South African nations off pace for MDGs on water and sanitation | 

Tanzania - Girl misses school to carry water home.
Girl misses school to carry water home. (Tanzania)
Tom Murphy

Only two countries in Southern Africa are likely to achieve improved access to safe water and improved sanitation, by the 2015 deadline for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The more than 100 million people without safe water and the 174 million without proper sanitation face serious health risks, due to the problem.

“Southern African governments must meet their past promises on water and sanitation and, together with donors, invest at the levels needed to put an end to the crisis that causes hundreds of thousands of children’s lives to be prematurely and needlessly extinguished,” said Robert Kampala, Water Aid’s Head of Region for Southern Africa.

Falling behind means that 40 million people who should have gained access to safe water by 2015 will not. Catching up will come at a price, says the UK-based NGO Water Aid in a new report. The region needs to see spending increase by $3.6 billion per year if it wants to fix the problem.

The massive problem comes with deadly consequences. More than half of all children in Madagascar are affected by diarrhoeal disease, which is more often than not the result of poor water and sanitation. Diarrhea alone kills 14,000 children under five years old each year, in the country. The effects extend to missed school and work, both of which make it harder for families to earn and living, thus slowing down progress for an entire nation.

The news is slightly better for safe water advances than it is for sanitation, in the region. Of the 12 countries in the region, 7 are nearing universal access for water. The rest are off track, says the report. At present, less than half of all people living in the DR Congo, Madagascar and Mozambique have access to clean water. Sanitation is far worse with only three countries on track.

Continue reading

Visualizing death and disease from lack of sanitation | 

Guest post by Katie Leach-Kemon, a policy translation specialist from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

toilet mrlego54
Flickr, mrlego54

Earlier this week we marked World Toilet Day, created to raise awareness of the fact that billions of people around the world lack access to this basic necessity. The day is not so much about toilets as it is one of many attempts aimed at making sanitation a development priority worldwide.

Recent articles in news outlets such as CNN, Al Jazeera, and The Hindu discuss the importance of sanitation for everything from preventing diarrhea to protecting women from sexual assault and promoting girls’ education. In Humanosphere’s World Toilet Day post, we noted that the World Bank estimates that poor sanitation costs the globe an estimated $2.6 billion every year in lost productivity (a word economists use to tally up, among other things, the cost of death and disability).

Today’s post explores the extent to which poor sanitation contributes to the death toll in developing countries.

We’ll also explore developing countries’ progress in reducing deaths from poor sanitation, also known as “unimproved sanitation.” In 2010, an estimated 243,586 deaths in developing countries were attributable to poor sanitation. Lack of an adequate toilet contributes to deadly conditions such as diarrheal diseases and typhoid. Continue reading

For World Toilet Day Gates Foundation motto: Every shit has value | 

Ugandans transport a Swiss-made 'diversion' toilet - one of the Gates Foundation's winners in its re-inventing the toilet competition
Ugandans transport a Swiss-made ‘diversion’ toilet – one of the Gates Foundation’s winners in its re-inventing the toilet competition

It’s World Toilet Day so the world is awash with potty humor, bizarre videos and otherwise earnest organizations giddily celebrating the use of obscenity or fart jokes in support of saving lives.

This is the first official World Toilet Day, at least insofar as the United Nations is concerned. As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said today, the goal is to draw attention to the fact that 2.5 billion people are endangered by lack of safe sanitation – an inequity that contributes to many water-borne illnesses and deaths around the world. Diarrhea, often caused by poor sanitation, kills some 800,000 annually, for example.

And it’s an economic burden as well: The World Bank estimates poor sanitation costs countries some $260 billion a year in lost productivity.

So, yes, shit is a serious global problem. Continue reading

Poo Wars: Making Light of a Serious Health Problem | 

Wastewater in street (informal settlement near Cape Town), South Africa
Wastewater in street (informal settlement near Cape Town), South Africa

A planned protest regarding the poor sanitation conditions in Cape Town sparked some interest when it was learned that would-be protesters were armed with feces. The South African press dubbed it the ‘poo wars’ and western media ran with it.

The GlobalPost put it in the Weird Wide Web section and the BBC lead with the 180 arrests that resulted from the protests. Steven Grant took exception with the framing of the story. Namely the headline.

What grabbed me was the headline: “Cape Town ‘poo wars’: Mass arrests in Cape Town”. It’s tongue in cheek, a trademark of British media. Is that really okay, though? (Probably not?) Sanitation is a monumental health issue around the world. Should a Western media outlets being poking fun at poor people demanding basic healthy living conditions? (Absolutely not.) It’s not all that hard to draw the direct line between South African poverty, apartheid and the lasting effect of the British colonialism. Is it fair to hold the BBC, of all news outlets, to a higher standard of sensitivity when it comes to places their country has so thoroughly messed up? (Of course it is.)

Sanitation is a serious problem in many parts of the developing world. The protests that took place in South Africa were no joking matter for the people involved. The use of excrement in the protest was to get attention. Not laughs.

Continue reading

Gates-backed tech toilet poops out in India | 

Bill Gates reviews one contestant in the Toilet Re-Invention contest.
Bill Gates reviews one contestant in the Toilet Re-Invention contest.
Gates Foundation

One of the most popular missions lately for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been to re-invent the toilet, an initiative it launched nearly two years ago to great media fanfare as part of its broader program aimed at improving sanitation and water.

