March 8 marks International Women's Day (IWD), a day that, for those of us working in the WASH sector, lends a chance to highlight the role women play in global water and sanitation issues. As Libby Plumb noted in her IWD 2012 post, "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."
This year, we're looking back at some of our favorite WASH resources focused on women and girls. For more information about International Women's Day and related resources and events, go to internationalwomensday.com. If you're on Twitter, be sure to follow #IWD2016 for news and updates throughout the day.
This report is a collection of evidence, brief examples highlighting the effect and benefits of placing women at the core of planning, implementation and operations of WASH programs. The experiences also show how women's empowerment and the improvement of water supply, sanitation facilities and hygiene practice are inextricably linked.
From childbirth to education to domestic responsibilities to dignity and safety, access to water and sanitation affect women and girls more than men and boys. This report details recommendations for policy and global practice that will empower women and water-related projects.
This policy brief aims to provide guidance on non-discrimination and equality in the context of access to drinking water and sanitation, with a particular focus on women and girls. It also informs readers on the duty of States and responsibilities of non-State actors.
Menstruation is a natural and routine part of life for healthy girls and women, but in many parts of the world, it is accompanied by shame and fear. Cultural taboos about menstruation and perceptions that women are unclean when they have their periods are barriers to open discussion and societal support. Without education from parents and teachers, girls often begin menarche in isolation, without any understanding of what is happening to their bodies. Fortunately, there is a growing global movement to address these gaps. With increased support, these efforts have the potential to unlock tremendous health and opportunity for girls, women, and communities around the globe.
This report looks at water through the eyes of women, exploring the impacts and potential solutions that enable women to reclaim their time, as well as the roles that water can play in improving women's lives.
Editor's Note: With the SDGs providing the new goals and targets in international development for the next 15 years, NGOs such as WaterAid have undertaken the task of realigning their global strategies to engage with these new objectives. But how will these new words translate into greater water security, sanitation coverage and hygiene education? In this post, Joseph Benson, Strategic Planning and Performance Intern at WaterAid International, discusses how the NGO’s new 2015-2020 Global Strategy indicates multiple shifts for the organisation moving forward into the Global Goal time frame.
With the recently created UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) providing the new goals and targets in international development for the next 15 years, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as WaterAid have undertaken the task of realigning its global strategies to engage with these new objectives.
WaterAid this year released its 2015-2020 Global Strategy, based around four new aims, giving an interesting insight into how the wishes of the international community trickle down into the multi-scalar work of development organisations.
Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) has been greatly promoted over recent years within international governance. The later years of the Millennium Development Goals and the preparation for the post-2015 era witnessed a very intense consultation and discussion process by governments, the UN, NGOs and other stakeholders involved in the WASH sector. WASH is now seen as an integral part of international development discourse. Thanks to this intense consultation and the tireless campaigning of WASH advocates, Goal 6 of the Global Goals states:
But what now? Within this improved environment for WASH promotion and application, how do the organisations involved realign themselves with these new goals and targets? How will these new words translate into greater water security, sanitation coverage and hygiene education?
WaterAid and innovating strategy
A leading campaigner for WASH rights at country, continental and global levels, WaterAid represents an innovative NGO seeking to help those lacking water, sanitation and hygiene. In view of the approaching commitments of the Global Goals, WaterAid created a new Global Strategy in order to parallel their ambitious commitments.
WaterAid will use the 2015-2020 Global Strategy to set out what it wants to achieve in contributing to the ending of WASH poverty, while allowing flexibility for countries to develop their own context-specific strategies. The Global Strategy is being set in the broader context of the Global Goals, which aim to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030.
The image below shows the four new global aims of WaterAid’s new Global Strategy 2009-2015. This second Global Strategy is theorised as a five-year building block strategy with the longer-term goal of 2030 in mind. Released in the same year as the Global Goals, it is a first component of a strategy that will continue in overlapping five-year building blocks as WaterAid’s work continues to evolve.
