Wednesday, 29 September 2010

How to get water and sanitation to all – no matter how poor or marginalised

We’re in Tanzania this week with our friends at the African Civil Society Network on Water and Sanitation (ANEW) for a three-day workshop on equity and inclusion. We’re learning how to make sure that the services we champion are accessible for all and that the most marginalised in society – older people, children, women, people with disabilities – are able to access clean toilets and water in their communities.

Seventy advocates from across the region are attending, and it’s been great to meet face-to-face with some of our members for the first time!

The opening session saw a bit of a media frenzy with the Minister for Water and Irrigation providing the keynote speech and reiterating his support for CSO action in the struggle for sanitation and water for all. He highlighted the importance of women from communities being involved in dialogues and progress.

Equity and inclusion is a massive challenge to the sector. Laura Hucks from WaterAid Tanzania shared the statistic that only 1% of latrines in schools in Tanzania are accessible to those with physical disabilities. Rather than a deliberate approach, this was an oversight by planners, and shows that equity and inclusion strategies need to be at the heart of any implementation programs.

We’ll be learning lots and will integrate the learning into our campaign plans going forward including our soon-to-be-announced World Water Day campaign – so stay tuned!

Monday, 27 September 2010

The truly Global Call for Action Against Poverty

It’s late on Friday in New York, and unfortunately for me I’m not in Manhattan, but waiting at JFK to catch the flight back home after an eventful, exciting and ‘interesting’ week in the USA for the MDG Review Summit.

The Summit was an extravaganza, with NGOs calling for attention to their causes, presidents whirling around town to various meetings and End Water Poverty and its members making a noise about the sanitation crisis – in very creative ways!

Gladly, after the Summit, we were privileged to attend the Global Assembly of the Global Call for Action Against Poverty (GCAP) - the network of campaigners working tirelessly against inequality across the world, and famous for their first campaign action, Make Poverty History, in 2005.

The Global Assembly takes places every few years and gives campaigners a chance to look at, and learn from, past campaigns and an opportunity to intensely plan joint global campaigns and strategies for the coming years.

It’s an exciting and passionate bunch of 140 people from everywhere – I had conversations with people from Bolivia, Italy, Canada, Senegal, India, Nicaragua, Portugal and many more. Some are from international mega NGOs, some from human rights organisations, and others from grassroots campaigns. And they work on a huge array of issues – gender, land rights, health, education, climate change, corruption – and with a variety of foci - the G8, G20, G77, the World Social Forum, MDG processes, COP 16 - so the challenge was how to ensure space for all these campaign issues in a very busy calendar.

Attending was useful for me because as a coalition working on water and sanitation, it’s really important that we’re engaging with development campaigns both within our sector (WASH United, Dig Toilets Not Graves) but also outside so that we can ensure as many voices are calling for Sanitation and Water for All. And furthermore, so that we’re supporting other development initiatives because working together can ensure all the MDGs are met, and not just the MDG issues that have the loudest voices or the most sparkly superstars backing them.

So the Global Assembly is not only a chance to find ways of working together and link our campaign planning, it’s also an opportunity to learn from this broad network and share best practice. And being in a room with such enthusiastic and impassioned people can’t help but reinvigorate after a busy and sleep-rare week!

But now to feast on airline food (now a not so secret love of mine!) and we’ll keep you updated here on how we begin to work with GCAP in the months and years ahead.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Translators needed as sun sets on MDG Summit

As the sun sets on the MDG Summit, it’s a little early to be able to analyse in full what’s taken place over the last few days. But it’s been a significant day. In addition to the event on water and sanitation (see previous post), two key documents were released today – the official negotiated ‘outcome document’, and the new Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health.

There have been a few positives to draw out, and some disappointments – all to come in a future post - but I wanted to quickly share a thought on the dividing power of language. I don’t mean divisions between the 6000+ languages in the world, but the division between those who write political declarations, and those who read them. Take pity on the UN translators.

