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.
The grant will enable the UK-based NGO to repair more than two hundred and fifty non-functioning water points in the four countries, address water quality issues, and train people in local communities to use technologies such as GPS and cellphones to monitor groundwater levels and maintain clean water supplies on a year-round basis.
The grant also will be used to ensure that health facilities in trachoma-endemic portions of Mali are equipped with basic water infrastructure. Trachoma is an infectious disease caused by poor hygiene and sanitation that can cause blindness.
When people fall ill in rural areas of West Africa, health facilities near their homes often lack access to clean water. The recent Ebola outbreak in the region highlighted the hidden crisis faced by health workers and patients and the urgent need to address lack of clean water in the region.
"We look forward to working with WaterAid on this innovative and sustainable clean water program in West Africa," said Steven M. Hilton, chairman, president, and CEO of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. "Our partnership will reach some of the most vulnerable people in the world, working with local communities to create long-term technological solutions for safe, clean drinking water."
"Hilton Foundation Gives $6.9 Million to Sustainable Water Programs in West Africa." WaterAid Press Release 03/04/2015.
Imagine a day in which your access to clean, drinkable water ceased and you could not shower or bathe properly and you had no one to help you. For more than 783 million people around the world, that day was today. In 2015, more than 2.5 billion people will also lack access to basic sanitation in the developing world.
A new initiative led by Nevada’s Desert Research Institute (DRI) is aiming to dramatically reduce those numbers, focusing specifically on women -- who often bear the brunt of the impact from lack of access to safe water; and in some parts of sub-Saharan Africa walk up to four hours per day, on average, to carry clean water back to their villages and families.
“As part of DRI’s Global Water Knowledge Campaign, this Initiative builds on more than 20 years of water research and training our scientists have done in West Africa,” said Dr. Stephen Wells, DRI President. “By raising support to provide women throughout these developing countries with access to adequate water sources and access to training we will ensure their family’s well-being and allow them more time to contribute to their villages.”
The DRI Sustainable Water Initiative is a unique, international collaboration with WaterAid, Water for People, and World Vision. Collaboratively, these three world renowned organizations currently have water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) programs in more than 41 countries. Since 1981, WaterAid has helped 21.2 million people gain access to safe water. In 2013, Water for People raised more than $14 million to support their “Everyone Forever” campaign, providing water and sanitation services in more than 15 countries. Currently, World Vision’s WASH programs reach one million beneficiaries per year.
“The knowledge and experience of these organizations working together (in the WASH sector) will be transformational for the regions being served,” said Charles Creigh, DRI Foundation Chair. “Through a generous challenge-grant investment from two long-time DRI Foundation leaders this global campaign plans to support DRI faculty and students helping to advance our knowledge of water related issues and improve people’s lives and well-being.”
Dr. Braimah Apambire, who will lead the new Initiative and serves as director of DRI’s Center for International Water and Sustainability, explained that funding will go directly to supporting provision of safe drinking water and basic sanitation; creating and implementing WASH education materials for women and girls in sub-Saharan Africa; training of WASH staff; applied water research; and ensuring that WASH projects are sustainable and scalable in developing countries.
The impact of unsafe water, and inadequate sanitation and hygiene is felt around the world, with both human health and economic implications, Apambire explained.
In places like sub-Saharan Africa a significant percentage of the population is at risk of dying from preventable illnesses, many of which are linked to WASH issues. More than 500,000 children die every year from diarrhea caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation - that's over 1,400 children per day. Diarrhea is the second biggest killer of children under five years old in sub-Saharan Africa.
In economic terms, 5.6 billion productive work days are lost every year due to complications arising from water-related diseases and the burden of fetching water.
Helping to manage and raise awareness for the DRI Sustainable Water Initiative will be Global Impact, a well-known leader in growing global philanthropy. Global Impact works with approximately 450 public and private workplace giving campaigns to generate funding for an alliance of more than 120 international charities. Since 1956, Global Impact has generated more than $1.7 billion to help the world’s most vulnerable people.
“One organization working alone is not enough to make the sustainable difference that is needed in the WASH sector,” said Scott Jackson, President and CEO of Global Impact. “All of these stakeholders working together will help ensure access to clean water, which does more than save a woman’s life – it ensures her future.”
For more information about DRI’s Sustainable Water Initiative visit - https://dri-water.charity.org/
Editor’s Note: This guest post was authored by Libby Plumb, Senior Communications Advisor for WaterAid America, who has recently returned from visiting WaterAid’s water, sanitation and hygiene programs in the slums of Kampala, Uganda.
Mariam is the only child of 22-year-old single mom Rehema. On the way to and from the local spring, near the Rubaga slum in Uganda’s capital city, Kampala, she toddles behind her mother. It’s a journey they make four times a day to bring home enough water for drinking, cooking and washing.
Even little Mariam carries a jerry can of water: while Mom struggles under the weight of two 22 pound (10-liter) yellow jerry cans, Mariam follows behind carrying a bright red 11 pound (five-liter) jerry can – quite a feat for such a young child.
Rehema knows the quality of the spring water is questionable and could be risky for her daughter’s health. Kampala’s poorly constructed pit latrines and a high water table are a lethal combination as feces can easily contaminate the water supply. It’s not just water quality that is an issue. Accessibility is also a major challenge. With hundreds of people relying on the spring for water, crowds build up, with long waits common in the morning and evening when the heat of the sun is not so fierce.
Rehema commented: “It’s very difficult to collect water from there. At 8 or 9 p.m. it is so crowded that it can take more than 30 minutes.”