The Strategy focuses on helping to drive the significant changes necessary to achieve universal access. It marks a shift in emphasis from meeting the needs of individuals to addressing the root causes that prevent access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene. WaterAid will therefore work towards the 2030 goal by tackling barriers to the right to safe water and sanitation through service delivery, influencing governments and empowering communities. To ensure that long-term permanent change occurs, the organisation must focus on the poorest and most marginalised, and work with partners. WASH must be made a priority for everyone.
Dissecting the four aims
The four new aims of the 2015-2020 Global Strategy come with a unique set of challenges and opportunities for WaterAid.
The first aim states how inequalities in access and distribution must be reduced – women, people from lower castes and people with disabilities are most likely to be unable to access water. To reduce inequalities in access, WaterAid will need to provide evidence of their underlying causes and provide solutions. This is especially important since SDG 10 seeks to reduce inequality within and among countries and SDG 5 advocates gender equality. WaterAid must therefore work with organisations to promote the rights of marginalised groups, demonstrating gender sensitivity and inclusive designs and approaches.
The second aim seeks to support governments and service providers to strengthen the systems and capabilities required to deliver sustainable WASH services. This sector strengthening has crucial overlaps with SDG 17 which seeks to strengthen the means of WASH service implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development. WaterAid will do this by working with partners to develop robust systems to reach out to those who may otherwise miss out.
WaterAid made a concerted effort to use the 2015-2020 Global Strategy to shed light on the often-forgotten element of WASH – hygiene. The new Strategy will improve hygiene behaviour to maximise the benefits of, and drive demand for, better access to water and sanitation. This will be done by working with a range of partners to support and deliver effective behaviour change.
The final aim seeks to integrate WASH within poverty eradication work and water resource and waste management. WaterAid will continue to champion the role of universal access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene and its integration within other sector plans. The mutual benefits this will provide for WaterAid and partners are seen as vital in the creation of strong institutions and the fostering of innovation shown in Goals 9 and 16.
Combining these four aims, the WaterAid 2015-2020 Global Strategy indicates multiple shifts moving forward into the Global Goal timeframe:
- A new 2030 goal will drive all that is done.
- Advocacy and influencing will be positioned as the focus of all work.
- A programmatic approach will integrate service delivery work at district/city/town level, with the human rights based approach to create a strong system of supply and demand.
- Focus will be on sector strengthening to bring about long-term, sustainable change.
- Sustainability of WaterAid’s work, and of the WASH sector generally, will be embedded in programme design as is central to the realisation of water and sanitation services that last forever.
WaterAid will look for opportunities to extend its work and presence where it believes it can have the most impact towards achieving its mission. A key aspect in implementing this new Global Strategy will be assessing performance. With a new Performance Assessment Framework currently under construction, WaterAid is electing not to rely on numbers-based performance assessment indicators. Instead, a range of qualitative and quantitative indicators will be assembled to assess impact on marginalised communities and how well development partners have delivered sustainable services at different scales.
WaterAid’s 2015-2020 Global Strategy embodies a range of key shifts, molded by both the redefined UN development goals and the reflexive thinking of the organisation.
The four new aims involve tackling the underlying causes of lack of access to WASH. They include tackling inequalities, with a shift from addressing needs in 2009, to today acknowledging rights exist but aren’t being fulfilled, as well as integrating WASH priorities into other sectors of international development for a cohesive and mutually beneficial approach to poverty eradication.
Encouraging hygiene behaviour change as a key lever for change on top of this, WaterAid’s approach demonstrates how the Global Goals can reinvigorate the strategies of organisations involved in international development. Catering for country flexibility, the 2015-2020 Global Strategy represents the first five-year building block working towards securing access to and and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
Editor's Note: Nigeria is one of the world’s five biggest contributors to the problem of open defecation, despite ongoing government efforts. In this post, Erin Flynn, Research Manager at WaterAid, looks at the country’s sanitation problem and whether the sanitation ladder will help Nigeria reach its ambitious targets. This post was originally featured on WaterAid's blog. You can find the original post here.
