In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Sierra Leone and Liberia were devastated by civil wars that lasted until about ten years ago. Coming out of the shadow of these conflicts has been a long and slow process. Lack of infrastructure and basic water and sanitation services continue to plague communities.
Over the last few years, WaterAid has been working with local partners to provide safe water and sanitation in particularly hard-to-reach communities in Liberia and Sierra Leone. We interviewed WaterAid’s team leader for Sierra Leone and Liberia, Apollos Nwafor, as part of our “Flip” chat series. Watch the video to learn about the unique challenges of implementing WASH services in two post-conflict countries.
Figuring out which communities to target is the first step in the implementation process. Apollos describes WaterAid’s use of baseline data to determine which communities are the poorest and decide how to prioritize them. Establishing indicators and metrics from the start is also key to understanding the effectiveness of services.
Apollos further explains that to effect systemic change, WaterAid works with governments to strengthen policies, build capacity, and stimulate institutional reform. Emphasizing cross-sectors collaboration, he highlights the many areas that WASH services touch: from health to agriculture to women’s empowerment and livelihoods. To him, WASH services are not just about bringing water to a village, but about eradicating poverty and developing communities.
How does your organization approach funding WASH services? Are there lessons learned you can share about funding WASH services that target marginalized communities? Leave us a note in the comments section.
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
The Guardian hosts a monthly podcast focusing on global development issues. In March, the half hour podcast explored water scarcity issues to mark World Water Day. Some of the questions addressed included: “Can these challenges [climate change, urbanization, and population growth] fuel co-operation rather than competition? What are the main obstacles to delivering and managing water supplies? Are governments doing enough — or too much — to protect resources? Should water supply be privatized? Is water a commodity or a human right?”
The Guardian's environment editor, John Vidal, moderated the conversation. Guest speakers included:
- Dr. Peter Gleick, Leading Water Expert and Founder of the Pacific Institute
- Timeyin Uwejamomere, Technical Support Manager at WaterAid
- Thierry Mallet, Senior Executive and Vice-President of International at Suez Environmental
- Catarina de Albuquerque, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation
Editor’s Note: This guest post was authored by David Winder, CEO of WaterAid America. In it, David discusses WaterAid’s work with communities in Ethiopia, Mozambique, and India to help them improve water and sanitation conditions in innovative and entrepreneurial ways. A version of the story originally appeared here.
The ongoing sustainability of the world's water usage is a hot topic. Not a week goes by without headlines announcing water wars, falling water tables or droughts. Water is a commodity in high demand by competing sectors (industry, agriculture and drinking water) and many people are seeking answers to how we might survive with a finite pool of it.
The ten percent of people worldwide who already live without safe drinking water don't need headlines to know that life without water is near impossible — every day they struggle for survival without access to this most basic of human rights. More often than not, they are without basic sanitation facilities, also causing disease and death.
But sparks of entrepreneurial spirit are shining brightly through the doom and gloom surrounding the global water and sanitation crisis, even in the most remote corners of the planet. Some of the world's poorest communities are inspiring us with their willingness and commitment to develop low-cost, innovative solutions to their water and sanitation problems. In many cases, these same solutions are bringing about even wider benefits for the communities involved, including improved health, agricultural and business opportunities.
Human waste can be a massive health risk — without proper sanitation facilities, diarrheal diseases such as typhoid and cholera are prevalent. In fact 2,000 children die every day from water-related diseases. But WaterAid is finding success working with communities willing to experiment with turning their human waste into a source of income and increased crop yields.
Urban slums are notorious for a lack of garbage disposal and sewerage systems, leaving residents vulnerable to poor health. But in the slums just outside of Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, a women's collective is transforming the health and well-being of their community. With a little help and encouragement from WaterAid, this group of enterprising women runs a café, selling food cooked with biogas that is fueled by methane from human and other waste. In addition to offering healthy meals, community members are encouraged to take advantage of the café's toilets and shower facilities, which customers can use for a small fee. The café offers vital sanitation services for the community, and provides the women with a source of income and social standing.
The café has also spurred on other entrepreneurial activity. Twenty-four year-old Tigist started up her own garbage removal service, which has not only cleaned up her area and helps prevent disease, but empowered her to demand wages equal to those paid to men in her community. She's now earning ten times more than she was before, and is hiring four staff to help her collect the garbage. The garbage is then given to the café to use to help produce the biogas to fuel the kitchen.
