Water and Sanitation: Everyone, Everywhere by 2030

| June 22, 2014 | 0 Comments
WaterAid works in partnership with a number of local organisations in the slums of Dhaka, Bangladesh, to help poor communities gain access to communal water-points and latrine blocks. The water-points are connected to the mains water supply provided by the Dhaka Water and Sewerage Authority.

WaterAid works in partnership with a number of local organisations in the slums of Dhaka, Bangladesh, to help poor communities gain access to communal water-points and latrine blocks. The water-points are connected to the mains water supply provided by the Dhaka Water and Sewerage Authority.

Shamefully, millions upon millions of human beings today are unable to meet one of their most fundamental needs for survival: access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. What many Canadians take for granted for themselves and their pet cats and dogs remains inaccessible to children, women and men around the globe, and with terrible consequences.
Disease, caused by dirty water and the unsafe disposal of human waste, is the second biggest global killer of children under the age of five. Diarrhea alone claims the lives of about 500,000 children every year. Think about it: The equivalent of all the children in five local grade schools suffer and then die every single day because of this completely preventable disease.
In economic terms, the crisis costs African and Asian countries up to six percent of their GDP annually; in Sub-Saharan Africa, this amount is more than the total amount of aid flowing to the continent each year. Productivity is sapped by preventable water-and sanitation-related illness, which fills half of the world’s hospital beds at any given time.
What’s clear is that the global water and sanitation crisis is one of the most fundamental public health challenges facing the developing world today. It is a crisis that hinders progress in nearly every area of development, from economic growth and gender equality to child and maternal health.
What these statistics hide, however, is a heartbreaking and shocking state of affairs, the impact of which can only be truly understood once lived or witnessed first- hand. It is a crisis that overwhelms the senses and causes immeasurable human suffering day in and day out.
Let’s for a moment dispense with the euphemism “lack of sanitation” and call it what it really is: “no toilets.” In the absence of one of the most basic things that human dignity demands, people do their business wherever they can manage a moment’s privacy: by the roadside, in the ditch, behind the bushes, on the riverbank.
In the absence of the luxury of a flushing toilet, or in many cases any means of separating human waste from daily life, human fecal matter can come to contaminate their entire community. Human feces contaminating water supplies contributes to 1 in 10 of the world’s communicable diseases. It’s not surprising given that one gram of feces, the weight of a paperclip, can contain 10 million viruses, 1 million bacteria and 1,000 parasites.
In many of the world’s urban slums, rivers relied upon as primary sources of drinking water are turned into little more than sewage channels, or giant toilets, bubbling with methane gas. “Flying toilets,” plastic bags filled with feces, litter streets, attracting flies, baking in the sun and emitting foul odors that cause one’s eyes to water. In rural areas, residents, especially women, seek privacy behind bushes or wait to relieve themselves under cover of darkness — a practice that places them at risk of attack and rape.
In all cases, lack of toilets and clean drinking water traps people in a pervasive cycle of poverty. In the words of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: “Achieving sanitation and water for all may not be cost-free, but it will set people free.”

At this Ghanaian site, WaterAid worked with Rural Aid, a partner organisation, to hand-dig a well that is now at the centre of the community whose natural water source completely dries up between September and May.

At this Ghanaian site, WaterAid worked with Rural Aid, a partner organisation, to hand-dig a well that is now at the centre of the community whose natural water source completely dries up between September and May.

Today, there is a global movement afoot — one that has the potential to relegate one of the world’s most lethal public health emergencies to the history books. It is a movement fuelled by collaboration, supported by indisputable evidence and driven by a singular vision of a world where everyone everywhere has his and has her fundamental right to water and sanitation met. This is a movement working towards a deadline of 2030.
With a broad cross-section of development actors throwing their weight behind this vision for the post-2015 development agenda, with a burgeoning political will catalysed by the “Sanitation and Water for All” partnership and with a growing interest from the general public, we believe this is a vision whose time has come.