Take “action-oriented” – the term for what the official ‘outcome document’ of this Summit, agreed by all nations, was supposed to have been. It’s a reasonable document in many ways, and includes some positive language on integrating water and sanitation interventions in efforts to promote health, education and nutrition. Genuine successes all of them. But have a read of the 31 pages (I dare you), and you won’t find an enormous amount of action to follow it up.

Take “integrated care” – the term used in the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health to promote an approach to health that includes all the things that stop you being sick, as well as those that cure you. Such as nutrition, water and sanitation. Great stuff, and exactly what we’re calling for. But read the big list of commitments, and you won’t much funding for these bits, as good as many of the other items are. It’s hard right now to drill down on the details, but in a 29 page document the word ‘water’ is used 3 times, the word ‘sanitation’ twice. Not a particularly scientific method of investigation, but also not a lot for an issue responsible for 28% of child deaths in a strategy focused on ending exactly that.

Then just try and (as they say in films) follow the money. The headline is that $40 billion has been committed over the next five years to promote women’s and children’s health. Yet we face the usual question – is this new and additional money, or is it just a sum total of what everyone is already doing? Is it a genuine change of behaviour, or a different way of counting the same thing? Will it save more lives, or is it business as usual? Unless aid budgets are set to rise – of which we have seen no indication (often the opposite) – this would simply be robbing Peter to pay Paul. A particularly cruel trade-off when it involves the world’s poorest people.

I want to be positive about this Global Strategy, and work to sure it is fully implemented and funded. It is a genuine achievement to get actors to prioritise the needs of the most vulnerable and focus political attention on women and children. If implemented the potential is enormous, and the prize is huge -– 16 million lives saved by 2015, 33 million unwanted pregnancies prevented, 120 million children protected from pneumonia, and 88 million from stunting.

But if someone could do a translation and a few calculations for me, it would be most welcome. And translating the strong statements we heard at the event on water and sanitation this morning into stronger action on building toilets and water sources would be great too.

Fuller analysis in the next few days, but until then visit the official website for all announcements.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Ban Ki-Moon: Without water, there is no life.

Rolien Sasse is CEO of Dutch non-profit Simavi, a member of End Water Poverty. Rolien sits on our steering committee, and attended a side event at the MDG Summit today focusing on water and sanitation.

Attended by Ban Ki-Moon, Africa's first female President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and others such as WaterAid Sweden chair Jan Eliasson and USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, it was an event that finally shone the spotlight on the sanitation and water crisis, with these dignitaries making passionate pleas for action on the crisis.

Rolien had a few moments to update us on what happened at the meeting:

"It was an early morning start today for the side event on water and sanitation. The impressive high level attendance immediately underpinned the high priority given to the subject. As Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said: 'Without water there is no life. [Inadequate water and sanitation] increases the likelihood of disease and death, it perpetuates poverty. Water is not only a necessity, it's a human right.'

The Dutch Prince of Orange, one of the moderators, used the occasion to express his support to the “5 year drive for sanitation” that has just been launched to address the enormous backlog in reaching the sanitation target of MDG7. His co-moderator Ambassador Jan Eliasson commented it should be a ‘5 year drive for toilet’ which in fact is a ‘5 year drive for dignity’. Several speakers supported the initiative.

Much emphasis was put on the importance national governments making true commitments to prioritise water and sanitation in their own budgets. Minister Buyelwa Patience Sonjica, Chair of AMCOW, pointed out that developing countries should invest their own resources, reducing dependence on foreign aid.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia clearly expressed this commitment. She remarked that the water and sanitation sector tends to be ‘under discussed and under prioritized’, calling it ‘the orphan MDG’. She expressed concern about ‘the fact that 80% of countries in Sub-Sahara Africa are off track on sanitation’ adding that this problem ‘keeps children out of school and women out of productive activities’.

President Johnson Sirleaf and several other speakers, including Dutch Prime-Minister Jan Peter Balkenende and the German Secretary of State, expressed their support to the Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) initiative that aims at increasing coordination, financial resources and accountability in the sector. Balkenende called on other state and non-state actors to join the initiative.