The bottom of the ladder
Felicity runs a successful dress-making business in Nigeria’s Enugu state. She first set foot on the sanitation ladder in 2012, when her village was ‘triggered’, or motivated, through Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS). The approach, which helps communities assess their sanitation situation, resulted in her husband building a basic pit latrine for their family home.
Although their building a latrine is considered a success in terms of CLTS, Felicity and her family are embarrassed by this basic structure, and inform visitors that the toilet is not finished, directing them instead to the bush. The water-based toilet the family dreams of would cost too much.
Felicity’s story is not uncommon. Since 2004, the Nigerian Government has used CLTS to move communities up the sanitation ladder, starting, if necessary, from the ‘cat’ method of dig and bury, or a basic pit latrine, moving up to a more expensive and sophisticated toilet. CLTS is a key component of the UK Department for International Development's sanitation, hygiene and water in Nigeria projects (SHAWN 1 & 2 ). Over the years WaterAid has played a significant role in the use and development of CLTS in Nigeria and beyond, including running a three country study in 2009.
Reaching the top
Surprisingly, despite the widespread use of CLTS, robust and reliable evidence in support of it in Nigeria and beyond is still relatively sparse.
WaterAid is continuing to build a body of evidence in Nigeria, through the Sustainable Total Sanitation (STS) project in Ekiti, Enugu and Jigawa states. The data and findings from formative research in 2014 gave valuable insight into common sanitation beliefs, practices and service availability. The findings exposed much about the sanitation aspirations of households in these states, like Felicity’s, who are upwardly mobile and exposed to urban life.
Importantly, the findings showed:
Open defecation is not safe or convenient and is difficult for sick and older people…
…but households aren’t ashamed to practice open defecation – it is better than starting at the bottom of the ladder, using a poor-quality toilet. A low-quality toilet is an embarrassment for the family.
Like Felicity and her husband, people have a strong desire for an ‘ideal’ water-based toilet – the last rung on the sanitation ladder. Such a toilet is easily cleaned, connected to modern urban life and aesthetically pleasing…
…but this is financially out of reach, costing between 44 and 77% of an average family’s annual income.
There is agreement that toilets result in happier and healthier households, thanks partly to approaches like CLTS…
…but these benefits are believed to decrease if the toilet is low quality.
Households have a fairly accurate understanding of the costs involved in constructing an ideal toilet (around £260)…
…but even when a household can afford a toilet, the process is long and involves several negotiations with different suppliers.
Giving households a step up
Nigeria is one of the world’s five biggest contributors to the problem of open defecation, with over 45 million Nigerians currently practising it. This situation is made worse by the country’s declining sanitation coverage – based on current trends, the new Global target of universal coverage will not be reached by 2030.
Successive Nigerian governments have made attempts to improve the country’s sanitation practices. In August this year, Ebonyi State Government made it illegal to defecate in the open (creation of such a law is also in progress in Yobe State) and Akwa Ibom State Government declared a “war against indiscriminate disposal of waste”. It is unclear what the implications of such laws will be in Nigeria; however, a recent study by WaterAid on the Asian Tigers highlighted the importance of political leadership, and changes in public health and hygiene policies, for resolving the issue.
Building on the insights we have gained about household aspirations and purchasing hurdles, the STS project is supporting local businesses to develop and sell high-quality, affordable and desirable toilets. Through the formative research and iterative testing of prototypes with businesses we have developed a new water-based toilet costing an estimated £85.
WaterAid have also supported the improvement of marketing and sales models to remove some of the purchasing burdens from households. Although not new to the sector, this market-based approach will be new to Nigeria. Delivered alongside CLTS and social marketing messages which reflect the pride and status associated with owning and using a good-quality toilet, we expect the approach to lead to increased toilet coverage and use.
Under the STS, sanitation marketing and CLTS will be rigorously evaluated to help us understand how effective each approach is, both independently and combined. Although the study’s final results are not expected until 2016, it’s already clear that, in order to reverse the current trend and accelerate progress towards 2030 targets, Nigeria will need to rapidly introduce complimentary sanitation approaches that respond to the large-scale problem at hand.
