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Archives for Water and Sanitation

What Does Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Have to Do With Nutrition? Everything.

Children watch as a woman and child practice hand washing in Mali. / WASHplus

Children watch as a woman and child practice hand washing in Mali. / WASHplus

In Yarou Plateau, a village in Mali, people used to use any open space for bathroom needs. You can imagine the consequences.

Flies could easily find fecal matter lying around, and from there land on food, spreading diseases like diarrhea and intestinal worms. Fecal matter in open areas also contaminated the groundwater, which villagers use for drinking and preparing food. In Yarou Plateau, frequent diarrhea was much too common among mothers and children.

This created a vicious cycle. Diarrhea can worsen malnutrition, and the undernourished already have weakened immune systems — making them more susceptible to intestinal infections and more severe episodes of diarrhea.

The situation in Yarou Plateau changed two years ago when the village’s chief, Hamidou Samakan, visited the neighboring village of Gouna. Gouna had transformed since Hamidou had last visited; it looked clean, with no noticeable feces and fewer flies. But it wasn’t just the pristine environment that impressed him. Hamidou noticed the villagers there appeared much healthier.

How did this happen? The people of Gouna had started sweeping their public spaces and building affordable latrines, and as a result fewer villagers were getting diarrhea and fewer children were malnourished. It was then that Hamidou decided to bring better sanitation to Yarou Plateau, too.

Men show onlookers an open toilet in Mali. / WASHplus

Men show onlookers an open toilet in Mali. / WASHplus

Holding up the village of Gouna as an example, Hamidou motivated the people of Yarou Plateau to improve the sanitation in their village. Now, after almost a year, the village has built over 60 latrines, and rehabilitated ones that had never been used.

Yarou Plateau is one of 180 villages supported by USAID’s WASHplus project in Mali, and more than 70 percent of them have been certified as free of open defecation. With access to a covered latrine and soap and water for handwashing in every household, villagers are noticing a drop in cases of diarrhea and fewer malnourished children.

To achieve this, WASHplus took a multi-sectoral approach. The project set out to work with communities in Mali not only to improve water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) but also to reduce diarrheal diseases and malnutrition. Beyond building latrines, WASHplus works to change behaviors. In villages like Yarou Plateau, people are now using latrines, washing their hands, treating their drinking water, and preparing and storing food safely.

What is WASH? WASH is everything from handwashing with soap, to safely disposing of adult and child feces, to preparing and storing food safely.

Today, on World Toilet Day, WHO, UNICEF and USAID are releasing a jointly-produced document with guidelines on integrating WASH into nutrition programs in order to achieve positive gains in the fight against undernutrition.

The document, called Improving Nutrition Outcomes With Better Water, Sanitation and Hygiene: Practical Solutions for Policies and Programmes, details WASH practices that help improve nutrition and how they can be incorporated into programs focused solely on nutrition. This will springboard global efforts to integrate WASH intro nutrition programming, helping implementing partners and USAID achieve greater results.

By using WASH in programs that work across sectors to address malnutrition in all its forms, we can help reach the 2025 Global Nutrition Targets and the Sustainable Development Goals and work to end preventable child and maternal deaths.

Undernutrition is an underlying factor in almost half of all child deaths. Malnourishment significantly increases the risk of a child dying from diseases like pneumonia and diarrhea. When an unhealthy and unsanitary environment leads to frequent diarrhea or other diseases associated with unclean water, this can lead to loss of appetite, nutrients not being absorbed properly, and anemia.

Villagers like those in Yarou Plateau know first-hand how poor WASH practices can lead to undernutrition. USAID will continue to scale up nutrition and WASH  programs to reduce maternal and child deaths in places like Mali and around the world. This document shares best practices to integrate water, sanitation and hygiene practices into nutrition programs to ultimately create a healthier future and bring a higher quality of life to the developing world.


Merri Weinger is the Environmental Health Team Leader in USAID’s Bureau for Global Health.

Providing Clean Water to Families Fleeing Violence in Central Darfur

Triangle Generation Humanitaire and community members worked together to build more than 1,150 emergency latrines. / Triangle Génération Humanitaire

Triangle Generation Humanitaire and community members worked together to build more than 1,150 emergency latrines. / Triangle Génération Humanitaire

“We just ask Allah: When will we be able to stay in one place and not be scared?” The words of Mohammed Omer, a 58-year-old unemployed farmer, echoed throughout the Sudanese village of Ammar Jaded in Central Darfur.

