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Archives for Water and Sanitation

Notes from the World Water Week Conference

Note from World Water Week Conference on the critical role women play in securing access to WASH services- Christian Holmes, USAID Global Water Coordinator

Today at the World Water Week conference in Stockholm, I had the privilege of opening and moderating an exceptionally important session focused on “Do Rights-based Policies Enhance Women’s Leadership and Contribute to Sustainable WASH Outcomes: Taking Stock and Moving Forward.”

We tackled the added-value of rights-based policies in order to enhance women’s leadership and contribute to sustainable WASH outcomes in a seminar jointly organized by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), Freshwater Action Network (FAN), U.S. Department of State, WASH Advocacy Initiative, and WaterLex. The discussion centered on 4 key topics:

  • Best practices around equity and inclusion;
  • Women’s leadership in sustainable WASH programming and policy development;
  • Rights-based standards and M&E in WASH management; and
  • Citizen service engagement

Achieving sustainable access to affordable and appropriate water and sanitation services for all, including the poorest and most marginalized, remains a major challenge for the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) sector.

In my opening comments, I stressed the critical role women play in securing access to WASH services. I stressed that it is time to support and enhance the capacity of women to develop and lead the implementation of water and sanitation solutions; women have the right to participate equally in decision- making within their communities to help address these needs.

Session presenters included:

  • Hilda Coelho, Freshwater Action Network (FAN) Representative and President of CRSD in India;
  • Hélène Boussard, Research Coordinator on Water Governance for WaterLex;
  • Mary Ann Brocklesby and Sheena Crawford; and
  • Kate Harawa, Country Director for Water For People, Malawi

Concluding the seminar, Sanjay Wijesekera, Team Leader for WASH at DFID, called on all participants to move evidence into practice. He said, “Rights-based approaches have been successfully deployed to drive change and accelerate progress on the WASH Millennium Development Goal targets. However, to use such approaches effectively, we need to ensure that the legal and policy frameworks are harmonized with human rights commitments, and that we document systematically these experiences.”

I strongly recommend reviewing the presentations made at the session.

Sustaining Human Life and the Environment

Ultimately, I believe, our planet’s sustainability will be determined by one overarching action: how mankind protects, supports and realizes the potential of human life and human systems and that of other species and ecosystems— and how sustaining life and the environment go hand in hand.

In that regard, I participated last month during World Water Week in a “WASH/Environmental Working Group” panel which addressed the linkage between the conservation of freshwater ecosystems and the protection of human health undertaken by water supply, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programs.

At that meeting, on behalf of USAID, I invited the NGO participants to continue our dialogue and meet with a wider range of USAID experts. On April 13, representatives from the WASH Advocacy Initiative, Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Conservation International (CI), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) came to USAID. They met with several USAID executives, including Eric Postel, newly confirmed Assistant Administrator of the Bureau for Economic Growth, Agriculture and Trade; Dr. John Borrazzo, Chief, Maternal and Child Health Division, Bureau for Global Health; representatives from USAID ‘s Bureau for Food Security and Bureau for Policy, Program and Planning; and myself.

The meeting examined ways in which the USAID and the NGO community might increase their impact on sustaining both human populations and ecosystems by working together to build on past success and develop new models of integrated freshwater supply and water supply, hygiene, and sanitation approaches, as well as ways to effect WASH-Food Security integration.

We discussed the USAID-funded WASH–NRM “Healthy Families, Healthy Forests” project in Madagascar being undertaken by CRS and CI to conserve biodiversity and provide critical health services to remote rural populations.  Another project, supported by USAID and TNC in Ecuador, established a revolving fund both to protect a major watershed and to provide water from that watershed to the urban poor. Additionally, we also addressed WWFs’ “Green Recovery” approach to assist people recovering from disasters by minimizing harm to the environment.

Looking ahead, we will continue to consider ways in which to forge this crucial linkage between the protection of natural resources and human health.

On World Water Day, Rain Water Harvesting Highlighted in Zimbabwe

USAID/Zimbabwe commemorated World Water Day 2011 on March 23 with a special ceremony to draw attention to the efficiency and effectiveness of rainwater collection as a way to provide clean water to families and schools. The event took place at the Tasimukira Primary School in Chitungwiza, outside the capital, Harare.