The new approaches must respond to the aspirations of households, significantly reduce the cost and complexity of purchasing a hygienic (and desirable!) toilet and ensure financial mechanisms are available for the poorest. With these approaches in place, maybe Nigeria won’t need a ladder to reach it's ambitious sanitation targets after all.
As 2015 comes to a close, we’re looking back and taking stock of the variety of topics featured on the WASHfunders blog this year – from the importance of systems in creating social change to the impact of the Sustainable Development Goals and the COP21 negotiations on the WASH sector. Featured below are the top five most popular blog posts from 2015.
This post was authored by Danielle Keiser of WASH United, a Berlin-based organization that acts as the Secretariat for Menstrual Hygiene Day. In her post, Danielle provided a round-up of events being organized all over the world to draw attention to this critical development issue.
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.
In her post, Shauna Curry, CEO of the Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology (CAWST), highlights the capacity gap that exists in the WASH sector due to a shortage in skills and the scarcity of local water and sanitation professionals. She describes the central focus that CAWST has placed on human resources and capacity building for WASH and suggests a number of ways in which funders in the sector can work to narrow this gap.
This post was authored by John Sauer, Senior Technical Advisor for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene at Population Services International (PSI). In his piece, John lauds the growing appreciation among WASH practitioners for market-based, holistic approaches to challenges in the sector, but also notes that this enthusiasm has been slow to translate into action. He lists several reasons for this sluggish adoption and describes what PSI is doing to apply the principles of market development to its projects on the ground.
Our most-read post was authored by Alix Lebec, Director of Strategic Alliances at Water.org. Alix writes about the potential for impact investing to help address the global water crisis, which currently attracts far less funding than the WHO estimates is needed. She describes how Water.org has adopted this approach to leverage philanthropic capital and scale up their WaterCredit model in India.
Leave a comment to let us know what WASH topics you would like to see covered in 2016. Interested in contributing a piece yourself? Contact us at email@example.com. Thanks for reading and Happy New Year!
Editor's Note: Innovation is often heralded as a major route to solving the global water and sanitation crisis. But is it the key, and should innovation be all about miracle inventions? In this post, Rémi Kaupp, Urban Sanitation Specialist at WaterAid UK, discusses whether and where it might be useful. This post was originally featured on WaterAid's blog. You can find the original post here.
Do we need more innovation? It is one of the values in our new strategy, and the fact that so many people still don’t have decent water and sanitation in the 21st century should call for massive and rapid innovation…shouldn’t it? Well, I have three problems with it.
First, there isn’t much that needs improvement about having a tap connected to mains water and using a toilet that flushes into a sewer. These are services that most people around the world aspire to, and they fulfil people’s right to water and sanitation. Sure, they could be improved – we should use less water, we need to recover nutrients instead of losing them, etc; these ideas are already the focus of many engineers in richer countries.
Second, the main ingredients needed to achieve universal water and sanitation coverage are well known, and, as is common in international development, they are not glamourous: large investments of public money, stronger institutions, better coordination between actors, targeting the most marginalised – i.e. the bread and butter of WaterAid’s advocacy.
Third, and most irritatingly, when we say “innovation”, we often hear “invention”. Barely a week goes by without our technical advisers receiving news of yet another miracle invention that will surely save the problem worldwide. So what is wrong with these?
- They are often point-of-use treatment systems, i.e. water filters, which can be useful in certain conditions (in emergencies, where people really have no choice but to gather water from a river or unsafe well), but often address a small part of the problem. Perfect water quality isn’t as problematic as the distance to the source in rural areas, and its price in cities, and therefore the quantity that people can use for hygiene and sanitation.
- Many inventions are developed by Northern inventors with few ties to local communities or consideration of local markets, and assumptions are made about what people actually want or need. The market studies we conduct always give surprising insights into people’s aspirations and hurdles.
- Many inventions use materials and techniques that are not available in the targeted countries, creating unsustainable supply chains. It is hard enough to have supply chains for sanitary pads and pump parts, let alone water filters or other more complex technology!