Mohammed didn’t always live in Ammar Jaded. He was a farmer, harvesting and selling his crops in the local markets of Dar El-Salam, where he lived with his two wives and 14 children. But when Mohammed’s village was raided and torn apart amid increasing tribal conflict, his family and thousands of others were forced to flee.

Mohammed and his family fled to Um Dukhun, another town in Central Darfur. But shortly after, Um Dukhun was also attacked by armed men. They looted the homes and set them on fire, leaving behind a path of destruction. Once again, Mohammed and his family were forced to uproot their lives.

Mohammed is now settled in Ammar Jaded, where he and thousands of others hope that they have found a safe and stable place to stay.

Mohammed talks of the struggle of continuously relocating his family due to the conflict between two tribes. “My kids now have no education, and we have lost everything: our cattle, our home, our land. All of this and we don’t even know what they are fighting about. What is the reason?”

In places like Sudan where the frontlines of the conflict are fluid and humanitarian needs are continually changing, USAID supports Rapid Response Funds to quickly address emerging needs. Through this fund, the International Organization for Migration in Sudan and Triangle Generation Humanitaire were able to bring clean water and sanitation practices to Ammar Jaded.

New wells like this one provide clean water to more than 29,000 people in Central Sudan.  / Triangle Generation Humanitaire

New wells like this one provide clean water to more than 29,000 people in Central Sudan. / Triangle Generation Humanitaire

Triangle Génération Humanitaire built more than 1,150 emergency latrines and dozens of handwashing stations, organized hygiene promotion campaigns, and distributed more than 1,000 hygiene kits. Campaigns to clear garbage were organized for thousands of people, and garbage collection dustbins were distributed throughout the villages.

To provide clean water for more than 29,000 people in Central Sudan, Triangle Generation Humanitaire also restored seven existing water points and constructed three new wells.

As a result of the tribal conflicts, more than 1.7 million people have been forced from their homes, leaving behind their land and cattle — along with their hopes for a brighter future. Mohammed explains his day-to-day struggle to take care of his children.

“Sometimes they eat, sometimes they don’t,” he says. “We used to drink very brown water before. My kids would get sicker and sicker, and I could not do anything about it because I have nothing left.”

But Mohammed says he was grateful even for the brown water because people in the outskirts of the village did not have access to water at all; they would dig underground near the dried up wells with the hope of finding water sources.

“For them, it was really bad. They would walk for 90 minutes to come further into the village to drink the dirty water. Now, thanks to this [Rapid Response Fund], everyone has access to clean, safe water, and [in] less than 15 minutes walking.”


Amani Osman is a Communications Officer for International Organization for Migration in Sudan.

Water for the World: Making Every Gallon Count

For the 2.5 billion people living without access to sanitation and 748 million without safe drinking water, these challenges mean a life threatened by illness, lost income and malnourishment.

As World Water Day approaches on March 22, I want to take a moment to reflect on an important advance made this year towards improving water and sanitation in developing countries: The Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act – which supports more targeted, effective and sustainable investments in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programs. It passed unanimously in both houses of Congress and in December 2014 was signed into law by President Obama.

The Act underscores USAID’s commitment to improve and save lives through better WASH services. It also aligns with USAID’s Water and Development Strategy, a focused plan using water programs in developing countries to improve health and fight poverty. Both the Act and the Water Strategy recognize that WASH programs need to be sustainable, designed to have lasting impact over time and after our assistance ends.

Investing in WASH is one of the most effective and efficient choices we can make for global nutrition, child health, education, and empowerment of women. Every gallon of water we make more accessible allows a woman to spend time earning money for her family instead of walking for hours each day to fetch water. Every cup of water we make safer to drink helps another child live past his or her 5th birthday, instead of dying from waterborne illness. Each toilet we build helps another girl spend more time in school when she is menstruating and avoid the risk of sexual assault when she does not have access to safe sanitation facilities.