Zimbabwe’s Minister of Education, Sport, Arts and Culture David Coltart with USAID/Zimbabwe Mission Director Karen Freeman and other officials. On March 23, 2011, USAID held a World Water Day celebration in Chitungwiza, Zimbabwe at the Tasimukira Primary School, where students benefit from a USAID program that harvests rain for a clean water supply. Photo Credit: USAID/Zimbabwe

Since 2009, USAID has supported the Peri-urban Rooftop Rainwater Harvesting (PROOF) program to provide safe drinking water to over 26,000 Zimbabweans in urban and rural areas.  The program was initiated in response to the worst cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe’s recent history, which led to nearly 100,000 cases and over 4,000 deaths.  Poor water and sanitation systems, inadequate access to health care, and underlying risk factors such as malnutrition contributed to the severity of the epidemic.

Through this project implemented by International Relief and Development, USAID provides clean water to Zimbabweans until the water system is overhauled.  The initial phase of the program focused on the high-density suburbs of Harare and Chitungwiza.  In June 2010, it expanded into Mutare and Buhera in southeastern Zimbabwe.

To date, USAID has supported the installation of 805 rain water collection systems serving 2,653 households and eight schools with over 26,000 total beneficiaries.  All components of the rain water harvesting systems are manufactured in Zimbabwe, creating jobs and a nascent rain water collection industry in the free market.




Rain water collection systems consist of roof gutters and a water storage tank.  The equipment provides abundant clean water during the rainy season, when the highest incidents of waterborne diseases, such as cholera and typhoid fever, are seen. With regulated consumption and sufficient water storage capacity, these rainwater collection systems can provide clean drinking water all year round.

International World Water Day was first recognized by the United Nations in 1993.  It is held annually on March 22 to focus attention on the importance of fresh water and to advocate for the sustainable management of fresh water resources.  World Water Day 2011 emphasized the impact of rapid urban population growth, industrialization and uncertainties caused by climate change, and conflicts and natural disasters on urban water systems.

U.S. and World Bank Strengthen Water Partnership on World Water Day

On March 22nd, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and World Bank president Robert Zoellick signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) committing to a stronger partnership on water issues.  The agreement, signed at a World Bank ceremony on World Water Day, will bring the U.S. government and World Bank together to work on global water and sanitation challenges.

The need for a combined effort on water issues could not be clearer.  An estimated 880 million people lack access to an improved water source.  More than 5,000 people—most of them women and children—die every day from causes linked to unsafe water, sanitation, and hygiene.  The current outbreak of cholera in Haiti is a stark reminder of this reality.  Beyond health, water is central to a number of development challenges, such as climate change, food security, conflict, energy, and gender.

Secretary Clinton providing remarks at the MOU signing with the World Bank. USAID’s Deputy Administrator Don Steinberg and World Bank President Zoellick looking on. Photo Credit: State Department

The work promised at the signing has already begun: USAID and the World Bank have started to develop a prize to stimulate the development of new technologies related to drinking water and sanitation.  The World Bank is also working with NASA to provide remote sensing technologies around the world.  As speakers at the ceremony emphasized, this type of cooperation is necessary because water issues cannot be confined to just one area.

“The water crisis is a health crisis, it’s a farming crisis, it’s an economic crisis, it’s a climate crisis, and increasingly, it is a political crisis,” Secretary Clinton noted.  “And therefore, we must have an equally comprehensive response.  Now our experts in the United States Government are working on water issues at nearly two dozen agencies – of course, from State and USAID, but also the Millennium Challenge Corporation, NASA, NOAA, EPA, Treasury, and so much else.”

As a result, the United States is one of the largest bilateral donors on water and sanitation; USAID and the Millennium Challenge Corporation together invested more than $770 million in the water sector and on sanitation-related activities in developing countries in fiscal year 2009.

Secretary Clinton highlighted several USAID projects launched since her speech at last year’s World Water Day, which are representative of the new direction set for the U.S. government water program:

–       In Indonesia, USAID has begun a five-year, $34 million water, sanitation, and hygiene project to reach more than 2 million of Indonesia’s urban poor.  USAID also launched a project in Haiti to teach women about sanitation and hygiene so they could better take care of their households.  In India, USAID is supporting a project to provide slum dwellers in eight states with municipal water and sanitation systems.