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah commented on the issue of sustainability of basic infrastructure and gave a personal backing for sanitation as he recounted making the case for water and toilets in his meeting with President Obama after the Haiti earthquake.

Finally, UNICEF Executive Director Mr. Anthony Lake, shared his emotional experience in Pakistan during the recent floods, when he observed that ‘people’s fear for diarrhea and cholera were real and with good reason, as water and sanitation are a matter of life and death’. He remarked that if all the children that die today in one day of diarrhea were all together in one place, the world would pay more attention’. Diarrhea is a continuous silent disaster."

The final day: beware of false promises

Day 3 of the MDG summit is about to begin, with the three big things coming up. First is a leaders meeting on water and sanitation this morning – more on that later in the day. Second is the launch of the UN Secretary General’s Global Strategy for Women and Children’s Health, and finally there is President Obama’s speech. It’s a day when we’ll see a blizzard of various announcements and maybe even some $ signs, but it might be wise to hold the excitement for now...

The Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health is one of the most significant and high-profile initiatives of the Summit. It seeks to bring all actors together to invest more, and better, in preventing the deaths of the 8 million children who die every year from preventable causes, and the 350,000 mothers who die needlessly in childbirth.

It’s a much-needed Strategy, but (and for some reason there is always a ‘but’ when it comes to these things) there is a real risk that it remains just that – a strategy without a plan, or a plan without any action.

The Global Strategy is right both in pushing the issue of women's and children’s health higher up the political agenda. And it is smart in the way that it approaches health comprehensively, to include oft-forgotten elements like good nutrition, clean water and basic sanitation as key ways to stop women and children getting sick in the first place. This is the message we’ve been pushing all year, so it’s good to see it picked up. If realised, it could really make a difference.

But it will require countries to step up and deliver it – the Strategy admits there will be $26 billion funding gap in 2011 to meet the health MDG targets in the poorest 49 countries. Unless that is closed, including extra funding for sanitation and water, the Strategy may be near meaningless.

There may be funding announced later, but we’ll have to wait and see if it is genuine and new.

One cautionary tale I picked up from an event I attended yesterday was this. US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and Irish Foreign Minister Michael Martin launched an encouraging new strategy on tackling malnutrition in the ‘1000 days’ from conception to a child’s second birthday. Support for the ‘Scaling Up Nutrition Framework’ is hugely welcome, and could help to promote a broad approach to tackling undernutrition that includes elements like water and sanitation (diarrhoea is responsible for 50% of deaths from malnutrition).

But (again...) of course nutrition isn’t free, and the only financial promise I could detect was that Ireland was to increase the percentage of its aid budget devoted to tackling malnutrition from 6% to 20%. Cue applause in the room. I even caught myself clapping, then wondered why my hands were involuntarily hitting each other. Ireland has cut its overall aid budget this year by 25%. Increasing focus on one area while cutting the overall budget must mean they are slashing support for other items. In my own personal view, I’m not sure doing more to prevent children dying from malnutrition at the expense of doing less to prevent them dying from other things should necessarily be worthy of our applause.

More to come this evening on the day’s announcements, and on the water and sanitation event. Maybe there will be big surprises, and I really hope I'm needlessly being a cynic, but just beware of false promises – people’s livelihoods rely on them.

Read all yesterday’s official speeches here

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Poo on the loose in New York!

There's been a new menace on the loose in New York this week.

A huge, massive, dangerous poo.

WaterAid is in New York and making the case for sanitation - the world's most ignored killer - taking the lives of 4000 children under five every single day.

They've brought with them an amazing poo costume, that has been causing a stir right across town, but it's been doing an amazing job at raising the profile of sanitation at the MDG Summit.

You can keep up with WaterAid's MDG campaign on their blog, and see End Water Poverty's very own Steve Cockburn in the costume (thanks to David at Save the Children for doing the filming!) below. Enjoy!

Red, yellow, blue - how they work together to end poverty

There's been a flurry of non-profit activity ahead of and around the UN MDG Summit this week. Reports from anti-poverty organisations each give analysis and recommendations on what politicians attending the Summit need to do to get the world back on track in tackling the MDGs.

