Objectives (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene and Water and Food Security) are inadequately linked. I would have liked to see the nexus of water, sanitation, and nutrition/food security highlighted. The problem is clear: repeated bouts of waterborne diarrheal disease lead to physical stunting and poor cognitive development of kids all around Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The solution is more integrated programming: making sure that children and families have safe drinking water with which to consume their food so that it is properly digested. I know USAID understands this and am surprised this linkage is not more prominent in the strategy. There are other solutions which would tackle concomitantly both Strategic Objectives (rainwater harvesting comes to mind) which aren’t included at all.
Once the strategy is formally launched, USAID and its many partners across the U.S. and the globe have five years to make this work. The implementation phase of the strategy will build on many of the successes outlined above, and provide further guidance on the strategy’s shortcomings. The implementation of this strategy needs to closely align with the Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act of 2005 and maintain and increase USAID’s focus on its core mission, “the eradication of extreme poverty and its most devastating corollaries, including widespread hunger and preventable child death.”
Shortly after the strategy is launched, we can expect implementation guidance to better explain how to implement projects aligned with the strategy. That implementation guidance will very much color how the strategy will roll out over the coming years, the number of lives it will positively impact, and the return the U.S. taxpayer gets on his/her dollar.
I intend to make sure that the right people in both developed and developing countries are aware and supportive, to the extent possible, of this strategy, and are positioned as allies for USAID as it works through the next five years. I envision better donor coordination, and I envision increased demand and supply for water assistance across the globe. I envision USAID reaching out to its philanthropic partners to leverage the taxpayer dollar, and I see millions of lives saved and improved.
Congratulations again to USAID — looking forward to the implementation phase.
The Rural Water Supply Network Equity and Inclusion Group invites you to learn about the new training materials, Equity and Inclusion in WASH, developed by the Water, Engineering, and Development Centre (WEDC) at Loughborough University and WaterAid. The training materials aim to provide WASH practitioners with a framework rooted in the social model of disability to help them address problems faced by the most disadvantaged in accessing WASH services. Field-tested in Africa and Asia, the framework encompasses exclusion of all kinds and is useful in creating alliances with groups working in other issue areas, such as gender, health, and ageing.
Wednesday, May 8th (9AM – 10:30AM EDT)
During the free webinar, “Removing Barriers to WASH,” WEDC research associate, Hazel Jones, will:
- Showcase the training materials
- Explain the use cases
- Present case studies of where and how they have been put into practice
- Answer questions and solicit feedback on the materials
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 blog is authored by Jim Chu, CEO of dloHaiti, a for-profit, investor-led initiative to provide cleaner and more affordable drinking water for underserved Haitians. Named after the Haitian Creole word for water, dloHaiti recently earned a top distinction from Imagine H2O — a global business plan competition and accelerator for water startups. In this blog, Jim discusses the merits of market-based approaches to WASH solutions.
Invariably, we are shown scenes of handpumps in poor villages in Africa or Latin America and happy children drinking water. We instinctively reach for our checkbooks, ready to fund worthy WASH projects that change people’s lives for the better.
When statistics later reveal that most charity-driven WASH projects fail or that the majority of the handpumps in those pictures stop functioning within a few years, most of us usually don’t pay attention. (According to a 2007 UNICEF study, 40% of the handpumps in Africa no longer function and most handpumps have a functional life of 3-5 years.) We like to believe that if we provide enough money — or the right technology or more equipment — we can solve most of the issues of the poor in developing countries. For many charitable projects, especially in WASH, this is a mistaken belief.
Sustainable water and sanitation infrastructure — whether it’s a large water treatment center, a network of pipes, or just a community handpump — requires the right institutions to make it work long-term. Whether you call it “capital asset management,” “community-managed systems,” or just “sustainability,” it means that the recurring income, technical skills, supply chain support, and the right financial incentives need to be in place to keep things working. For many donor-funded, NGO-driven projects, this is an important aspect that’s missing.
