The clean water and sanitation crisis: How we can do better | Source: John Hewko, Rotary International, Devex, Mar 22 2016 |
On this year’s World Water Day, more than 2.5 billion people lack access to adequate sanitation facilities. One in nine people lack access to safe water, and the number of people who own a mobile phone exceeds the number who has a toilet.
What can service organizations do about this? We know that only improving infrastructure is not enough for sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene improvements.
Instead, for WASH programming that has a lasting impact, it needs to observe several principles: to work with governments to ensure affordable, high-quality services that last generations; investing in people not just hardware; investing in systemic change; spending more time collecting data on what works than we do on writing success stories; measuring success in terms of how many communities have water and sanitation services over time; and learning from past failures.
This last point is vital, because even after decades of intervention, failure rates for water systems in developing countries are still high, with the cumulative “costs of failed water systems estimated to be $1.2 billion,” according to Improve International.
And the development community missed the Millennium Development Goals target on access to improved sanitation, with great discrepancies still existing between urban and rural areas, despite our progress on other goals, such as reducing extreme poverty and improving maternal health.
Broken water pumps are an all too common sight, and are a symbol of water and sanitation projects that have failed the test of sustainability.
Despite good intention, the same simple reasons for failure are repeated. Communities are still left with an insufficient number of toilets. Or toilets require repair, without the expertise to fix them, due to projects that focus on installing new hardware without responding to local needs or implementing rigorous training processes.
In sum, providing new infrastructure without also providing training, education, and planning for sustainable services wastes time, funding, and most importantly, threatens the health of people living in these areas.
The U.S. Agency for International Development knew this, as early as 1981, when it observed that the main obstacle to improved WASH services is not the quality of technology, but the failure “in qualified human resources and in management and organization techniques, including a failure to capture community interest.”
Read the complete article.