–       USAID and the Qatar National Food Security Program convened representatives from 17 water centers in 10 countries across the Middle East and North Africa to create a regional network to share technical knowledge to solve the complex water challenges they face.

–       In Kenya, USAID is working with local water utilities, a local cell phone company, and a local microfinance institution to create new ways for poor people to pay for water. They receive a microloan to cover the initial cost of connecting their homes with water systems, then they repay those loans using micro-banking services on their cell phones.

–       In the Philippines, Japan and the United States have worked together to establish a water revolving fund to leverage private investment to improve water and sanitation for more than 100,000 people in 36 villages. Last year, the first USAID guaranteed loan for $2.5 million was granted.

–       To promote science and technology, USAID is working with NASA to use satellite images to monitor and forecast ecological changes in the Himalayas, including the monitoring of glacial melt. USAID has also worked with the private sector to open a ceramic water filter factory in Cambodia.  With ceramic filters, people no longer need to boil water to make it safe to drink, so they don’t need to burn as much wood or charcoal, which in turn reduces greenhouse gases.  The plant has even applied to receive carbon credits for future sales.

At the 2010 World Water Day event, Secretary Clinton stressed the U.S. government’s commitment to strengthening its partnerships; the MOU with the World Bank is reflective of that commitment.

Under the new agreement, the United States and the World Bank will work together in a number of areas, including rehabilitating wetlands, improving irrigation practices, and mobilizing public-private partnerships and private capital to support water projects around the world.

Progress in these areas depends upon the efforts of numerous organizations.  NGOS, private industry, foundations, and international bodies were all represented at the event.  Many of them have ongoing projects with USAID and the World Bank across the globe.  As USAID Deputy Administrator Donald Steinberg emphasized, “our presence here today reflects a basic truth in the development challenges we face: no single government, international institution, civil society group, or private corporation has a monopoly on good ideas, dedicated commitment, or ground truth.”

Making the Unavoidable Unacceptable

On World Water Day, March 22, safe drinking water and sanitation experts gather across the globe both to celebrate successes and to develop more effective, sustainable ways of meeting this vital development need. One element of those conversations is that the lack of safe drinking water and sanitation in developing countries poses a number of multidisciplinary challenges:

  • This is primarily a global public health challenge, but requires primarily public works solutions.
  • Water and sanitation are important in their own right, but both are also vital to sustainable progress for other important development challenges including health, nutrition, education (especially for girls), poverty alleviation, and human security.
  • Solutions require innovation, but most importantly they require appropriately and sustainably scaling the answers known since Roman times, or at least since the introduction of chlorine into New Jersey’s municipal water supply in 1903.

As challenging as it is, however, we can undeniably achieve universal access to water and sanitation with today’s technology, funding, and political leadership.

That last statement resonates most loudly for the 884 million people who lack safe drinking water today, and for the 2.6 billion people who lack improved sanitation facilities. The approximately two million deaths due annually to unsafe water and sanitation, and the waterborne diseases causing those deaths, can for the most part be prevented. And preventing them is not simply smart development policy for the United States; it is a life and death situation for millions of people, and a significant leadership opportunity for this Administration and country.

On World Water Day let us recognize that this challenge is not simply solvable. It is being solved by communities all over the world, and the government of the United States and its philanthropies, corporations, and citizens are helping in often very effective and sustainable ways. Health specialists, engineers, and economic development experts work together to not just drill more wells and build more latrines, but to strengthen capacity of indigenous groups and communities in developing countries to provide these services themselves.

So as USAID and its partners in the United States and abroad continue to implement fully the Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act of 2005 [PDF], some suggestions follow on how to accelerate that progress and make sure the work sustains itself over the long run:

2011 is the year of quality, effectiveness, and sustainability in the water and sanitation sector. Implementing agencies of the U.S. Government and outside entities (nonprofits, philanthropists, civic groups like Rotary International, corporate philanthropies, and private citizens) should always ask themselves the tough questions during the early stages of each program:

  • Is the activity they are implementing or supporting likely to endure technically? Are local businesspersons trained and incentivized to manage a supply chain?
  • Is the financial model in place to ensure that the funds will be available locally to repair, upgrade, or expand the system?
  • Is the ribbon-cutting ceremony not just the self-congratulatory end of the program, but simply the next step toward a sustainable water and sanitation intervention that endures 15-20 years?
  • Is there an ongoing monitoring and evaluation program whose successes and failures are frequently updated and knowable to all stakeholders?