Looking beyond product development
I could go on, but enough ranting. We are nowhere near the target of everyone having safe water and sanitation, so we need to do better – and yes, we need innovation. We have to remember that there are many types of innovation beyond just the development of a new product. The SMS service used in Dakar for sludge collection tankers is an exciting example – the technical aspects are interesting, but, for me, the most interesting features are the strong leadership of the sanitation agency ONAS, the market studies that were used to design this new service, and the willingness to work between authorities and private operators. This sort of collaboration is a key innovative behaviour we need to see increasingly.
There are some great technical innovations in our sector, such as pre-paid water meters, simplified sewers, and the Gulper pit-emptying pump, and the lessons of their pilots are always very similar: they only work if they are developed in response to residents’ needs; they need to be led by the local water and sanitation agency or authority; and they are not usually standalone innovations but fit within broader actions towards improving water and sanitation.
Where is innovation needed?
So where do we need innovation? I have a few suggestions:
- Pit emptying: Despite our attempts, we still haven’t found a safe and sustainable way to empty toilet pits and then to transport the sludge to a treatment station. The issue isn’t so much having a better pump or vehicle than finding how to run a sustainable business in that area, and what sorts of toilets would be both easier to empty and attractive to people.
- Sanitation tariffs: Bills aren’t sexy, but they are the main resource utilities have to invest in more infrastructure. There are some ideas from around the world, but an issue is how to keep bills affordable for the poorest people while ensuring their right to good services is fulfilled.
- Monitoring water pumps: We know pumps break often and after just a few years, so can we track their failure and repair rate? Although again there are exciting technological innovations in this area, the real shift needs to be in how data are used by institutions and businesses to keep pumps functioning.
- Making facilities accessible: It has been a long journey to have more accessible toilets in Europe, and there is still much to do. We know the technology needed, but how can we make sure accessible facilities are everywhere more quickly? How do we overcome the joint issues of technology, regulation and endemic inequality?
These are just my ideas – please do suggest other areas in the comments! For instance, perhaps you know of something exciting happening in humanitarian emergencies.
For me, the value of “innovation” isn’t in finding the solution to all water problems worldwide; it is more about persistence and openness, the willingness to try new approaches with an open mind, to sometimes fail and acknowledge it honestly, to learn and adapt and try again. This journey can be as exciting as the last ten years in toilet pit emptying!
Editor’s Note: The post below is authored by John Garrett, Senior Policy Analyst at international water and sanitation NGO WaterAid, and Sarah Hénon, Analyst with Development Initiatives, an organization that works to end absolute poverty by making data and information on poverty and resource flows transparent, accessible and usable. This post is based on a recent report, Essential Element: Why international aid for water, sanitation, and hygiene is still a critical source of finance for many countries.
As the world turns its attention to the implementation of the Global Goals for Sustainable Development, making good, early progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 6 -- achieving universal access to water and sanitation -- will be essential for all developing countries. This requires ensuring the necessary resources are put in place, and the 2015 Addis Ababa Action Agenda provides an important platform for this, but a recent report released by WaterAid, based on analysis by Development Initiatives, suggests that current financing volumes and trends are not adequate to reach this goal for many countries, and that aid will continue to play a vital role in the implementation of Agenda 2030.
Recent decline in share of aid to the sector
Aid flows to water and sanitation reached US$6.6 billion in 2013, a 10-year high in 2013, following steady growth from 2007. This aid has played an important role in financing improved access to water and sanitation and allowing the world to meet the MDG water target. But the UN Water Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking-Water (GLAAS) 2014 survey of 94 developing countries found that a majority (80%) of developing countries had insufficient current finance to meet MDG targets for drinking water and sanitation.
Despite the increase in aid in 2013, there are some troubling underlying trends. Between 2011 and 2013 aid to water and sanitation grew by only 2.5%, falling behind the pace of overall aid, which grew by 10.7%. In line with these trends, the share of aid going to water and sanitation decreased between 2012 and 2013. In 2013, the share of aid to the sector dropped to only 3.9% of overall aid, falling below 4% for the first time since 2009. To achieve universal access to water and sanitation, countries that lack financing to meet MDG targets will experience an even greater gap. External financing from aid donors has a vital role to play to support countries' progress to universal access, particularly for countries with low levels of domestic revenue.