However, there are already well-established institutions in almost every country that can provide sustainability: the government and the private sector. But many fear governments in poor countries. Isn’t it their failure to provide basic services to its citizens that is the root of the problem? Who wants to give money to governments whose leaders will just shift it to an overseas bank account? Even more, many fear private markets and business in particular. Providing water shouldn’t be about making money. Water is a basic human right, after all, so shouldn’t it be free?
This line of thinking leads to a situation similar to that in Haiti, where I’ve been working in WASH since 2010. The government is starved of funds to drive any meaningful change, much less multi-billion dollar projects. The private sector thus provides much of the services for potable water to the population. Unfortunately, their model relies on water trucking and is wasteful, dirty, and expensive. The Haitian consumer suffers, paying 12 cents per gallon for treated potable water — that’s 80 times more than the average price of municipal water in the U.S. Meanwhile, well-intentioned NGOs put in place programs that are only stopgaps, or they stop working after funding dries up because there is no sustainable capital asset management model in place. Worse, their efforts can put well-run local water providers out of business. I call Haiti a WASH equipment graveyard; I’ve seen enough non-functioning and abandoned water systems in Haiti to lose all hope — and I confess that I’ve contributed to some of that myself.
Successful WASH projects need to have a clear strategy for ensuring that the right institutions, resources, and incentives stay in place to keep it self-perpetuating — or even expanding — once philanthropic funding ends. Governments clearly have a strong role to play, and the endgame is strengthening — and cleaning up — their capacity to properly regulate and eventually execute a comprehensive WASH strategy for their populations. NGOs cannot replace the long-term role of the government.
Philanthropic capital could also do more to leverage the private sector to achieve social goals. An impactful role for donors is to facilitate innovations that businesses can then implement at scale. Donors can also support entrepreneurs who are trying to solve hard social problems by creating better, cheaper products and services that serve the basic needs of the poor.
So what’s standing in the way of applying more market-driven approaches in philanthropy? Some of the barriers to a productive business-philanthropic partnership are cultural. Whether it’s about risk-taking, understanding markets, or views on profit, a bar conversation between a Doctors Without Borders volunteer and a marketing manager at Apple has a good chance it will end in tears. But businesses should not be seen just as a source of philanthropic funding or a group to be disdained. The same people who are creating breakthrough consumer products or taking big risks to innovate for profit could be spending their time figuring out the best market-driven ways to lower the cost of water in Haiti.
Ultimately, we need more entrepreneurs who are willing to build new companies that provide financially sustainable solutions to the world’s water challenges. Imagine H2O, a global conduit for water entrepreneurship and innovation, is leading the effort to identify and support promising water startups. The organization’s business plan competition and accelerator program is a powerful path-to-market opportunity for entrepreneurs entering the water sector.
My call to action — whether you are a donor, MBA graduate, or NGO volunteer —is to get business and people in business more involved in what they do best — innovating — to improve the lives of so many at the bottom of the pyramid.
Editor’s Note: This guest post was authored by Thalif Deen for the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency. Thalif reports on the role of water and sanitation in the United Nation’s formulation of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and differing insights into what’s needed to make WASH delivery sustainable. A version of this article originally appeared here.
When the General Assembly unanimously adopted the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) back in 2000, water and sanitation were reduced to a subtext — never a stand-alone goal compared with poverty and hunger alleviation.
Now, as the United Nations begins the process of formulating a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for its post-2015 agenda, there is a campaign to underscore the importance of water and sanitation, so that the world body will get it right the second time around.
Ambassador Csaba Korosi of Hungary, whose government will host an international water summit in the capital of Budapest in October, says, “Sustainable development goals for water should be designed in order to avoid the looming global water crisis.”
Speaking to reporters last week, Hungary’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations said water resources have remained virtually unchanged for nearly 1,000 years.
“But the number of users have since increased by about 8,000 times,” he said.
With global food production projected to increase 80 percent by 2030 — and with 70 percent of water consumption flowing into the agricultural sector — Korosi said 2.5 billion people will very soon live in areas of water scarcity.