In Niassa province in Mozambique, WaterAid is working with communities to turn their human waste into safe, renewable and highly effective compost. This compost is proving invaluable to otherwise poor farmers, who are now reaping the benefits of more robust harvests — and incomes. Known as ecological sanitation (EcoSan) or composting latrines, each toilet has twin pits. While one is in use, the other is sealed, and the contents, which are mixed with dirt and ash, decompose into rich compost that can then be dug out and used on fields.
Trials have shown that the composting latrines are significantly boosting crop yields. In one district in Niassa, the community saw unusually high rainfall, causing traditionally planted crops to rot. However, crops planted in soil mixed with the contents of EcoSan toilets thrived. The difference was startling. In fact, the maize plants grown with compost from the latrines towered over neighboring plants and fruit trees planted with the compost were the only ones laden with fruit. In another area of the province facing drought, farmers harvested a huge tobacco crop from a field planted with EcoSan compost, while nearby fields failed to sprout.
Similar innovations are revolutionizing poor people's access to water and helping them to earn a living. In India, where many water pumps lie disused due to ill-repair, WaterAid and local partner organizations have helped budding entrepreneurs to start pump and well repair businesses. These businesses ensure the sustainability of water supplies, while at the same time providing jobs to community members.
The mechanic training program in the district of Mahoba in Uttar Pradesh is a perfect example of this. In an area where 4,000 water pumps lie broken, WaterAid has worked with local people to set up a storefront and buy tools, bikes and water quality testing equipment. After training people from the community to become mechanics, including seven women, they started repairing pumps for any village willing to pay.
It worked. The mechanics have fixed over 300 pumps: pumps that help prevent disease, and that supply 30,000 people with fresh, clean water. What's more, the female mechanics have earned the respect of community members and feel empowered.
Such entrepreneurship is driving improvements in women's rights, prosperity, health and nutrition. Although small, these innovative water and sanitation projects are inspiring. In the face of adversity, communities are showing that a little creativity and the determined will to work hard to control their own destiny go a long way in helping escape the grips of poverty and providing a more secure future for their children.
Editor’s Note: This post was authored by David Winder, chief executive of WaterAid USA. David talks about WaterAid’s work with local NGOs in Mozambique to make water and sanitation services affordable to poor, urban populations through innovative financing models. A version of this story originally appeared here.
Having just returned to New York from Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, I'm reminded how lucky we are in this city to have reliable water and sanitation services. Thanks to investment in water pipes and sewers in the 19th century, diarrheal diseases that ran rife through our city a few generations ago have all but been eliminated, and we take it for granted that safe drinking water is available at the turn of a tap.
As in many other large cities across the developing world, Maputo is facing rapid growth of low income settlements and major challenges in providing the population with access to safe water and sanitation. The latest data (UNICEF/WHO 2012) show that only 77 percent of Mozambique's urban population has access to improved water sources. The situation is even grimmer when it comes to sanitation, with only 38 percent of the urban population having access to safe sanitation.
The country has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world with 86,000 children dying before their first birthdays every year. Diarrhea is one of the leading causes of child deaths and 44 percent of children under five are undernourished.
Increased investment in providing access to safe water and improved sanitation dramatically impacts child survival. In low-income areas of cities like Maputo, that is often a complex task. High population density, transient populations, and poor quality housing are part of the problem and present challenges to those striving to improve water and sanitation infrastructure.
Often in low-income urban neighborhoods the provision of piped water to homes is simply too expensive for ordinary families to afford. One way of tackling that problem is by helping local residents band together and negotiate affordable payment plans with water service providers with the help of local NGOs.
Last week I visited the community of Costa do Sol on the northern periphery of Maputo and found that a community water users' association, ACODECOS, established with the help of WaterAid and local partner organization ESTAMOS had achieved great success in expanding the number of household water connections over a five year period, with very positive results for the health of the community, particularly children. Data given to us by the Ministry of Health showed that the number of cholera cases had dropped from 371 in 2003/4 to only 21 in 2008/9.
One reason why this was achieved was ACODECOS' successful negotiation of a reduction in the household connection fee to $50 (from Aguas de Mozambique, a private company receiving 75 percent of its investment from government) that can be paid in installments.