SUWASA focuses on regulatory reform, better pricing and billing, and creating access to commercial finance. / USAID/SUWASA

SUWASA focuses on regulatory reform, better pricing and billing, and creating access to commercial finance. / USAID/SUWASA

Already, progress is being made through programs like Sustainable Water and Sanitation in Africa (SUWASA), a project that strengthens WASH in Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Sudan, Senegal, Zambia, Uganda and Liberia. SUWASA focuses on building financial sustainability of water utilities in each country through activities like regulatory reform, better pricing and billing, and creating access to commercial financing.

The IUWASH project focuses on providing water, sanitation and hygiene for the urban poor in Indonesia. / USAID/IUWASH
The IUWASH project focuses on providing water, sanitation and hygiene for the urban poor in Indonesia. / USAID/IUWASH

In Asia, the USAID Indonesia Urban Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (IUWASH) program  has helped 1.47 million people gain access to safe water supplies and made improved sanitation facilities available to nearly 100,000 more people by supporting local governments. Partnerships have been key to IUWASH’s success. The Government of Indonesia and the private sector have been working together towards getting safe water to those who need it.

Our work to increase access to water and sanitation will reduce enormous suffering. It will protect the dignity of the poorest of the poor. In the 2013 Fiscal Year alone, USAID’s programs around the world helped make sanitation facilities available to nearly 1.3 million people and  improved access to drinking water for more than 3.5 million people.

On World Water Day, we are grateful for Congress’s support to scale our programs and change millions more lives. These efforts are delivering more than just water – they’re delivering health, financial stability, relief, dignity and hope.


Christian Holmes is USAID’s Global Water Coordinator and Acting Deputy Assistant Administrator in the Bureau for Economic Growth, Education and Environment.

Water, Food and Extreme Poverty

A farmer ploughs his field in a village in West Bengal, India. The Securing Water for Food Grand Challenge for Development is helping harness ideas that have the potential to enable developing world farmers to grow more food with less water, or to make more water available for agriculture.

A farmer ploughs his field in a village in West Bengal, India. The Securing Water for Food Grand Challenge for Development is helping harness ideas that have the potential to enable developing world farmers to grow more food with less water, or to make more water available for agriculture. / A Sourav Karmakar

At USAID’s second Frontiers in Development Forum, we’re focusing on the role of innovation, science and technology in eradicating extreme poverty by 2030. Over the past year, I have witnessed the potential of scientific and technological breakthroughs to address some of the developing world’s greatest challenges through our Grand Challenges for Development.

Our role at USAID is to help define these challenges, prioritizing key elements of the fight against extreme poverty. We then open our doors to potential solutions from a variety of disciplines, locations and specializations – in search of the most promising innovations. These Grand Challenges are developed in the form of prizes that have the potential to catalyze the world in the fight against extreme poverty.

The Securing Water for Food Grand Challenge for Development is an important element of this fight. The availability of water for food is crucial to farmers and others who depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. The number of people impacted by water stress and insecurity will only continue to rise, and providing simple, sustainable and cost-efficient solutions to this issue could help a poor family or community could grow more food, harvest a surplus, and earn additional income.

Over the past year, we launched two calls for Security Water for Food innovations. More than 570 applications represented more than 90 countries. Of these, we selected 17 award recipients whose proposals best demonstrated the potential to either enable the production of more food with less water, or to make more water available for food production, processing, and distribution.

Solar-activated Lilypads kill viruses, bacteria, and protozoa in water used for agriculture in Mexico.

Solar-activated Lilypads kill viruses, bacteria, and protozoa in water used for agriculture in Mexico. / Puralytics

Ancient technologies are being revisited to provide Nepalese farmers with access to water for irrigation.

Ancient technologies are being revisited to provide Nepalese farmers with access to water for irrigation. / aQysta Holdings

These 17 winners will receive funding and acceleration support. Some were as simple as Aybar Engineering’s multi-purpose tool to move water from areas where it reduces crop yields to areas where it improves crop production, or aQysta Holding BV’s “Barsha” pump offering low maintenance, round-the-clock irrigation powered by flowing water that can help farmers double their crop yields.

Puralytics’ Lilypad acts like its namesake, floating on a body of water, while a solar-activated nanotechnology coating treats the water—sans chemicals, filters, pumps or electricity.

Practical Action proposed a unique sandbar cropping program in Bangladesh, where large, sandy islands appear in many rivers during the dry season and can actually be used by poor farmers to grow pumpkins.