Tensions often flare at the spring. Alongside women and children collecting water for their own domestic use are water vendors, usually men, who come to the spring to fill four or more jerry cans with water that they attach to bicycles and take to customers who pay for delivery service. Women and children are often pushed out of the way by vendors forcing their way to the front of the line.
The need for safe, affordable, accessible water services in Rubaga is clear, but there are challenges inherent in extending piped water services into low-income neighborhoods.
In other areas of the city where the National Water and Sewerage Company (NWSC) has granted water connections, it is common for landlords to sell water to their tenants for four to eight times the official rate. Poor families who are unable to afford the inflated rate continue to use polluted springs, even where there’s a tap right next to their home.
A pilot program of pre-paid water meters being rolled out by NWSC and donors aims to tackle this problem. The meters are operated by an electronic key, known as a token, that is pre-loaded with credit. Anyone, landlord or tenant, can buy a key and refill it with credit. As water is dispensed, the meter deducts credit from the token at the official rate. In this way, consumers deal directly with NWSC and there is no scope for middlemen to inflate the price. Consumers benefit from safe, affordable water, while NWSC benefits from knowing that by paying upfront, consumers are unable to default on payment of water bills.
The system is not perfect. Vandalism has been known to damage meters, causing them to malfunction. Another concern is whether all tenants, particularly newcomers to the area, are in the know about how to buy and use tokens. But it’s a system that shows promise and offers hope to areas like Rubaga that are still unserved with water.
Farahilh Masane is a resident of the Kawempe Division, where prepaid meters have been installed by Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP), with support and funding from the Coca-Cola Africa Foundation and WaterAid. She told us: “I walk across the road to the prepaid meter because it is cheaper there: 100 Shillings [4 US cents] for four jerry cans. There is a private tap right here but it is too expensive for me: 200 Shillings [8 US cents] per jerry can. Before the meter was installed I collected water from a spring, but so many people near it have pit latrines, the water was contaminated.”
Back in Rubaga, Rehema is hopeful that she will be able to benefit from piped water soon too. “It would change my life to have clean water and live in a better environment.”
The H&M Conscious Foundation, the Stockholm-based philanthropic arm of clothing retailer H&M, has announced grants totaling SEK 180 million (approximately $27.9 million) to three international relief organizations in support of early education initiatives, efforts to improve access to clean water, and initiatives to strengthen women's rights around the world.
The grants include $9.3 million to WaterAid and its local partners in support of efforts to deliver safe water, functioning sanitation, and hygiene education programs to schools in the developing world. In addition to providing immediate and long-term improvements to health and education, the initiative is expected to influence national and international policies related to individuals’ rights to safe water and sanitation.
"WaterAid is honored to team up with the H&M Conscious Foundation to support real, life-long impact for people living in extreme poverty," said WaterAid America CEO David Winder. "When it comes to ensuring that both girls and boys have an equal chance to grow up healthy and reach their greatest potential, safe water, toilets and hygiene education at school can make all the difference in the world. The generous support of the H&M Conscious Foundation will go a long way in helping WaterAid achieve the goal of making safe water and sanitation available to everyone, everywhere by the year 2030."
The foundation also awarded $9.3 million to UNICEF in support of the humanitarian organization's effort to place early childhood development on the global agenda and enable more children to achieve their developmental potential; and $9.3 million to CARE in support of its work to empower women economically and within various relationships that shape their lives. Among other things, CARE will use the funds to organize five regional campaigns to raise awareness about the structural hurdles and myths that prevent women from reaching their potential and provide a hundred thousand women in developing countries with access to tools, knowledge, and financial resources.
"I congratulate the H&M Conscious Foundation for choosing to support programs in three areas that are critical to sustainable development," said Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and a special advisor to the UN secretary-general on the Millennium Development Goals. "The donation can contribute to big breakthroughs in each area."
"H&M Conscious Foundation Supports UNICEF, WaterAid and CARE With SEK 180 Million." H&M Conscious Foundation Press Release 02/11/2014.
"WaterAid and H&M Conscious Foundation Join Forces to Bring Safe Water, Toilets, and Hygiene to Schools." WaterAid Press Release 02/11/2014.
"CARE, H&M Conscious Foundation Announce Global Partnership to Empower Women." CARE Press Release 02/11/2014.
WaterAid America in New York City has announced a three-year, $2 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in support of advocacy efforts on behalf of millions of people living without toilets or sanitation facilities.
The organization will use the grant to support initiatives to increase access to basic sanitation services led by the governments of Ghana, India, and Senegal. In addition, the funds will be used to help ensure that the United States, the world's largest donor country, supports improved accountability and data collection with respect to WASH efforts in those countries and is focused on solutions that highlight the linkages between sanitation and other health efforts, including improved nutrition and ending preventable child deaths.
"Investing in advocacy around toilets and sanitation is one of the smartest, most effective ways we have to combat extreme poverty," said WaterAid America CEO David Winder. "Health, quality of life, and poverty levels are radically impacted when people, especially women and girls, have access to toilets and hygiene education."
According to the World Health Organization, an estimated $220 billion would be returned to the global economy each year if the world were to achieve universal access to sanitation. Development aid for toilets and sanitation, however, is significantly less relative to other development sectors such as health and education.
"The sanitation crisis cannot be solved by any one organization alone," said Lisa Schechtman, WaterAid America's director of policy and advocacy. "WaterAid firmly believes that governments have a responsibility to their citizens to ensure that toilets and sanitation are available to everyone. We look forward to continuing to advocate for change exactly where it’s needed most."
Source: "WaterAid Steps Up Advocacy on Lack of Toilets." WaterAid Press Release 01/09/2014.
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.