In today’s tight fiscal times we need the answer to these questions to be “Yes” more frequently than in the past. This will get the biggest possible bang for our dollar, be it a development assistance or a philanthropic dollar.

So on World Water Day let us take a closer look at sustainably tackling the lack of safe drinking water and sanitation. This is an unassailably grave yet solvable development challenge, and a multi-track diplomacy opportunity with almost unlimited upside. The United States government and citizens have an opportunity to prevent more waterborne illness and mortality and should redouble efforts to do so in a sustainable, scalable fashion. Let us work together to turn water-related death and disease from an unavoidable fact of life to completely unacceptable.

World Water Day events in the Washington DC area:
The United Nations World Water Day website:
UNICEF / WHO Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation:

John Oldfield is Managing Director of the WASH Advocacy Initiative, a nonprofit advocacy effort in Washington DC entirely dedicated to helping solve the global safe drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) challenge. Its mission is to increase awareness of the global WASH challenge and solutions, and to increase the amount and effectiveness of resources devoted to solving the problem around the developing world.

From the Field

In Lebanon, in order to improve student achievement in Lebanese Public Schools, we will improve learning environments through physical repairs and provision of equipment, increase learning opportunities through in-service teacher training and extra-curricular activities, and raise stakeholder engagement in public schools.  This effort is expected to benefit thousands of students and teachers in over 1,300 public schools. Ambassador Maura Connelly, USAID Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Middle East Christopher Crowley and USAID/Lebanon Mission Director Dr. Jim Barnhart will announce the program with the Lebanese Minister of Education & Higher Education; Dr. Hassan Mneimneh.

In Afghanistan, we will hold our second Water Conference. In this Forum, key water sector stakeholders can develop a shared understanding of the opportunities and challenges of sustainable development and management of water resources in Afghanistan and set a road map for addressing the challenges.

In Cambodia, on December 10th in Phnom Penh, we will celebrate the 62nd Anniversary of International Human Rights Day.

Millions Soap Up to Commemorate Global Handwashing Day

Water is everywhere — covering almost three-quarters of the earth’s surface — yet nearly one billion people in the world do not have safe water. In addition, inadequate sanitation destroys lives, increases disease and infections, undermines economic growth, and prevents children from attending school.

On October 15th,  we celebrate Global Handwashing Day with the great hope of a healthier future for children and families.

Children washing their hands in celebration of Global Handwashing Day. Photo Credit: USAID/Indonesia

Studies have shown that handwashing with soap can cut deaths from diarrhea by almost 50 percent and deaths from acute respiratory infections by 25 percent – saving more lives than any single vaccine or medical intervention. Washing ones hands with soap could reduce world-wide rates of diarrhea by almost half and save at least one million lives.

People all over the world wash their hands with water. But washing hands with water alone is significantly less effective than washing hands with soap in terms of removing germs, and handwashing with soap is seldom practiced.

Handwashing with soap works by interrupting the transmission of disease. Hands often act as vectors that carry disease-causing pathogens from person to person, either through direct contact or indirectly via surfaces. When not washed with soap, hands that have been in contact with human or animal feces, bodily fluids like nasal excretions, and contaminated foods or water can transport bacteria, viruses and parasites to unwitting hosts.

USAID works in partnership with host countries to reduce diarrheal disease prevalence and improve child survival through sustainable improvements in three key hygiene behaviors: hand washing with soap, safe feces disposal, and safe storage and treatment of drinking water at the household level. These health-focused interventions complement community and municipal water supply infrastructure programs by empowering households with the tools to protect their own health.

For the greatest impact, hands should be scrubbed with soap for at least 20 seconds. Hands should always be washed with soap after using the toilet, cleaning a child’s bottom, and before eating or handling food.

On December 1, 2005, the Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act made access to safe water and sanitation for developing countries a specific policy objective of U.S. foreign assistance programs. As a result, the U.S. has strengthened our response to water, sanitation and hygiene challenges in developing countries.  Promoting Global Handwashing Day is essential to advancing the goals of the Act.

Last year, the United States invested about $774 million for all water sector and sanitation-related activities in developing countries, and as a result, some 5.7 million people received improved access to safe drinking water and 1.3 million received improved access to sanitation. We want to continue to build on these efforts and those of our partner countries.

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