Looking back
Fourteen years ago, world leaders representing 189 nations met in New York to make an unprecedented commitment to the eradication of extreme poverty by 2015. Eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were established, each with a clear target and timeline, together intended to build a more equitable, secure and sustainable future for all people.
Among these goals were ambitious targets to reduce by half the proportion of people living without access to improved sources of drinking water and basic sanitation facilities.
The global target for safe water access was among the first MDGs to be met. In a 2012 announcement, the United Nations went further, to say that over the past two decades, more than two billion people had gained access to safe water. This is a great testament to the concerted efforts of a great many who have recognised water as fundamental to fighting global poverty. It demonstrates the power of setting ambitious, yet achievable, development goals.
Improvements to safe water access, however, have been massively uneven between and within countries, with the poorest communities in Sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania lagging far behind. Also compounding the crisis are the pressures of increased urbanisation, rapidly growing populations, competition for finite water resources and the effects of climate change. A total of 748 million people — many of them the poorest of the poor — still have no improved sources of drinking water.
Progress toward the MDGs’ sanitation target has been lagging dangerously behind, and at current rates of progress, the target will likely be missed by half a billion people. Put another way, if current funding and planning trends continue, the MDG target for sanitation will not be met in Sub-Saharan Africa for another 150 years. Today, more than 2.5 billion people — more than one in every three individuals — lack access to adequate toilet facilities. And one billion people openly defecate where they can. These are     shocking statistics for 2014.
Despite compelling evidence of their health and economic benefits, water and sanitation services have suffered from a lack of political attention:
• Globally, in 2012, the total amount of development aid for water and sanitation remained below 2002 levels despite the growing need;
• Investments continue to pale in comparison to many other sectors, such as education and agriculture;
• Aid has been poorly targeted with most channelled to those who need it least;
• More than 30 percent of foreign aid pledged to the sector between 2002 and 2010 was never actually paid by countries and agencies that made the commitments.
What’s clear is that progress has been made, but efforts must be redoubled.

At this rural commune in Madagascar, WaterAid is working with Miarintsoa Association, a partner organisation, on a project that will feed 17 community water points.

At this rural commune in Madagascar, WaterAid is working with Miarintsoa Association, a partner organisation, on a project that will feed 17 community water points.

Looking ahead
With the 2015 MDG deadline looming and the “post-2015 development agenda” consultations in their final hours, a critical window of opportunity has opened and a new vision is being touted: Universal Access to Water and Sanitation by 2030.
It is a vision that is ambitious and achievable. It has the backing of a growing global critical mass, including 60 organisations worldwide, ranging from foreign ministries and leading academic institution to multilateral organisations and civil society groups. It’s a call-to-action that also resonates with concerned citizens around the globe, as evidenced by a recent petition signed by more than two million people.
The momentum could be felt on April 11, as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim opened proceedings at the Third Sanitation and Water for All high-level meeting of the partnership in Washington, D.C. They warned that failure to address this sanitation and water crisis will hinder efforts to eradicate poverty. The meeting, attended by government ministers representing more than 50 countries, produced in excess of 250 commitments to work toward universal access to water and sanitation.
Achieving this new vision won’t come easily. It will require developing country and donor governments to increase their financing for water and sanitation; it will require us all to get better at making projects more sustainable; and it will require that we move beyond serving those who are easiest to reach, to include all those who are living in remote areas, or who find their access limited by disability, gender or ethnicity.
Above all, it will require an unprecedented level of co-ordination: A multi-partner approach that can tap into the expertise of leading international organisations, empower communities to demand their rights, develop innovative relationships with socially responsible global corporations and funders and work to overcome impediments at all levels of government.