Innovators MetaMeta & SaltFarmTexel and Wageningen University and Research Center have developed crops that can grow in highly saline conditions. With the support of this prize, they will find ways to transfer these crops to developing countries.

Learn more about all of the Securing Water for Food innovations here. We congratulate all of the award nominees, and are honored to support these innovative approaches in improving water availability and food security around the world – part of our work towards ending extreme poverty.


Christian Holmes is USAID’s Global Water Coordinator

For Jordan, U.S. Support ‘Guaranteed’

As I have traveled to Jordan over the past few years, I have witnessed up close the impact of regional instability and the influx of refugees from the Syrian crisis. At the community level, resources and services are stretched thin. At the national level, the impact is being felt on budget priorities. A recent USAID study estimates the fiscal cost for Jordan of hosting Syrian refugees is staggering—equivalent to 2.4 percent of Jordan’s GDP.

In a neighborhood of growing instability, time and time again Jordan has been a steadfast partner in the years. It is vitally important the United States assist Jordan to stand firm and maintain a strong economy in the face of regional uncertainty.

Thats why yesterday, the bond sale for a second United States-backed loan guarantee for Jordan, is especially relevant.

This second loan guarantee — for $1 billion – will help Jordan shoulder some of the enormous burden it is currently managing. It fulfills the commitment made by President Obama during his meeting in California this year with Jordan’s King Abdullah. President Obama noted at that meeting that, “we have very few friends, partners and allies around the world that have been as steadfast and reliable as His Majesty King Abdullah, as well as the people of Jordan.”

The loan guarantee will allow Jordan to access affordable financing from international capital markets—ensuring that it can continue to provide critical services to its citizens, even as it hosts over 600,000 Syrian refugees in this small country of 6 million people.

The future of Jordan

The future of Jordan / USAID

USAID is supporting the Government and host communities of Jordan as they cope with the Syrian crisis. We have re-oriented existing programs to account for the flow of refugees and added funds to focus directly on stresses caused by the crisis. With 85 percent of Syrian refugees in Jordan living outside of refugee camps in local communities, the United States is helping expand school room and hospital capacity and increase trash collection.

Just last week, as part of Let Girls Learn, we announced a $12 million grant to help Jordanian schools provide education to Syrian refugees, including 180,000 children.

Our partnership did not start with the current crisis. For over 60 years, USAID and Jordan have worked together as partners in development. Together we are creating modern learning environments for Jordan’s young population, providing them with the education and skills to compete in a global market. To spur Jordan’s economic growth, USAID programs are promoting workforce development, job creation, and supporting regulatory and fiscal policy reforms.

Building on the success of last year’s loan guarantee agreement with Jordan, the current loan guarantee will enable the United States to continue to work alongside other donors—including the IMF—to support Jordan’s ongoing economic reforms. It will spur broad-based growth—helping Jordan to develop a more competitive workforce, reduce the strain on public services, and create good jobs.

Finally, Jordan is one of the driest countries on earth and has one of the highest population growth rates in the region. Demand for water far exceeds Jordan’s renewable freshwater sources, particularly with the continuing influx of refugees. Here, too, USAID is helping communities improve water resource management and rebuild aging water and wastewater infrastructure. USAID is also helping Jordanian families obtain low cost cisterns to collect water for households and gardens especially as families and communities expand with new arrivals from Syria.

USAID is helping families in Jordan, such as this one, improve water resource management. / Alyssa Mueller

USAID is helping families in Jordan, such as this one, improve water resource management. / Alyssa Mueller

Rapid population growth has reduced the amount of fresh water available to the average Jordanian to less than 158 cubic meters per year—10 times less than the average U.S. citizen consumes. The renewable water supply, replenished each year by rainfall, only meets about half of total water consumption.

Helping Jordan’s government continue to provide essential services, like access to potable water, is critical as the country manages its own development with an increased burden of hundreds of thousands of refugees in an unstable neighborhood. The loan guarantee is an important demonstration that today and tomorrow we stand by our strong partnership with the people of Jordan.