Billions of people lack access to proper sanitation, making this a huge global public health threat, and need. Some news stories:

Time Gates Foundation funding toilets of the future 

NPR Bill Gates crowns toilet innovators

Reuters Gates Foundation puts money on solar-powered toilet

Today, according to India media, one of the winning toilet innovators in the philanthropy’s contest, Eram Scientific, has failed to attact poopers nearly a year after introduction. As The Hindu reports, an official says part of the problem is:

“People don’t know how to use these technologically advanced toilets. They are afraid to use it; they fear being locked up…”

Bill Gates is on his way to India so maybe he’ll swing by to check on this project and see if he can flush out the problem. To be fair, this is why this project is part of the foundation’s Grand Challenges program, which is designed to test out high-risk ideas and learn from failure.

USAID declares water is critical to global development | 

After fifty years in the game, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) unveiled its first ever water and development strategy.

Some say it’s about time.

“For many years in development work, water, sanitation and hygiene have been a bit forgotten,”  said Alanna Imbach, media officer with WaterAid America, to the Inter Press Service. ”Instead, significant focus has been placed on education, maternal health and nutrition, overlooking the fact that water and sanitation are foundational building blocks for all of those other elements.”

Though the announcement is appreciated by other NGO leaders, like Water for People CEO Ned Breslin.

“What’s great about this strategy is that it opens up space for creative programming in water development,” said Breslin to IPS. “It’s a huge step forward.”

The five-year water and development strategy is a sign from USAID that it sees water and sanitation as cross-cutting development issues. It is estimated that more than one in ten people (780 million) lack access to safe drinking water. On top of that 2.5 billion people lack access to sanitation.

“This new U.S. Water and Development Strategy will help lift poor people around the world out of conflict and poverty.  It is smart, strategic and builds on our past successes using new breakthroughs in science and technology,” said Senator Dick Durbin who joined other members of congress and USAID Administrator Raj Shah for the release. Continue reading

Gates Foundation Funding Goes To Community-Based Sanitation in Vietnam and Cambodia | 

The Gates Foundation recently awarded a $10.9 million grant to the Oakland-based East Meets West (EMW) Foundation to support the NGO’s sanitation and hygiene work in Cambodia and Vietnam.

While the Gates Foundation is well known for supporting technology-based poverty solutions, the programming by EMW is remarkably tech-free. Rather than focus on new innovations and technologies, EMW puts a high emphasis on evidenced-based solutions that have a built in accountability mechanism.

“What stands out is our business model,” said John Anner, President of EMW. “The Gates Foundation gave us this grant because of our results-based mechanism which helps drive down costs of an intervention.”

Sanitation and hygiene are areas where simple interventions can save lives. The WHO estimates that some 2.7 billion people will not have access to basic sanitation by 2015 if current trends persist. That accounts for more than 1 out of every 3 people globally. It is particularly a problem in southern Asia where sanitation coverage is pegged at 36%.

Poor sanitation increases the risk of diarrhea, the leading killer of children under the age of 5. For these reasons EMW has made it a priority to develop programs that improve sanitation. Their community-based program starts with education and ends with the installation of clean latrines.

To do so, EMW must train masons to build the latrines, connect households with financing and provide the right set of incentives for households to pay for a latrine to be built. EMW pays a rebate to families upon the successful completion of the latrine which serves the dual purpose of encouraging people to see the project through and hold all involved accountable. To get the rebate, an independent evaluator must come and inspect the new latrine.

“A lot of the poor have to be risk averse due to the challenges they face. It is not just about the cash incentive. It has to be done right. Meaning it functions right, does not smell and works in the future,” said Anner. He stressed the importance of the latrines working beyond the date of completion.

Vietnam is a country rife with water project failures. To Anner and other water advocates, a part of the problem is attention given to the inauguration of a program. Evidence is an important part of program design, but just as important for ensuring its sustainability.

The most important aspects of sanitation and hygiene are often the least interesting to donors. Anner gave an example, “I have never come across a funder who looks to improve electrical panels for water systems. It is a major failing point of the water sector. ” EMW made it a priority to find solutions to improve the problem of delivering power to the solar panels so that they can cope with voltage changes and are not harmed by flooding.

One way to evaluate programs and gather results that has become popular is the randomized control trial. However, Anner has found that the cost and lack of donor interest to fund the trials as a barrier to using them for EMW. Because of that, they have turned to business case studies as a model for informing both decision makers and donors by providing information about how to apply solutions in the real world.

Ultimately, outputs tied to impact stand above all else for Anner and EMW. “For us output means that the financial transition happens only after the impact happens,” said Anner.  The cholera outbreak that is spreading throughout Freetown, Sierra Leone is an example of how poor sanitation can suddenly wreck havoc on a community. The constant toll runs deeper for Cambodia and Vietnam where poor hygiene and sanitation practices are responsible for an estimated  17,000 deaths and $1.2 billion in economic losses.

Global safe drinking water goal achieved | 

Mike Urban,

Borehole water supply, Nigeria

Amid all the dire reports that seem to indicate the world is going to heck in a handbasket, here’s some good news:

The United Nations children’s agency, otherwise known as UNICEF, reports that 89 percent of the world’s population now has access to safe drinking water. As the Washington Post said:

The water target was one of the U.N. Millennium Development Goals to reduce global poverty that government leaders, nongovernmental organizations and the United Nations have been working to achieve, with varying success.

This is cause for celebration, The Guardian notes, yet this milestone should not deflect attention from the fact that many hundreds of millions more — nearly a billion people — still lack access to clean and safe drinking. And, as also noted by The Guardian, about 2.5 billion don’t have proper sanitation which puts them at risk of many diseases and of contaminating their local water resources.

It should be noted that much of the progress achieved over the past decade has been due to improved living conditions in China and India, and that many parts of the world are still in desperate need of safe water and sanitation. Reuters quotes the head of the UN:

“Some regions, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, are lagging behind,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in the report. “Many rural dwellers and the poor often miss out on improvements to drinking water and sanitation. Reducing these disparities must be a priority.”