We popped along to End Water Poverty member Save the Children's event yesterday, which hoped to highlight the demands in their pre-Summit report, as part of their EVERYONE campaign.

They were asking visitors to the iconic Grand Central Station to join in with a live art installation. People picked either a blue, red or yellow ink pad and pressed their thumb onto a mosaic effect art piece.

The colours represented different lagging development issues - blue for water and sanitation, red for hunger and yellow for healthcare.

Seeing a visual representation of the End Water Poverty call for an integrated approach to development was fantastic.

Steve Cockburn of End Water Poverty adding his support

We've been calling for this new approach- and the message is slowly getting through to the decision makers. For education to work, schools need to provide clean water and toilets to staff and pupils. For health systems to flourish, patients need clean water at hospitals and need to stay healthy in their own communities to avoid contracting waterborne diseases again and again. As our friend Martha from Malawi told us today - what is the point of building health clinics if they close because the local bore-hole is broken?

Let's hope we can make more progress this week - we'll keep you posted.

End Water Poverty briefing at UN Foundation and Mashable's Digital Media Lounge


We're thrilled to have been invited by the UN Foundation to take part in the UN Week Digital Media Lounge. It's an event taking place all week with hundreds of bloggers and media gathered to learn more about the MDGs and new innovations in the fight against poverty.

We'll be giving a briefing at 6pm GMT (2pm in New York) today alongside Action for Global Health, WaterAid and Action Contre La Faim on the need for a radical new approach to tackle poverty. We'll have speakers from Malawi, Senegal and Sierra Leone joining Steve on stage.

If you're in New York, come and join us and if not, you can join with the fun with the LiveStream on the Mashable website.


Monday, 20 September 2010

Summit kicks off as Africa’s first female leader calls for action on “one of the greatest untold development challenges”

The MDG summit kicks off today, following a strong appeal from Africa’s first female Head of State, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, to finally tackle what she described as “the orphaned MDG”, and “one of the greatest untold development challenges facing the international community”. The article appeared in the International Herald and Tribune, and the New York Times.

The intervention from President Sirleaf Johnson has been widely welcomed by campaigners trying to bring attention the to the fact that over 40% of the world’s population do not have access to safe sanitation. It’s a deadly, dirty secret that is at the heart of why we are not making fast enough progress in reducing poverty and disease.

Today’s agenda will include lots of speeches from Heads of States, as well as “round table discussions” on hunger, gender equality, health and education. (All speeches will be available online here, though it is not confirmed whether the round tables will in fact have any tables, be round, or have genuine discussions. Time will tell.)

We’ll be analysing the speeches to see if anything new is promised, and if the links between all these issues and water and sanitation is made. It would be baffling if not – the sanitation and water crisis hits women and girls hardest, costs 443 million lost school days every year, is responsible for 50% of deaths by malnutrition, and overall costs the lives of 2.2 million children each year.

Let’s hope they also listen to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, who used his opening speech to world leaders to call for action for "the girl weighed down with wood or water when instead she should be in school."

See Monday’s press release here.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

MDG Summit: The greatest promise ever made?

Another year, another summit. Or so it feels. But the one kicking off this week in New York – the UN High-Level Plenary on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – marks ten years since the advent of one of the greatest promises ever made.

That promise, made by over 180 Heads of State in the Millennium Declaration, was to halve extreme poverty by 2015, and to set a series of targets including cutting by two-thirds the number of child deaths, and reducing by half the proportion of people without access to clean water and basic sanitation.

That promise has galvanised action and delivered life-saving progress, but ultimately has not been kept. The number of people suffering hunger, for example, is actually growing as a result of the global food crisis, while the target on access to sanitation in Sub-Saharan Africa is so off-track it will not be met on current trends until the 23rd Century.

Hence another summit. Heads of State are reconvening to look at what has been achieved since their first declaration, and what needs to be done with just five years left.

