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 Robert Hedlund, founder and CEO of Joint Development Associates (JDA) International. With a degree in Mining Engineering from Colorado School of Mines, Robert Hedlund spent 17 years in both underground and open pit mining operations before moving with his family to Uzbekistan in 1992, and founding JDA International, a humanitarian and development organization. Since 2001 JDA has been involved in rebuilding communities in northern Afghanistan. The organization’s current activities focus on appropriate farming methods and mechanization, WASH education, and birth life-saving skills (BLiSS) training in the region.
Widespread poverty and decades of war have made Afghanistan one of the worst places in the world for sanitation and hygiene. Despite ten years of international investment and relief work, it remains one of the most underdeveloped and poorest countries in the world. Eighty-five percent of the population lives a minimal subsistence life in desolate rural areas — no gas, electricity, or running water. Infant mortality is the highest in the world. Annually more than 85,000 children under the age of five die from diarrhea alone. The cause is almost always a lack of clean water. Seventy percent of rural areas don’t have a sustainable supply of safe water.
Challenges mirror those in other parts of the developing world. Thousands of previously donor-supported wells and hand pumps or community water systems are often useless or abandoned within a few months of installation because construction projects were implemented without community education or pump repair training. Additionally, WASH efforts geared toward Afghan women are particularly challenging due to overwhelming illiteracy — over 90% of the women are illiterate.
Joint Development Associates (JDA) International’s WASH initiative is multifaceted with strong emphasis on education, community initiative, and hands-on training. Based out of Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan, JDA has been working with success in 10 villages in the Balkh province of northern Afghanistan. Effecting behavioral changes, lasting adoption, and transformation take time and commitment to long-term development. We consider ourselves a catalyst for transformation, and building community trust and relationships are central to how that change takes place.
Although our program is barely four years old, the dedication of our Afghan team is shaping new understanding and reducing diarrheal sickness and deaths in infants. The needs across the country are vast and our program comparatively small. Many cultural and traditional obstacles have to be overcome, such as the widespread practice of not providing liquids to infants when they have diarrhea or the misconception that canal water is safe to drink as long as it is moving.
Our WASH education program, which we introduced to rural villages and taught to illiterate women, is having tremendous impact on families’ lives. Initial contact with new villages is always preceded by meetings with elders and village leaders. Demand-driven and community supported projects include agreements to maintain new water points and send women for training. It is critical to first target women as they are the main influencers of households and in turn share the newly acquired practices with their children and husbands. In order to build community trust, WASH teams are led by Afghan female educators and training sessions are home-based. Participants learn about hand-washing, proper disposal of household waste and feces, other ways in which health is impacted by sanitation and hygiene practices, and the use of locally produced biosand filters. Using pictures and other visuals, lessons are tailored to the illiterate population.
Seeing behavioral changes and community transformation is exciting, and keeps me motivated to continue our work in Afghanistan and support this initiative. One participant, Halima, said: “When the instructor was teaching the diarrhea lesson, I thought of the woman in the story and how she could have been me. I would have done all that I knew to do, but my child would have died from diarrhea anyway. Then I would always have wondered what could I have done for my other children to control the diarrhea? Now I know what I can do.” Another woman, several months after installing and using a biosand filter in her home, happily reported: “Not a single one of my ten children has suffered diarrhea.”
JDA also teaches WASH education in elementary schools. Through puppet shows and fun, interactive play, thousands of children have learned that hand-washing can be an effective deterrent against disease from flies and bugs, and that ditch water can make them sick. Both men and women are engaged through well drilling and hand pump repair training, a critical component of keeping new wells functional long after installation. Often the men, who learn how to maintain and repair their village wells, end up training others. Behavioral change and transformation are possible even in the worst conditions. We have learned that people desire change when the change directly benefits their families. At JDA, we seek to highlight that connection and to engage in WASH solutions from a community-centered standpoint.
Editor’s Note: This guest post was authored by Shalini Nataraj, director of advocacy and partnerships at Global Fund for Women. Shalini discusses why it is important to address human rights, specifically women’s rights, on the local level to determine context-specific and appropriate WASH solutions. She also highlights the work of three Global Fund grantees based in Vietnam and Kenya who serve as examples of organizations successfully tackling these issues.
A well is a well, right? As a funder, you fund the digging of a well for a community that lacks access to clean water, and the hoped-for outcome is that the problem is now solved. Unfortunately, in many parts of the world, it is not so simple. The well’s location might make women more vulnerable to sexual assault, for example.
As a funder, Global Fund for Women supports organizations that seek to address access to water as a fundamental human rights issue. These organizations address the inequities, and ensure that the rights of the local women are respected.
In July 2010, the General Assembly of the United Nations and the Human Rights Council formally adopted a resolution calling on States and international organizations to provide financial resources, build capacity, and transfer technology, particularly to developing countries, and to provide safe, clean, accessible, and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all. While this recognition of the human right to water is based on many legal principles, what does ensuring the right to water look like at the local level?
Unless those of us who fund WASH understand that access to water is fundamentally about power relations and systemic societal inequities, with national priorities often working in favor of the powerful and wealthy, funding access to clean water and sanitation is going to be piecemeal and unsustainable.