Addressing the Special Thematic Session of the General Assembly on Water and Disasters last week, Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson was blunt: “We must address the global disgrace of thousands of people who die every day in silent emergencies caused by dirty water and poor sanitation.”
The theme of the Budapest water summit, scheduled for early October, will be “The Role of Water and Sanitation in the Global Sustainable Development Agenda.”
The summit will be preceded by a High-Level International Conference on Water Cooperation in Tajikistan in August and World Water Week sponsored by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) in Sweden in September, plus several regional summits and conferences in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
The meetings take place at a time when the General Assembly has declared 2013 the International Year of Water Cooperation — and even as the United Nations commemorated World Water Day on March 22.
Torgny Holmgren, SIWI’s executive director, told IPS that in a survey of U.N. member states on priority areas for post-2015 goals, food, water and energy were “a distinct top trio”.
For a second year in a row, he said, the water supply crisis was also among the top three global risks in the yearly survey by World Economic Forum in Switzerland.
“We are also seeing how water issues are being prioritised by actors outside of the traditional water community, most significantly from the food and energy sectors,” said Holmgren, a former ambassador and head of the Department of Development Policy at the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Amidst all this, he said, there is significant talking and thinking going on to develop new ambitions that will support the movement towards a sustainable and desirable world for all the so-called post-2015 development agenda.
“I am optimistic that the newfound awareness about the importance of water will be converted into far-reaching goals and targets on water as a resource, as a right and as a service,” said Holmgren.
John Sauer, head of external relations at Water For People, told IPS the United Nations took an important step to make water and sanitation a human right through a General Assembly resolution (64/292) in 2010.
Despite this effort, he said, its work to ensure lasting and affordable water and sanitation service delivery must evolve and innovate to meet the immensity of this challenge.
“As the U.N. shifts attention to the post MDG goal of universal coverage, monitoring should shift to ongoing service delivery,” he said.
This is critical to prevent the large number of projects that presently fail, Sauer noted.
“This means looking beyond projects funded, and beneficiaries reached, and instead looking at systematic capacity building within government, civil society and the private sector institutions. This also means creating stronger partnerships,” he said.
“If the U.N. could better demonstrate their impact, for example, by using indicators to show capacity built, this would be progress in the right direction.”
Together with non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the U.N. must rise to the occasion and increase transparency to reveal the true impact of their operations, he added.
Asked about the role of international organisations in resolving the impending global water crisis, Richard Greenly, president of Water4, had a different take.
He told IPS that organisations like the U.N. will always have little to no effect on the growing crisis in water and sanitation.
“But it is not for lack of very good intentions or much effort,” he added. “The fact is, we as a civilisation cannot give or grant another country into prosperity and health.”
It has never worked in the history of the world and it will not ever work in the water and sanitation crisis, he added. Every developed country paid for their own water development by developing water businesses, he argued.
“Commerce is the way out of poverty and although the U.N. is well-meaning, sustainable water development must be put in the hands of local citizens to solve their own water issues.”
What these people desperately need from the U.N. is the opportunity to develop their own water resources, he added.
Rather than a 10,000 dollar “donated” borehole or even 10,000 donated boreholes, they need the opportunity to develop their own way out like non-profit organisation Water4, which gives people the opportunity to hand drill water wells as a business for one-tenth the cost of a mechanised rig.
“This will allow rapid sustainable gains in the world water crisis,” Greenly argued.
SIWI’s Holmgren told IPS, “I am also seeing clear indications of both the need for and the openness to new collaborations and ideas.”
He said the post-2015 goals are being discussed as inclusively as our electronic means of communication permits. “We do see more cooperation emerging between governments, the private sector, academia and civil society.”
He said there are even cases where common ground for collaboration for a more water-wise world is found between competitors.
“It is of course most fitting that all these efforts are emerging during the International Year of Water Cooperation, and we at SIWI look forward to contributing even further towards improved cooperation and more concrete outcomes through the World Water Week on the same theme in September in Stockholm,” he added.