Alina Romanowski is Deputy Assistant Administrator for USAID’s Middle East Bureau

World Water Day

As the Global Water Coordinator for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), I spend a lot of time thinking about water and figuring out ways to ensure we help more people have access to more water. It’s not an easy problem and one-size fits all solutions do not apply. Instead, I’ve found that the best solutions require catalytic problem solving and outside-the-box innovations, open collaboration and creative competitions. And it requires taking a closer look at previously overlooked sources of water.

 In Burma USAID and P&G partner to provide clean drinking water and promote sanitation practices for some of the country's most vulnerable.

In Burma USAID and P&G partner to provide clean drinking water and promote sanitation practices for some of the country’s most vulnerable. (Photo: Kelly Ramundo/USAID)

Last week, millions of people globally celebrated World Water Day and one of life’s most basic requirements – water.  A building block of life, water is also at the core of sustainable development and is linked to every major development challenge. The focus of this year’s World Water Day was the nexus between water and energy, underscoring the crosscutting nature of this issue.

World Water Day banner

World Water Day 2014

Today, I am pleased to say we are seeing greater emphasis on this “nexus” approach as more and more people focus on holistic, integrated approaches to water challenges; looking at linkages that include water and energy; water and health; and water and agricultural production and health.

We announced the launch of a couple of brand new efforts that I believe are redefining the way USAID invests in water. I’m particularly excited about the new Desal Prize, an innovative prize we are launching in partnership with the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of The Netherlands (MFA-NL) to identify small-scale, low-cost solutions to brackish water desalination.

Brackish water is what you commonly find in ponds.  It’s thick, it’s murky, and it’s not exactly something you’d want to drink. However, with estimates that two-thirds of the world’s population could be living in severe water stress conditions by 2025, brackish water is increasingly being considered a viable source of water for crops, livestock, and even human consumption.

The Prize, which won’t officially open to applicants until May, will award up to $500,000 in prize money and $75,000 in “seed” money to individuals or organizations that develop cost effective, energy-efficient and environmentally sustainable desalination technologies that provide safe water for drinking and for livestock and crops in developing countries.

Ten to 12 semifinalists will receive $5,000 as seed money to test or further develop their device. From this group, select finalists will receive an additional $5,000 to continue their project in the field before a judging panel selects the awardee(s) of the $500,000 grand prize.

The Prize is part of the $32 million Securing Water for Food Grand Challenge for Development. Launched at the 2013 World Water Week in Stockholm, Securing Water for Food aims to source, incubate, and accelerate innovative solutions to produce more food using less water around the world.

In addition to the prize launch, we also announced the 83 semi-finalists from Securing Water for Food’s first $15 million open call for innovations. The semi-finalists were selected from over 500 applicants from 90 countries, 70 percent of which were developing countries. The 83 semi-finalists are working on groundbreaking water technologies and new financing products to improve water access. You can go to to see the full list of semi-finalist organizations. Awardees, who will be announced later this year, will receive between $100,000 and $3 million in funding and business development assistance.

Meeting Water, Food and Health Needs in Kenya

On this World Water Day 2014, I am encouraged by how USAID’s water programs around the world contribute to integrated approaches that meet the objectives of the Agency’s Water and Development Strategy, as well as the Feed the Future and the Global Health Presidential Initiatives. During my recent work in Kenya with the USAID team at Kaputir and Kalimngorok, I was able to see first hand the efforts to strengthen Kenya’s resilience to disease, climate change, drought, floods and water shortages.

Across Kenya, USAID’s AIDS, Population, and Health Integrated Assistance Plus (APHIAplus) program is working to strengthen and improve healthcare systems. In Kaputir, the APHIAplus Integrated Marginal Arid Regions Innovative Socialized Health Approach (IMARISHA) project supports a health clinic and a Community-Led Total Sanitation project.

Photo Credit: Martin Mulongo

Photo Credit: Martin Mulongo

As I walked up a slight slope to the village of Kaputir, the first thing I saw was the gigantic masonry water tank that holds 13,000 gallons of water situated next to a one-story, concrete block clinic with maternity, pharmacy, consultation and emergency rooms. The front of the clinic has a small porch on which children and adults sit in a long line, partially shaded from the sun, waiting for their turn to receive basic medical care. The clinic staff proudly showed me their microscope, as well as their solar-powered refrigerator used to store medicines and blood samples.