Aid to water and sanitation is increasingly delivered as concessional loans
International aid is composed of both grants and loans. During the ten year period between 2003 and 2013, aid loans to water and sanitation increased steadily from US$1.1 billion in 2003 to US$3.3 billion in 2013. This is an increase of 205%, compared with a 123% increase for grants over the same period. Thus, the increasing total volume of aid to water and sanitation is driven by aid loans.
The share of loans in aid to the sector has increased, from less than a third in 2005 to over half of aid since 2011. In 2013, 50.2% of aid to the water and sanitation sector came as loans. Compared with other social sectors, this is a very large share. The health sector receives only 6% of aid as loans, and the education sector receives 14%.
Within the water and sanitation sector, aid loans go mainly to large system projects. Between 2011 and 2013 large systems projects received on average two-thirds (64%) of all aid loans. This increase in aid loans to the sector, although helping to address financing gaps, nevertheless reduces already constrained fiscal space in low-income countries and contributes to risks around debt sustainability.
Most aid in the sector goes to water projects
Since 2010, data on aid flows to the water and sanitation sector can be broken down into aid to water-only projects and sanitation-only projects. For both water and sanitation, aid to basic supply and aid to large systems can be tracked. A total of US$1.9 billion of aid to water and sanitation could be disaggregated between water and sanitation spending in 2013. Of this, aid to water received two thirds (65%). A large share went to large water systems (43%), while basic water received just over a fifth (22%).
Aid to sanitation represented just a third of aid to the sector that can be disaggregated (35%). Basic sanitation received the least at 7%, while aid to large sanitation systems was 28%. Given that the MDG sanitation target was not met, accelerating investments in sanitation are required.
Small but increasing levels of foundation grants
According to data from Foundation Center, foundation funding for water and sanitation has increased in recent years, reaching US$181 million in 2012, delivered through 340 projects. The largest donor was the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (US$119 million), followed by the Coca Cola Foundation, the Stone Family Foundation and the PepsiCo Foundation. While the objectives of funds are to be lauded, the volume of their financial contribution matched against the scale of the challenge of achieving universal access suggests the need for careful selectivity, with choices based on maximising impact beyond those immediately reached.
Key recommendations from WaterAid:
- A credible Sustainable Development Goal for universal access to water and sanitation will require increased aid to the most vulnerable and under-resourced countries, with a strong focus on equity, sustainability and strengthening systems.
- Aid to water, sanitation and hygiene should at least double from current levels by 2020, with an emphasis on grant financing, effective targeting and addressing the neglect of sanitation and hygiene. A reassessment of progress and financing gaps should take place in 2020.
- National governments and donors—including private foundations—should act decisively to improve aid effectiveness and strengthen country systems: through increased transparency, pooling of resources, more technical assistance, and aligning and harmonising all stakeholder inputs behind national processes.
 All figures on financial flows are in 2012 prices. Data refers to gross disbursements from all donors. Unlike net ODA, gross ODA disbursements do not take into account ODA loan repayments from recipient countries. Disbursements correspond to the release of funds or the purchase of goods or services for a recipient. All figures based on OECD DAC Creditor Reporting System, data accessed May 2015.
 ‘Large systems’ is a sub-sector of aid the water and sanitation sector. ‘Water supply – large systems’ includes: potable water treatment plants; intake works; storage; water supply pumping stations; and large scale transmission/conveyance and distribution systems. ‘Sanitation – large systems’ includes: large scale sewerage including trunk sewers and sewage pumping stations; domestic and industrial waste water treatment plants. Other sub-sectors are: waste management and disposal; basic drinking and sanitation; systems support. For more information, see www.oecd.org/investment/stats/water-relatedaid.htm
 This presents some challenges, in particular that improved donor reporting under these purpose codes may skew trends analysis. The ability of donors to disaggregate reporting using these purpose codes depends on their internal management information and reporting systems.
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.”