Progressive moves
At WaterCan, an Ottawa-based water and sanitation charity, we knew that this demanded change on our part, as well.
So, with this bold new vision of universal access by 2030 in mind, WaterCan has joined forces and become the Canadian member of WaterAid’s international federation, the world’s leading water and sanitation charity. By streamlining our operations, speaking with a unified voice and consolidating our expertise, we will be able to magnify the scope and impact of our work, while making the most effective use of every charitable dollar.
WaterCan could have continued on its path of delivering solid results as it has for the past 27 years, but given our experience, our skills and our passion for our mission, the rare opportunity to have a much, much larger poverty-fighting impact was impossible to pass up. And, at the end of the day, what matters most is our ability to do more good for more people in more places.
WaterAid works in 27 countries across Africa, Asia, the Pacific region and Central America. Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 17.5 million people with safe water and, since 2004, 12.9 million people with sanitation. As the Canadian member of WaterAid, WaterCan will contribute to the global federation’s current goal to assist 25 million people directly with access to safe water and sanitation, and to influence policies and practices of government and service providers to reach a further 100 million.
WaterAid works with local partners to help communities gain access to safe water and sanitation. WaterAid uses only practical technologies and makes sure that the right skills exist in the community so that they can keep equipment working long into the future.
By working with local partners in developing countries, WaterAid is able to invest in the future of local communities so they can continue their good work. This is an essential part of our work, as we believe that local ownership and participation lie at the heart of progressive and sustainable development.
Yet the sheer scale of the crisis means we can’t solve it alone. So, WaterAid uses its experience and research, and works with communities to influence decision-makers to make safe water and sanitation a priority.
WaterCan joining forces with WaterAid to become WaterAid Canada is a critical strategic step toward profoundly increasing our effectiveness in ending the water and sanitation crisis. It is a coming-together in support of a vision that can be achieved — and achieved in our lifetime.

WaterAid in Ivato, Madagascar:
Change through direct-service delivery
On the island of Madagascar, off the east coast of Africa, more than half the population of 30 million has no access to safe water and only 11 percent have a toilet to use. The resulting impact on health and productivity has been staggering, including the deaths of 4,000 children every year from diarrhea caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation.
The impact of safe drinking water and basic sanitation is nowhere more evident than in Ivato, a forgotten village in the Ambohimanambola commune, located in the Betafo district in the highlands of Madagascar.
Here, the promise of water and sanitation gave way to remarkable efforts on the part of village residents that have ultimately connected Ivato to the world and given future generations a chance at a much brighter future.
“Nobody noticed our situation before the project came. We were isolated in our own corner … quite far from the municipality in Ambohimanambola,” explains Jean Randriatahiry, a 25-year-old teacher at Ivato public school. “With no toilets or clean water facilities, we used to face many difficulties every day. Pupils could not concentrate in class as they were thirsty and hungry. There were always children missing from school every day due to diarrhea and other health problems. It was really hard to teach here and I was on the verge of giving up.”
Not a single one of Mr. Randriatahiry’s 27 Grade 5 students passed the national CEPE exam (or Certificate of Primary Studies) in 2012, a discouraging result that was repeated almost annually. The shockingly low primary graduation rate from Ivato limited young people’s job prospects and fuelled a pervasive cycle of poverty from which few could hope to escape.
Bringing clean water and sanitation to Ivato didn’t come easily, but residents rose to the challenge.
Given Ivato’s extremely isolated location, villagers, parents and children first needed to construct a five-kilometre road so building materials could be delivered. This three-month-long effort was followed by digging pipelines for the new gravity-fed scheme to feed multiple water points throughout the village. Community members then also actively participated in letting people know the health hazards associated with open defecation, led by empowered local community agents. This has resulted in dozens of households in Ivato building basic toilets, supported by a local woman who has been trained to make and sell “sanplat slabs” to safely cover their latrine pits.
“They are really proud of what they have done so far,” Mr. Randriatahiry says. “Since we got water and sanitation in our village and in our school, the situation is dramatically changing. Now the boys and girls can drink safe water at any time in school and at home and I’ve even noticed that their concentration is much better now in class.”
Since completion of the project, school enrolment has risen from 86 to 130. Not only are parents more likely to send their children to school, they have also taken a greater interest in fostering a vibrant and healthy school environment. Parents, teachers and students have received training on multiple uses of water for the garden and a fish pond, and are in the process of creating a school feeding program to fight against hunger.
“For me, and I think for everyone here in Ivato, this water and sanitation project has opened doors and helped us develop in a number of ways,” Mr. Randriatahiry says.  “We can now produce more crops, we can sell those crops because we now have roads and we can ensure the future of our children. We now have what we lacked since the village was born.”
In 2013-2014, WaterAid supported six fokontanys (municipal offices), including Ivato, through the construction of four wells and three gravity-fed schemes that ultimately feed 17 community water points. In addition, more than 300 household toilets have been constructed.