The first question that needs to be answered is, “Who benefits?” The answer is not simple. In answering that question, the conceptual framework of the human right to water can challenge the underlying structural inequalities plaguing the poor and powerless communities around the world who lack access to water. It offers these communities the tools and arguments to hold the State accountable for implementing its human rights obligations, and to demand that the basic needs of the communities are met over the wishes of the few who have the power and money. It is about funding a range of strategies and interventions that create the enabling context for sustainable WASH programs.
Global Fund prioritizes funding women-led organizations that not only seek to address the immediate needs of communities, but also advocate for the rights of communities. We enable women to access the training and tools to advocate on their own behalf.
Global Fund grantee, Center for Water Resources Conservation and Development (WARECOD), in Vietnam, operates projects to improve water access in several poor riverine communities. Using a holistic approach, it educates the public and the government on the social and environmental impacts of dams and the benefits of alternative methods of energy development.
Women and girls in remote and rural areas of Vietnam are excluded from the decision-making processes in local development projects, especially with regard to natural resource management. WARECOD is particularly focused on fishing villages along the Red River in northern Vietnam that provides water and nutrition to millions of people. WARECOD says that, “social customs and traditional responsibilities relegate fishing women to lower social levels than males, lower even than social levels of other women in rural areas.” In a world where the Food and Agriculture Organization states that women are most often the collectors, users, and managers of water in the household, as well as farmers of crops, WARECOD recognizes the need to ensure women are supported in their vital role in managing environmental resources. WARECOD’s water management projects are designed to increase the capacity and decision-making power of women in the community, and by transferring critical skills and knowledge in their water management program, WARECOD hopes to create a channel for women to exercise their participation and rights.
WARECOD operates several projects to supply local communities with access to clean water, help rebuild elementary schools, and aid farmers in obtaining advanced farming technology to increase their income. Staff are also gathering data on the livelihoods of fishing women and their access to clean water. WARECOD plans to use the research findings to support future advocacy work, so that it can use concrete data in pressuring local governments to improve the living conditions for women and girls in the area. The findings will also be documented and distributed to local authorities and agencies, and presented at conferences.
A long-time Global Fund grantee, Groups of Women in Water & Agricultural Kochieng (GWAKO), works in Kochieng, western Kenya, to improve women’s health, protect girls’ right to education, and boost women’s economic status. The overwhelming majority of Kenyans don’t have access to clean water. Girls’ participation in education is severely restricted because they must spend hours fetching water for their families. Water-related diseases continue to be among the four top causes of death among women on the African continent.
GWAKO activities have resulted in wells in rural communities where women previously traveled for three to six hours to fetch water. The organization also conducts community education about hygiene and sanitation, improves farming methods for women, and installs washing facilities and latrines in schools. It has grown into a consortium of forty-one women’s groups in more than fourteen villages. GWAKO has also improved women’s access to food by training the women in modern farming methods that produce higher yields. Such changes are critical in a region where severe poverty increasingly forces girls into transactional sex to obtain food.
Also based in Kenya, Grassroots Organizations Operating Together in Sisterhood (GROOTS), builds demonstration plots to train women in improved agricultural practices. GROOTS works with women farming groups to provide training on sustainable agricultural practices, such as greenhouse use. More importantly, GROOTS created watchdog committees to safeguard women’s property and advocate for land tenure, housing, property, and inheritance rights of women and children. GROOTS facilitates direct participation of grassroots women in various national, regional, and global conferences, creating a platform for women most impacted by development policies to be heard by decision-makers. Its efforts have resulted in increased women’s representation as village elders, provincial administrators, members of local development funds, and in the management of educational institutions.
These examples seek to illustrate Global Fund’s approach to funding WASH — one that acknowledges the realities in which communities operate — and to creating systemic change in order to ensure long-lasting solutions to WASH issues. Using women’s rights, especially the right to water, as a lens to fund WASH programs is a sustainable way to build just, equitable, and peaceful societies.
The Coca-Cola Company has announced a $3.5 million commitment to the United States Water Partnership, a public-private partnership launched on World Water Day 2012 by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Announced at the Rio+20 Conference in Brazil, the partnership is designed to unite American expertise, knowledge, and resources and mobilize those assets to address global water challenges, with a focus on the developing world. Awarded through the company's Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN), the funding will support water access programs in countries with the most significant needs, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Mozambique, and Somaliland. Atlanta-based Coca-Cola will contribute $3 million toward a wide range of sustainable water access activities in those countries, including efforts to expand water access in informal urban settlements and in hospitals and promote multiple uses of water that empower women.
The remaining $500,000 will support USWP's efforts to transfer additional resources to African countries characterized as high-need in terms of access to clean water and sanitation. USWP also will make learnings from the RAIN initiative available to the global water sector.
"Access to safe water is essential for our company and our world," said Coca-Cola chief sustainability officer Bea Perez. "The sustainability of water resources is a top priority at the Coca-Cola Company. We are honored to support the USWP while being a catalyst for sustainable water access solutions in Africa."
Source: “The Coca-Cola Company Commits $3.5 Million to U.S. Water Partnership.” Coca-Cola Company Press Release 6/21/12.
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.”