Photo credit: Martin Mulongo

13,000 gallon water tank in Kaputir (Photo credit: Martin Mulongo)

Also as part of APHIAplus IMARISHA, the nearby community of some 6,000 people is working to achieve “open defecation-free” status. For example, the house right next to the clinic is leading the charge by being the first to add a pit latrine; it has a slab covering the hole, surrounded by a thatched fence and a “tippy-tap” handwashing device with water and soap.

In the same community, another project implemented by the Millennium Water Alliance, through their partner World Vision, supports a large water storage project connected to a nearby borehole. The combined efforts of these programs ensure integrated water, health, sanitation and hygiene services, which in turn reduce the prevalence of diarrhea, a major contributor to childhood mortality.

As we drove into the Kalimngorok area, we looked out at the flat, brown, dry landscape with few bushes and no rivers or streams in sight. At first glance, I wondered how one could grow anything here. In the distance I saw a large water catchment, built to capture and store rainwater for both human and livestock consumption and irrigation. A secondary benefit of the catchment is that water has seeped through the earthen floor, helping to restore groundwater underneath. At the base of the catchment, the community has installed a substantial metal pump on a concrete slab to draw water from the restored aquifer. In the surrounding fields, farmers experiment with different crops resistant to drought, using soil tillage techniques to increase the capture of rainwater when the rains arrive.

WFP Irrigation project in Turkana -Kalemngorok

WFP Irrigation project in Turkana -Kalemngorok (Photo credit: Martin Mulongo)

We also visited USAID’s Turkana Rehabilitation Program in Kalimngorok, implemented by the United Nations World Food Program, which integrates rainwater harvesting technology and food production through a range of water management practices. I walked through the fields observing construction of on-farm contour bunds (embankments) that capture rain as it falls on fields and increases yields, and the building of water pans (shallow retention ponds that store water for irrigation and watering livestock).  The program also promotes improved nutrition by establishing fruit orchards and vegetable gardens, diversifies income through bee keeping, and reduces environmental degradation through establishment of micro-catchments.

At both Kaputir and Kalimngorok, I am left with the sobering firsthand realization of the challenges of assisting thousands of people in this arid environment. But I am also left with a sense of optimism. We saw progress in action in capturing and storing water, providing healthcare, navigating the lack of an electrical grid and producing crops in such an arid environment. USAID/Kenya’s approach of layering, integrating and sequencing its technical interventions and projects brings hope that over time these activities could be expanded and provided at scale, changing the lives of thousands of people for the better.

Pounds of Prevention – Focus on Saint Lucia

Girls in Laborie use water from storage tanks after a December 2013 storm disrupted regular water service. Photo courtesy of the Laborie Disaster Preparedness Committee.

Girls in Laborie use water from storage tanks after a December 2013 storm disrupted regular water service. Photo courtesy of the Laborie Disaster Preparedness Committee.

In this next installment in the Pounds of Prevention series, we travel to Saint Lucia. In early 2013, USAID teamed up with the Laborie Disaster Preparedness Committee to help the district become more resilient to the impacts of natural disasters. Specifically, USAID partnered with the committee to design and install a rainwater harvesting and storage system to ensure an adequate supply of safe drinking water in the event a disaster rendered the public water system inoperable.

As part of the disaster preparedness project, the committee installed 6 rooftop rainwater catchment systems and a total of 18 potable water storage tanks at public schools, churches, and a health center in Laborie. The committee also held public meetings in the Laborie area to reach the population of approximately 10,000 people with information about the rainwater harvesting project and provide guidelines for how the system would work during an emergency.

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Growing More Food With Less Water

When you sit down to your next meal, take a look at your plate.  How much water do you see? The obvious answer might be “little” or “none”.  But the surprising truth is you are likely consuming thousands of liters of water every time you sit down for a quick bite.

Estimates suggest the average American consumes an amazing 3,496 liters, or 924 gallons, of water every single day. That’s over 14,500 glasses of water per a person, per a day. And that represents the amount of water needed to produce the food we eat.

Experts tell us that current levels of water consumption are simply not sustainable as the global population continues to grow and climate and environmental changes impact available water resources.   Projections suggest that between 2000 and 2050 water demand will increase by 55 percent globally, meaning that the number of people impacted by water scarcity and stress will continue to rise. Already, approximately 2.8 billion people—more than 40 percent of the world’s population—live in river basins impacted by water scarcity.