WaterAid in Dhaka slums:
Creating change through influence
The urban population in Bangladesh is growing at an astounding rate of eight percent every year. Many of these teeming masses migrating from rural to urban areas find their new homes in wretchedly overcrowded and impoverished slums such as those found in the capital of Dhaka.
Here, people with no official address have no legal right to a water connection. This leaves more than 90 percent of Dhaka’s slum-dwellers relying on illegal water traders known to charge as much as a quarter of a typical slum-dweller’s meagre income.
Dhaka is the only city in Bangladesh with a piped sewage system, but even there, only 17 percent of residents have access to it. During monsoon season, rainfall turns streets in the slums and low-lying areas into rivers of open sewage, contaminating water and food sources and seeping into homes. The resulting diseases are responsible for 24 percent of deaths in Bangladesh.
WaterAid has worked to address these appalling water and sanitation conditions since 1986. This past year alone, 284,000 people gained access to safe water and 670,000 to improved sanitation as a result of WaterAid’s efforts.
Construction of locally appropriate water and sanitation facilities is only part of WaterAid’s role in effecting change in Bangladesh. Influencing government policy to leverage even greater results has been high on the NGO’s agenda in Bangladesh and globally.
In 2008, WaterAid and its local partner organisation secured a landmark decision by the Dhaka Water and Sewerage Authority (DWASA). Compelled by a strong business case advanced by WaterAid, the DWASA changed its policy to recognise people living in slums as legitimate users of public water facilities. Prior to its adoption, NGOs were required to act as intermediaries or guarantors of slum-dwellers wishing to apply for a water connection. Needless to say, water access has been accelerated as a result.
WaterAid has also been instrumental in supporting the development of the government’s national sanitation strategy, the result of which has been a remarkable 35-percent reduction in open defecation between 2003 and 2010. This success has served as an inspiration to many others around the world.

WaterAid and HSBC in Ghana:
Creating change through partnerships
In 2012, the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited in Dohani-Yepala, released compelling new evidence of the economic value of water. A report, prepared for HSBC by Frontier Economics, found that universal access to water and sanitation would amount to a $220-billion economic gain worldwide, with every $1 invested generating a $5 economic return.
Against the backdrop of these new findings, HSBC announced a $100-million, five-year water program to tackle the world’s water challenges.
WaterAid is among three global charitable partners selected to execute HSBC’s ambitious mandate. Over five years, WaterAid, with the support of HSBC, will reach 1.1 million people with safe water and 1.9 million with sanitation in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Nigeria and Ghana.
In Dohani-Yepala, northern Ghana, the life-changing impact of HSBC’s investment is now being felt and lived by residents every day. In particular, it has had significant impact on the health and well-being of women, children and youth who, prior to the intervention, collected water from a nearby dam they shared with local livestock.
At one time, the collection and treatment of locally available water sources dominated the lives of local women and children. “At night, we couldn’t even sleep because whilst sleeping, we were thinking of where to get water from the next morning,” explained Rahi Mustapha. As a mother, she worried often about the health of her children, suspecting that the reddish-brown water drawn from the dam was causing their high temperatures and vomiting. Shockingly, at one time, residents continued to collect water from the dam for several days before realising a dead body was floating in it.
In late 2012, Ms Mustapha and her neighbours celebrated the inauguration of a new water kiosk that got safe water flowing in Dohani-Yepala for the first time. “The pipe water has given me peace of mind,” she says. “Everything will be much easier now that I don’t have to travel far for water.”
Although life is still difficult for residents, a heavy burden has been lifted, giving way to improved health and productivity. WaterAid’s partnership with HSBC continues to effect change in communities throughout Ghana, with an aim of reaching 120,000 people with safe water and more than 80,000 with sanitation by 2017.

Peter Allen is CEO of WaterAid Canada (formerly WaterCan).

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Peter Allen is CEO of WaterAid Canada (formerly WaterCan).

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