Sceptics predict more hot air and pieces of paper that will mean nothing to someone lacking a clean water source. And overall, they might be right. A lot of summits come and go with warm words and empty hands.

But by dragging leaders, occasionally kicking and screaming, to take notice of this issue, and by shining a light on the dishonour a number have shown to the world’s poorest communities, we’re at least provided a platform to hold them to account and give their consciences a nudge.

And for those wiser leaders taking it more seriously, it’s a platform to shine, to make commitments they may actually keep, and to show to the world that with the right will, and the right policies, poverty can be defeated.

All sort of things will be happening this week, and you can follow updates on this blog every day – both about the formal happenings in the UN Headquarters, and the weird and wonderful things happening around it.

Read more about the Summit

Read End Water Poverty’s policy recommendations for the Summit.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Addressing two critical MDGs together: gender in water, sanitation and hygiene initiatives

Georgina Rannard from End Water Poverty writes about the upcoming MDG Summit, and the links between sanitation and water and gender equality.

With the MDG Summit in New York fast approaching, there is no better time to highlight the progress that still needs to be made to reduce global poverty. NGOs and researches continue to emphasise the need to take an integrated approach to the goals – universal child education cannot be achieved without toilets and sanitation in schools, and enabling women to work instead of walking 6km to collect water puts them on a more equal footing with men in their communities.


In advance of the MDG summit, End Water Poverty co-authored a paper with Action for Global Health, Action Contre La Faim and WaterAid, 'Breaking Barriers: working together to achieve a healthy hunger-free world’. It calls for a well-financed and accountable Global Action Plan for all the MDGs, and for Heads of State to enhance integrated and holistic approaches at a national and global level to achieve key development outcomes, including sanitation and water.

Photo credit: Water Aid / Layton Thompson


Recent research conducted in communities in the Pacific has shown the positive effects of integrating gender issues with water and sanitation projects. Gender equality and access to sanitation and water for all are crucial in the elimination of poverty. Whilst both sectors are very diverse, one of the uniting themes is the adverse effect poor access to water and sanitation has upon the lives of women. Working with local NGO projects, the researchers spoke to women and men in communities in Vanuatu and Fiji, and based their conclusions on what women and men said about the water and sanitation initiatives. They talked about how women’s lives are improved practically by providing water and sanitation infrastructure, and at how deliberately including women in the planning and discussion of projects increases the respect they receive in local communities.

Photo Credit: Water Aid / Eva Lotta-Jannson

The paper, Addressing Two Critical MDGs together: gender in water, sanitation and hygiene initiatives, was written by academics from the Institute for Sustainable Futures in Sydney and the International Women’s Development Agency in Melbourne, and comes to two key conclusions:

1. Including wo
men in planning and discussion of water and sanitation projects has a positive impact upon gender equality in those communities:
• The burden of collecting water usually falls on women, so improving access to safe water means a reduction in
physical labour and satisfies women’s need to provide safe water and sanitation to their families.
• Women and men reported a reduction in violent household disputes over water management following the improvement of infrastructure.
• Men took on an increased role in hygiene in the home to support their wives – this also improved communication between men and women.
• Women were able to ta
ke on leadership roles and participate in community decisions for the first time. This improved their confidence and they felt more valued and respected by men in their community.
• Women’s efforts to promote sanitation and health were recognised by men, giving women a louder voice in their community.

2. As women tend to be are responsible for collecting water and for practical sanitation issues in a family, including women in the planning of water and sanitation infrastructure means the projects are usually better designed and planned. Projects then become more useful to the community.

Ultimately, the report highlights how designing water and sanitation projects to also address gender inequality has significant positive effects, fundamentally enhancing women’s dignity and empowering them to become leaders in their communities.

Let’s hope that leaders hear this message loud and clear at the MDG summit next week.

See here for information on End Water Poverty’s work at the MDG Summit in New York
In 2011, we will mark World Water Day with the global action, The World Walks For Water – thousands of people across the world will walk 6km to put pressure on governments to keep their promises to realise the rights to access to water and sanitation. See here for how to join the campaign and find out more information.