What’s more, food and agricultural production—which accounts for 70 percent of all water use—is also on the decline and threatening the global food supply. As the global water resources become increasingly scarce, we must learn how to adapt to a new reality. In part, this means learning how to do more with less. Learning to use available water better, learning how to store water more efficiently, and learning how to grow more food using less water.

At USAID, we believe that we must mobilize the global community into action around this critical development challenge. We believe that we must learn how to do more with less so that all people have enough to eat and that science and technology are at the root of a sustainable, scalable solution to the global water challenge.

A farmer in Iraq grows healthy crops by using innovative irrigation techniques.

A farmer in Iraq grows healthy crops by using innovative irrigation techniques. Credit: USAID Water Office

That’s why on September 2, 2013, at the opening session of World Water Week, we announced Securing Water for Food:  A Grand Challenge for Development.  This $25 million Challenge will identify, source and bring to scale promising new low-cost innovations that use existing water resources more efficiently, improve water capture and storage technology, and reduce salinity of existing resources to ensure new sources of water for agricultural production in the communities USAID and Sida serve.

On November 27, USAID released the first call for proposals for the Challenge. During this first round of the Challenge, the Founding Partners aim to provide up to $15 million to fund entrepreneurs, businesses, innovators and scientists that are seeking to launch a new innovation or to expand an existing business in new markets.

Eligible applicants are invited to submit concept notes beginning November 27, 2013 through January 17, 2014. For full application details, go to:

Securing Water for Food is the latest in USAID’s series of Grand Challenges for Development which seeks out innovative new technologies to critical development challenges. Learn more about USAID’s Grand Challenges for Development.

Follow @SecuringWater on Twitter to get the latest news and updates about the Challenge.

Access to Water Empowers Women in Morocco’s Middle Atlas

I recently returned from Outerbate, a village high in the Atlas Mountains in central Morocco, where USAID broke ground on a new water supply system. In this Amazigh, or Berber village, the water supply system is more than 80 years old and serves only a handful of the village’s 300 homes.

I met Fatima Mazrou, a woman in her late 70s, who shared, “When we look for water, we sometimes get frozen and sick because the weather can go to below 10 degrees. It takes me at least one hour lining up to get water. Water and bread are critical to our survival.”

Increased access to water changes women and girls' lives in Morocco. Photo credit: USAID

Increased access to water changes women and girls’ lives in Morocco. Photo credit: USAID

I was surprised to see that women do most of the hard work of filling buckets to provide their families with water. The challenge is that the village’s 1,200 inhabitants must fill buckets and water containers at a common tap, and the task disproportionately falls to the village’s women and girls.

During the summer months, the tap frequently runs dry. Water-related health problems are common. In the winter, this arduous trek up the mountain in freezing weather and back to the village carrying heavy pails of water leads to health problems for women, including miscarriages.

The time and work involved collecting water also means reduced primary school attendance by the village’s girls. Kuba Hamou, a sheep herder, told me that “having better access to water would eventually free women to pursue income-generating activities and help keep our daughters enrolled in school.”

Financed by USAID’s Development Grants Program, the Outerbate water system is being installed to address some of these challenges. Implemented by a local NGO, Al Kheir, the program will provide clean drinking water to every home in the village, ending the current practice of women and girls filling water containers at a common tap. With the introduction of the new system, girls’ attendance in schools should also increase and hundreds of families will have access to water and improved sanitation conditions in their homes, schools and public areas.

In addition, we have been able to work with Al Kheir in other life-improving ways. We helped the village set up a thriving artisan business selling locally produced honey and apple juice. And within Al Kheir, two young women are now on the association’s board of directors – the first time a woman or a youth has served in this capacity. Since this project began, Al Kheir has begun working with European and Japanese donors on other projects.

“None of this would have been possible without the engagement of USAID. We appreciate their support and its effects on our village,” said Haddou Maadid, Al Kheir’s president.

At the heart of USAID Forward is a belief that our results are always better when we partner directly with local institutions since they are empowered to take control of their future. In Outerbate, we are helping a village access safe water. By working directly with local partners, our assistance is amplified far beyond the water tap.

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