Local resident Francesca Nhantos (shown in the photo at the top) told me that having piped water available in the home had transformed her life. "Before we had the standpipe, a water truck came to the village once a week and we had to pay 5-7 meticais (20 cents) for 20 liters of water and we weren't sure how clean it was so we had to boil it."
As Arminda told me, other changes, such as the installation of latrines, hygiene education, the provision of drinking water and toilets in schools and the disposal of solid waste, have also helped to dramatically improve the health of the community.
With the absence of piped sewerage in densely populated low-income urban communities, disposal of fecal sludge from latrines also poses a major challenge. Last week, I visited a pilot project managed by Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP), an organization working closely with WaterAid. This project shows how offering loans to small businesses can help with the development of affordable waste management services.
Paulo Biane Vaiene from the Maputo community of Maxaquene is one such entrepreneur benefiting from financial assistance. His small enterprise UGSM Vaiene started emptying small septic tanks using a small pump and tank called a "gulper" that was pulled by a donkey. With a loan from WSUP, he was able to buy a truck that has allowed him to cover more clients and expand his radius of operations. Business is thriving, more households can now take advantage of his services, which cost around $20 and are required twice a year, and public health is safeguarded by the safe disposal of the waste.
Just as Paulino has demonstrated that fecal sludge removal can be a profitable business, there are opportunities to develop small businesses selling a selection of toilet designs to families. A range of viable technologies has been developed, but business models need to be developed with finance plans to ensure that options are affordable to all families regardless of income. We found that all needed construction skills exist in the communities, so the focus needs to be on ensuring these skilled laborers are able to find employment that not only helps their families out of poverty but also helps communities stay healthy and meet their basic needs.
These experiences show how innovative financing models can impact on health in low-income urban communities. When water connection charges are not only reduced but split into installments, poor families can afford to get linked to the municipal piped water system, and the support of small private service providers ensures families have access to effective and affordable fecal sludge removal services until the sewage network can be expanded.
These examples also show the importance of linking larger systems — such as pipes for the water utility or waste management and sewage systems — with community and household-based needs and approaches. Reducing poverty and protecting people's health and well-being requires a combination of efforts, from local capacity building and small business development to larger-scale infrastructure development. I was inspired by the efforts being made by NGOs and community-based organizations to build healthy communities. The skills, the demand, and the creativity are there. We have so many opportunities now to make the most of them.
Global banking giant HSBC has announced a five-year, $100 million partnership with WaterAid, WWF, and the Earthwatch Institute to improve sanitation and access to safe water for more than a million people, tackle water risks in the world's major river basins, and raise awareness about the global water challenge.
The launch of the HSBC Water Program coincides with the release of a report by Frontier Economics, which found that every $1 invested in water infrastructure can deliver nearly $5 in economic benefits over the long term, in addition to social and environmental benefits. Frontier estimates that in some African countries the investment required to secure universal access to water would be paid back within three years.
Potential annual economic gain from improved access
to water and sanitation as a percentage of GDP
The HSBC Water Program will enable the three nonprofit organizations to carry out projects in both developed and emerging markets. For example, WWF will work with more than a thousand businesses and over a hundred thousand fishers and farmers in five river basin areas in Asia, East Africa, and South America to promote the more efficient use of water in their practices. With local conservation partners, Earthwatch will set up research projects to address urban water management issues in more than twenty cities worldwide. WaterAid will work to help 1.1 million people in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Ghana gain access to safe water and to help improve hygiene and sanitation for another 1.9 million people.
"The HSBC Water Program will benefit communities in need, and enable economies to prosper," said HSBC group chairman Douglas Flint. "The people of the world's major river basins currently account for about a tenth of world GDP, but by the middle of the century they could account for a quarter. Yet these are also precisely the same places where water resources are set to come under strain. This has the potential to straitjacket growth, at the same time as causing untold harm to local communities."
Source: “HSBC Invests $100m in Water Projects to Improve Lives and Boost Economic Development.” HSBC Group Press Release 6/13/12.
For additional WASH-related philanthropy news, see the news feed on WASHfunders.org.
