Editor’s Note: This guest post was authored by Julian Doczi, Water Policy research officer at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), the UK’s leading think tank on international development and humanitarian issues. Julian highlights the need for sanitation to take center stage in WASH discussions. A version of this post originally appeared here.
Many of the discussions surrounding World Water Day continue to omit one of the biggest factors for actually achieving clean and secure water for all: sanitation. At least 2.5 billion people still lack access to a proper toilet – with this number rising to a staggering 4.1 billion if we include people whose sewage is not properly treated in wastewater treatment facilities.
These are well-known numbers, but what is the actual role of sanitation in the issues being discussed today, on water cooperation, better water management and water security? I identify and discuss three key linkages here:
- the impact of poor sanitation on clean water availability
- the impact of ‘advanced’ sanitation on water consumption
- the direct impact on water cooperation of the various socio-political issues underlying sanitation service delivery.
For the majority of the world’s population, their sewage still pours untreated onto land, rivers and sea, contaminating freshwater resources and putting a greater strain on river basins and their managers. Rampant pollution like this plays a key role in promoting poor cooperation among water users, especially between upstream and downstream users, as it both increases clean water scarcity and creates health risks for water users. The poor suffer most from this, as they have less access to alternative water sources. A recent report by the Asian Development Bank highlights this issue for river basins all across Asia, but cooperation everywhere is being increasingly strained.
Simply striving for proper toilets and sewage disposal is not enough though, since most sanitation systems themselves require water to function. A recent calculation by water expert Peter Gleick estimates that toilets in the U.S. currently use nearly 8.3 trillion litres of water per year; this could be reduced to only 3 trillion if the entire country switched to new, high-efficiency toilets. Of course, in many arid river basins, using this much water would not be feasible (nor would the cost of millions of new toilets) without experiencing substantial declines in water availability, again increasing tensions. Although ‘dry’ sanitation systems like improved pit toilets can undoubtedly ease these pressures, the UN still recognises water-based systems as higher up on the so-called ‘sanitation ladder’, and thus creates continual demand for these systems. This is not to argue that those lacking sanitation should not achieve it, but merely to note that improving sanitation still generally increases water demand (even if the poor ‘leap frog’ directly to high-efficiency toilets), which could further strain water cooperation.
A 2012 report on global water security by the U.S. Intelligence Community recognised both pollution and consumption issues as threats to future conflict over water resources. It found that, in the next decade, these threats could significantly increase instability and regional tensions over water security, especially in the Middle East and South Asia. Likewise, a new report by ODI and Tearfund examines how the way sanitation services are delivered specifically affects cooperation between communities and the relations between state and society. For example, in the DRC, tensions arose between recently returned refugees and long-term residents over the usage, cleaning and maintenance of latrines.
As world-leading water cooperation expert Mark Zeitoun of the University of East Anglia emphasises, linkages are also visible through the issues of human rights and power asymmetries. He highlights that those who fought for the UN General Assembly to explicitly recognise the human right to water and sanitation in 2010 are often the same people fighting for equitable and just water cooperation. In both cases, however, he argues that progress toward these ideals has been slow due to the asymmetric distribution of water and sanitation services in favour of powerful state actors. Quoting Marc Reisner, he highlights that, for the most part, ‘water flows uphill to money, while sewage still flows downhill to the poor’.
These socio-political linkages can be generalised further. As Zeitoun describes, water security is best understood as part of an interconnected ‘web’ of securities, which links water security to food, energy and climate security, and even national security. Through this web, he argues that effective sanitation is an ‘incontestable requirement for individual, community and state development’ in the context of water cooperation. Likewise, the new Asia Water Development Outlook report explicitly recognises the central role played by appropriate sanitation within its ‘five key dimensions’ of national water security. The report found that most Asian countries are merely ‘capable’ or ‘engaged’ in sanitation for water security, with many still downright ‘hazardous’. Almost none were ‘effective’, except for proactive states like New Zealand and Singapore.
These results speak for themselves. It is clear that the levels of development effort, investment and political will devoted to sanitation are still substantially dwarfed by that devoted to all aspects of water, even though sanitation links so closely to water cooperation and security. A recent report by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies issues a call to action on this, to address the longstanding imbalance in the substantial investments made in the water sector as compared with its poor cousins: sanitation and hygiene. It calls for sanitation to be at least as well funded and focused upon as water supply by 2015. I echo that call here. The evidence is clear that we will only achieve better water cooperation and water resources management if we account for the major roles that sanitation plays.
So, as we spend 2013 focused on improving water cooperation, let us not forget to give an equal effort toward improving sanitation cooperation. While organisations are increasingly recognising the linkage of sanitation to all aspects of water management, we should not rest until March 22 is known as ‘World Water and Sanitation Day’. Only by addressing the 4.1 billion people without appropriate wastewater treatment can we hope to achieve holistic water cooperation and effective water resources management that will lead us on a path to long-term sustainability.
Editor’s Note: The STARS Foundation is a London-based organization that provides grants to nonprofits working with disadvantaged children. The Foundation is now accepting applications for their 2013 Impact Awards, including their new WASH category, which recognizes the impact that WASH solutions can have on improving the well-being of children.
The STARS Foundation is pleased to announce the launch of the 2013 STARS Impact Awards recognizing outstanding organizations that achieve excellence in the provision of services to disadvantaged children.
In response to a growing demand for flexible funding, STARS invites NGOs to apply for up to 16 Impact Awards and, for the first time, has added a new category — Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) — due to the impact that improvements in this area can have on child survival and well-being.
Organizations working with children in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, or the Pacific are invited to apply.
The main Impact Award will be given to four winners per region — one in each of the following categories: Health, Education, Protection, and WASH. Winners will each receive $100,000 of unrestricted funding together with a bespoke package of consultancy, PR, and media support. Each organization will also benefit from the opportunity to work together with STARS for up to one year to promote their plans to other donors and seek to raise additional funding.
In addition to these main Impact Awards, smaller awards of different sizes will be made at the discretion of STARS’ board of trustees.
To find information regarding the application process, the eligibility criteria, and to apply online, please visit the Foundation's web site.
The closing date for applications is 1PM GMT Monday, November 12, 2012.
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.