Editor’s Note: This post was authored by Libby Plumb, senior communications advisor for WaterAid in America. A version of it originally appeared here. In a previous post in honor of International Women’s Day, Libby reflected on the role of women in the WASH crisis through photos.
Joshua Briemberg, WaterAid's Country Representative in Nicaragua, discusses the launch of WaterAid’s Nicaragua program, the organization's first foray into Latin America, and outlines future plans for helping some of the country's poorest, least accessible and largely indigenous communities gain access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene.
Why did WaterAid decide to work in Nicaragua?
Nicaragua is considered the second poorest country in the region after Haiti with low levels of access to education, healthcare, water and sanitation, especially amongst the indigenous population in rural areas.
In addition to almost 20 years of war and armed conflict, Nicaragua has suffered a succession of debilitating disasters including a large earthquake in 1972 and hugely destructive hurricanes in 1988, 1998 and again in 2008, which damaged the economy and social fabric. Where communities live without access to safe water and sanitation, water-related diseases are exacting a huge toll on families' health, keeping children out of school and stifling chances of economic growth.
Which area of the country are you working in?
We work in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region on the Caribbean Coast. It is a remote, isolated region that is hard to access — only one road comes here! The area has been subject to various enclave economies, such as mining, logging, fishing and lobster catching, but most of the wealth leaves the region and the majority of people here are very poor. There are many subsistence farmers. Just one in five of the 300,000-strong population has access to safe water and sanitation. Very few organizations have worked in this tropical rainforest region, with most focusing their programs in the northern and central mountainous regions of the country.
Who suffers most from lack of access to water and sanitation?
Infants are the most vulnerable to diarrheal diseases caused by unsafe water and sanitation. I recently visited a community where a three-week-old baby had just died from water-related diseases. It's often hard to tell just how many infants die as many births aren't registered or deaths aren't reported. While access to official healthcare is low, a network of local volunteers has helped to lower infant mortality by distributing oral rehydration salts. However, many children are frequently too ill with water-related diseases to attend school.
The task of water hauling usually falls to women and girls. This exhausting work stops women from doing other activities like agricultural work and causes girls to miss school. They also face the risk of violence while collecting water from isolated riverside locations.
Where do people get their water from?
Typical water sources are surface water supplies like small rivers or creeks, which vary greatly in both quality and quantity on a seasonal basis. During the rainy season the rivers become flooded and full of sediment, so the water is very dirty. Collecting water from raging rivers can also be very dangerous. The water is increasingly contaminated by the expansion of cattle ranching and poor migrant communities living upstream without sanitation facilities.
Some people have set up rudimentary systems to catch rainwater from their roofs during the rainy season. Improving the design of these to make them safer and more effective is one of WaterAid's aims. There are also hand-dug wells, but they suffer from the lack of maintenance and were often poorly constructed; many dry up in the dry season.
What has WaterAid done to date?
Our priority to start with has been to help communities to improve or repair existing water points that are unsafe or broken. We have been training communities to install, maintain and repair rope pumps, a simple type of water pump that although based on an ancient concept was first reintroduced and modernized in Nicaragua and is now in use in many WaterAid programs around the globe. In this region of Nicaragua there is not a ready source of spare parts or knowledge about the pumps, so we are helping to establish robust management and maintenance systems.
Through the vocational training of pump mechanics we're setting up people with skills they can use professionally, so as well as securing people's access to safe water, we're giving local business initiatives a boost.
How will WaterAid help communities get water?
Together with active community participation we will map the water and sanitation needs so we know where to prioritize our assistance. We will develop prototype models of low cost and accepted water technologies — rainwater harvesting systems, hand-dug wells, rope pumps, claypot filters — and help communities with the construction work as well as setting up long-term maintenance plans. Sustainability of our work is a key concern — we are considering how to make technologies more resilient to threats such as natural disasters and vandalism.
Tell us about WaterAid's sanitation work.
We will help families to build what are locally known as eco-toilets. They are pour-flush toilets integrated into the home that are connected to septic tanks and infiltration fields. It's important to us that the toilets are in people's homes as this means that people less able to leave the home, such as the elderly or people with disabilities, will be able to benefit.
In the town of Puerto Cabezas (also known as Bilwi) we are planning to market a range of sanitation options, with finance offered through a micro-credit scheme, so that residents can pay back the costs of their new toilets in installments over time.
As well as improving health, sanitation gives people dignity and pride in their surroundings. Our sanitation programs in schools will help create healthier and more pleasant environments there, which should encourage children to attend school more often.
Editor’s Note: We are pleased to announce that the WASHfunders.org blog will begin featuring regular guest contributions. Guest bloggers will include foundation and NGO leaders, consultants and researchers, as well as others working in the WASH sector who want to share their stories, strategies, and lessons learned. We encourage you to check back often or subscribe for e-mail updates.
Coinciding with International Women’s Day, this post reflects on and celebrates the role of women in the WASH crisis through photos. It is authored by Libby Plumb, senior communications advisor for WaterAid in America. She has worked for WaterAid for 13 years, undertaking a variety of roles for the UK and US offices and visiting many of WaterAid’s country programs over this time. Libby has a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from the University of Oxford.
Reflecting on International Women’s Day today, March 8th, prompts us to ask: to what extent is the global water and sanitation crisis a women’s issue? Women bear the brunt of water collection, suffer the most from lack of sanitation access and the resulting indignities, and, as primary caregivers, are impacted the most when children fall sick with water-related diseases. Fully involving women in community water and sanitation programs, as WaterAid does, ensures the programs meet their needs. It also helps equip women with the skills and confidence they need to tackle other development challenges in their communities.
Credit: WaterAid / Eva-Lotta Jansson
The indignity of lacking somewhere private to go to the bathroom is particularly felt by women. In many cultures women have to wait until it is dark to relieve themselves, causing discomfort and sometimes illness. It can also expose women to the risk of both sexual harassment and animal attacks. In Sandimhia Renato’s village in Mozambique, women have to cross an unstable bridge to go to the toilet. Some have drowned crossing in the dark or at high tide.
Credit: WaterAid / Abir Abdullah
The world’s poorest communities are generally male-dominated so extra effort has to be taken to ensure women are equally included in all stages of water and sanitation programs, including planning, construction, and decision-making. A lack of education for women in developing countries means that very few women can be decision-makers, yet enabling women’s voices to be heard is a crucial step in development. Above, women are pictured making latrine slabs for a WaterAid sanitation program in Bangladesh.
Credit: WaterAid / Jon Spaull
WaterAid helps to elevate women’s status in society by giving them positions of responsibility in the water committees established to manage the new water supplies. Zeinabu Kayisi, chairperson of a village water committee in the Salima District of Malawi, told us: “Being able to maintain the pump myself makes me feel independent and strong!’’
Credit: WaterAid / Libby Plumb
WaterAid often chooses women to become hygiene educators. Zubeyda Gudeta, pictured above helping women wash their hands before eating at a wedding reception, works as a hygiene promoter for WaterAid in the Oromia region of Ethiopia. She told us: “There has been a great change since the WaterAid project. Before this, some people didn’t wash their things like food containers. Now they wash their pots and plates three times. Now, people are healthier in this area than in other areas.”
Credit: WaterAid / Caroline Irby
A safe water source makes everyday household tasks much easier. More importantly, mothers and expectant mothers, like Sila Adeke from the Katakwi District of Uganda, no longer fear for the health of their children. “The borehole is much closer so I can fetch more water than before. Washing clothes is so easy now and I can use a whole jerry can for washing plates. The rate of illness is much lower. With this new source my child will grow up healthy and I am not concerned that it will grow sick.”
Credit: WaterAid / Jon Spaull
The privacy that comes with safe, clean bathrooms is especially important for women with disabilities for whom leaving the house is more challenging. Suffering from impaired vision, Rukhmani Devi from India is pleased her family now has a private latrine: “When I had my eye operation [for cataracts], I realized just how convenient having a latrine is, as before I would have had to go to the fields. Life is good now, as before people would be able to see us using the fields and we weren’t able to relax—instead we were always alert and worried.”
Credit: WaterAid / Susan Porter
When women are freed from having to spend hours each day collecting water, they have more time available for other activities that can help them to escape poverty. Mary Chukle from Takkas in Nigeria credits the new water supply with enabling her to open a business: “Before we got the well, we had to trek down to the river with the children and it took up to two hours. Because of the time I save now from getting water the old way, I was able to work more and apply for a loan to buy a small village shop which I now run.”